"Jesus, I dare you to come back," sang Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Peter Hayes, as the strobes flickered and the clouds of fog lit up with ominous red light. As I looked around Mr. Small's last week -- packed to the walls with swaying bodies -- I thought about how long BRMC has been coming back to this venue, and in some ways, doing much the same thing.
On the surface, little has really changed: A bassist and a guitarist stand almost motionless at the front of the stage, in clouds of fog, and sing and play for hours, while the drummer pounds along in the background. I first remember seeing this in 2006, and a few tours later, this skeletal show is still basically what happens. There's some lights, but not really a "light show" -- little to distract you from song after song. And audiences love it.
Of course, this particular tour is quite a departure from previous outings in one very notable respect: Longtime drummer Nick Jago has been replaced with powerhouse Leah Shapiro. Before the set, I went backstage and found her sprawled out on a couch in her biker boots, cracking wise. She seemed relaxed, mischievous and baffled by the lack of coffee options in the metropolis of Millvale -- not quite what I expected from someone about to energetically punish a drum kit for two and a half hours, plus chiming in on gang vocals. I mean, I was exhausted and left after two hours -- and I was just watching.
Two nights earlier, I caught buzz band Girls, also at Mr. Small's, with openers The Dum Dum Girls. I didn't realize this until a friend reminded me later, but I'd seen Girls in 2009 at SXSW, before their debut record came out, playing a showcase in Austin's Central Presbyterian Church. I was really just killing time and saving my seat for Grizzly Bear, on right after, but Girls were a pleasant surprise, their '60s-infused shoegazey pop filling the church.
I talked with singer Christopher Owens outside, after the SXSW set -- he seemed like a really sweet, humble dude, so it's great to see the band taking off in such a massive way. Wonder if he had any idea what was coming … yeah, I bet he did.