The sixteen year old me would quite happily have given her right arm to see BRMC and the twenty one year old version is no different. This evening marks the end of a very long, impatient wait for me and it’s with no small amount of excitement that I show up to Mandela Hall tonight.
Before my five year wait comes to a decisive close however, Dublin based band, The Minutes, open this evening’s proceedings. They’re a trio you’re not likely to forget in a hurry, with a drummer resembling Wolverine and front man, Mark Austin, screaming so hard into the mic it looks as though his head may pop off, they launch into their set amid a whirlwind of pretty admirable ferocity. Their brand of sneering garage rock sets more than a few heads bobbing and with tracks as fierce as Black and Blue and Monster backing the Dubliners up, their confidence and swagger on stage becomes perfectly justified. The set closes on a high amidst the screams of guitars and a bout of guitar licking courtesy of Mark, yes literally. It’s a performance that’s destined to have hammered The Minutes name into the memory of every face here tonight.
BRMC are a very rare thing, a band whose live performance is purely about the music. If gimmicks, props and over the top showmanship are your thing then this is not the gig for you. BRMC come on stage, attired in their trademark colour and silhouetted against a back drop of white light. Leah Shapiro takes her place behind the drum kit whilst Hayes (later armed with a cigarette) and Been occupy front of stage. For BRMC it’s a simple matter of picking up their instruments and getting on with it and that’s all this band need to do.
The set is a perfect mix of BRMC’s older material (circa their debut, Take Them On, On Your Own and Howl) and the more recent efforts of Baby 81 and Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. This dream of a set list starts with a note perfect rendition of 666 Conducer before we’re plummeted into a flawless run through of Stop. Been gives the crowd a well mannered greeting, totally at odds with the hissing and spitting grittiness of the bands sound, which is every bit as perfect live tonight as it is on record.
Hayes launches us into Red Eyes And Tears as we continue on our journey through BRMC’s back catalogue, there’s not a person here that can resist wailing the band’s lyrics back at them, hands raised in salute. It’s an anthemic performance so far and the title track of the band’s most recent album does nothing to lessen this. Beat The Devil’s Tattoo sets feet stomping and hands clapping in time with emphatic appreciation.
The bluesy chords of Ain’t No Easy Way bring those who’ve strayed to the bar rushing back towards the stage, yelling their way through the addictively catchy lyrics. We come to a break amidst BRMC’s anthems with the mellow Awake, it’s a trippy haze of dim lighting with Hayes and Been’s haunting vocals raising the hairs on the back of your neck.
It’s not long though before BRMC return to their floor pounding garage rock with Whatever Happened To My Rock And Roll (Punk Song), a staunch reminder why they’ve survived eleven years to emerge the great band they are now. Perhaps the most magical moment so far tonight, crouching low over their guitars Hayes and Been strike a pose that would make any self respecting photographer froth at the mouth, perched at the edge of the stage within touching distance of ecstatic fans. Just as it seems BRMC can’t get any better, Been is left alone on stage. He breaks into an acoustic cover of The Pogues Dirty Old Town, much to the delight of the Belfast crowd.
Half State and Conscience Killers do nothing to abate the brilliance of BRMC’s performance, their new material as every bit as accomplished as the anthems that have come before. Tonight’s set ends with the psychedelia of Spread Your Love and Shadow’s Keeper, the latter a moving rendition that leaves the crowd in a state of awe. I find myself a bit dumbstruck and speechless to be honest, a rare occurrence.
Ever the gentleman, Been makes his exit with a round of thanks to their crew and roadies and, of course, tonight’s crowd who are ‘beautiful’. It’s with a sinking feeling then that we’re told this is the last show in their European tour. One can only hope, with a performance as inspiring as tonight, that it won’t be long before the San Franciscan duo and Leah Shapiro grace our shores again.
It’s been a challenge to put into words just how good tonight’s performance has been, there really is no way to do BRMC justice without grabbing you by the hand and plunging you into one of their psychedelic, blues and garage soaked sets. So, was tonight’s gig worth the wait? Definitely. Let’s just hope there’s not another five years to wait before the next time.