Black Rebel Motorcycle Club brought a soulful mix of roots rock, country, gospel and blues to Washington, DC's 9:30 Club for a night of music, webcast live on NPR.org Feb. 20. The performance was the latest in a series of live concerts from NPR Music's All Songs Considered.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is on tour to promote its latest CD, Howl. Critics are calling it the band's best release to date, with a name inspired by beat poet Allen Ginsberg and BRMC's own wolfish spirit.
The CD comes after a tumultous period that nearly led to the band's demise. After years of relentless touring, excessive drug use and infighting, tensions escalated and the group came apart in 2004 when drummer Nick Jago quit. The remaining members, Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been continued as a duo and started recording new material the fall of 2004. They soon discovered a new sound unlike anything the band had produced before — less guitar noise, less aggressive, more introspective.
"These were songs that wed been writing and collecting over the years," says Hayes. "Some of them we actually thought about putting on previous albums. But we didn't want to make it seem like they were filler tracks or novelties in the middle of a rock record. We felt like they were too important for that."
The resulting 13-track CD is largely acoustic, featuring choir vocals, slide guitar, congas, timpani, autoharp and even trombones. "I took four years of trombone in school, and Peter took six years, totally coincidentally," says Been."
When the album was finished, Hayes and Been reconciled with their former drummer and Jago rejoined the group.
"We questioned each other for a while. But the band is bigger than the three of us," says Been. You don't get the opportunity to grow up together in this way. That should be respected and it shouldn't ever be thrown away. We had to dig pretty hard and deep to figure that out, but it was all worth the wait."