Black Rebel Motorcycle Club W/ Elefant @ Webster Hall 2/18/05

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is the second concert review from our man-about-town Amrit. Read his Sigur Rós write-up here. This time, Amrit turns his sights on BRMC and Elefant, and comes away none too pleased with Webster Hall. Enjoy. -Scott]

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are, in the words of my female companion Saturday night, “Sex on wheels.” Sinewy, clad in black and exuding an effortless cool beyond even that of their hipster audience, BRMC make all the right moves to all the right sounds. Now if only they played all the right venues.

The band’s third release (last year’s incredible Howl) saw BRMC trade in their shoegazey reverb and delay pedals for acoustic guitars, rockabilly slides and harmonicas, and last night’s setlist captured the best of both aesthetics. Though the trio was occasionally joined by a fourth to pick up rhythm guitar or bass duties, the affected strut and dynamic presence of Robert Been and Peter Hayes exceedingly filled the spare stage. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club live must be experienced.

Been’s bass dropped out during “Awake,” ironically coming on the heels of his amp being too loud for four songs, marring personal favorites “Howl” and “Ain’t No Easy Way.” Exhibiting a look of consternation in contrast to his usual passionately-detached cool, Been apologized for the band’s nervousness for this, their largest NYC show to date. Thankfully the trio regrouped incredibly well and closed out the show with all the driving fervor I had hoped for and expected. But as long as we’re identifying reasons for the show not living up to its dizzying potential, let’s maybe address the 800 pound gorilla in the blogosphere that most have already discussed.

Webster Hall has got to go. Perhaps those of you who haven’t seen a show at Webster or don’t live in New York find it difficult to imagine a venue having such a large role in a band’s performance, but I’ve seen one too many incredible bands lose a step when they enter that hall, and it’s enough. Sure, the room looks charming enough with it’s wall decor and club like balcony, but the sound is inevitably varying degrees of awful. Of course a band can (and has) come across well there — as BRMC definitely did — but put this performance in Bowery Ballroom and I would have been raving about this show for two weeks straight.

Case in point: The encore was poised to be the evening’s aural saving grace, featuring a beautifully rendered “Devil’s Waiting,” all acoustic plucking, world weary crooning and four part harmony. Unfortunately, total surrender to Peter’s soul-baring performance was impossible, the moment dismantled by a disco backing track and a floor rumbling to the sweet beat of that wild and crazy 80’s party downstairs. I sound annoyed, but it could have been worse: the pumping booty groove was in time with BRMC’s touching ballad, after all.

Bad sound may detract from most bands’ performances, but when seeing opener Elefant live it’s nearly irrelevant: their show is about Diego Garcia, an absolutely shameless and charismatic lead man. Diego was probably shown more love from the wasted guy screaming next to me than he was by Lindsay Lohan, and Garcia ate it up: first offering el drunko a boot-clad foot to touch, then the boot itself, followed by his sock and finally, his bare toes. Methinks this guy had a foot fetish, and Diego definitely fed it.

“What a weird first show. What happened?” he asked a few of us between sets. “I mean, I don’t have shoes on right now!” Somewhere in that quote is the crux of this band: A year from now I’ll remember his shoeless, spitting, yoga posing, face-licking antics more than any song during the set-but at the end of the day, I will remember-and that’s more than I can say for most.

After a long night, I was glad I still had the legs to hit the afterparty at R&R, where the rumors were substantiated and The Morning After Girls (the early opener at Webster) took the stage around 1 am with BRMC’s Peter Hayes. After playing two songs with the Girls, Peter offered two of his own, going solo for “Fault Line” and the Dylan-esque “Complicated Situation.” No floor-shaking booty beats here, folks.

The BRMC setlist…

So, a parting message to all you buzz bands we’ve been going crazy for at Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom (and in this case, even Irving Plaza): resist the urge to book Webster-make it a double at the Bowery next time and we’ll promise to buy tickets to only one night so everyone can get in. Who’s with it?

Check out more pics from the show at Village Indian.