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(24/08/10)It is a strange feeling that has taken hold of all of us, who are on our way to see BRMC’s first ‘proper’ headline show after Robert’s dad, Michael Been, sadly passed away. Those of us who have already seen their performance at the German Area 4 festival only two days before kind of know what to expect from this upcoming gig, but on the other hand we’re all sure that a one-hour festival slot cannot be compared to a headlining show. Eagerly anticipating and on the other hand not being able to shake off this awkward feeling of somehow intruding on these people’s privacy after such a tragic event, we head off to tonight’s show. And an intense one it is certainly going to be.Directly in the centre of Utrecht, hidden behind the façade of a pitoresque building situated at Utrecht’s Oude Gracht, lies tonight’s venue – Tivoli. About half an hour before doors are supposed to open a small crowd has already gathered in front of the venue, but most people are talking English at this early hour, because they come from England, Spain, France, Germany, you name it. There are many of the usual suspects that have met again to celebrate their love for this band and their music, but there are also a lot of younger people, maybe Utrecht’s cooler teenagers, that have come to attend this gig. We enter the venue, which turns out to be a modest hall that holds about 1000 people, the front row already occupied by said eager youths.At this point it is certain that the show tonight will definitely take place. Up to this point, people really couldn’t believe it, but in spite of this they stepped on their planes, their trains or drove their cars to this pretty Dutch town. Obviously, I’m sure that none of them would have been angry, if the show had been blown off, and there have been quite lively discussions, on fan boards and just outside the door, whether it’s the right thing to really pull these upcoming shows off. There are so many aspects that might speak against it. Would it be decent to be rocking out at a show so shortly after the death of a crew member? Don’t all of the band and crew rather feel like going home and being with their families and friends at times like these? Will Robert be able to manage playing a full show? Doesn’t it put too much pressure on him, standing in front of all these people? These are questions one can pick up standing in line waiting for doors to open and possibly there could be more aspects added to this list.But then on the other hand, according to an announcement on the Tivoli homepage, Robert said that it would have been his father’s wish for them to carry on, so that leaves this issue settled. And, although it’s sad even to think about it under such circumstances, there are certainly business issues that might make the cancellation of a headlining show difficult. That’s show business, one might sadly remark.So, all the discussions left aside, tonight sees BRMC entering the stage after what seems an endless time listening to some local support band, which gives you the idea that these boys have been listening to their dads’ old CCR and Santana records too often and are now trying to recycle their inspirations but drastically fail. Not by means of playing their instruments, for what they actually can do is quite impressive, but rather by means of keeping their audience interested. Every single song sounds the same as the one before so that we are left with an impression that we’ve been listening to one, slightly overdone, guitar-solo for approximately 45 minutes.At about 9.30 p.m. however, anticipation reaches its climax as Leah, Peter and Robert finally get on stage and already in this very first moment you can sense that tonight is going to be special. This is because Robert is cloaked in a black coat, hood pulled over his head and squinting against the stage lights his silhouette most certainly looks like a stylised impersonation of death, scythe exchanged for a bass guitar. This might have been true for several other shows, but in this moment it ironically fits the occasion and throughout the next couple of songs I can’t lose the feeling of exactly this hovering like a symbol over the crowd, reminding us all that life is nothing but short and he might come and get us any time.As usual on this tour the set starts off with War Machine. Already during this very first song I find it hard to realize again that Robert is actually standing on stage performing. “I called my friend the doctor just to keep your heart alive” is only one of the very many lines this evening that send a shiver down my spine. I just can’t believe how this man can bear to stand there and sing these lines, which now, with a touch of sad irony, seem to fit so well. Unbelieveable as it might be, somehow he manages it, however, with the pain clearly visible in his face.Leah and Peter seem to be taking extra care of Robert tonight, although the very worried looks one could read on their faces only two days ago, have more or less disappeared.They continue throughout a quite typical set of this album’s tour, featuring Mama Taught Me Better, Red Eyes And Tears, Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, and so on, a balanced, steady mixture of high points from all of their albums, and they put all their heart into it.After a good deal of songs something happens that I most definitely wasn’t expecting for tonight: Leah and Peter leave the stage, I see Robert plug in his semi-acoustic guitar and all I can think is that this is all along the line of committing emotional suicide. But off he goes, delving into a performance of Sympathetic Noose. During the climax of the part he always adds live nowadays his voice shortly falters and I guess I’m not the only one to realize they have tears running down their face. In the end, this deeply compassionate devotion is only one of a few occasions for this during this show.After this Robert leaves, of course, and Peter strikes up The Toll and a subsequent Sweet Feeling, which Robert later joins by singing harmonies. It’s something very special to have these acoustic sessions in between again after some time of Peter’s “acoustic absence” and especially in times like these. Apart from the obligatory “I can’t get through a three-song-acoustic set without keeping my bloody mouth shut”-jerks you can tell that there is a lot of sympathy and basically love flooding the room.During the faster songs there are even some attempts of crowd-surfing, which actually results in a smile lightening up Robert’s face, and you can’t shake off the impression that the Utrecht crowd is really up for it. Half-State again is another moment that strikes the contemplative part of the audience, considering the fact that this song, as Peter once told me in an interview, is about talking to dead loved-ones. And here goes another shiver down my spine.After a sweaty Spread Your Love Rob gives away his pick and kisses the random hand having grabbed it, showing a general sign of affection to this crowd.Some mighty applause and several “We want more”s later there is a short encore set of Shadow’s Keeper, which makes the band give everything, and Open Invitation.While this song might already strike a sentimental chord with a lot of people, this performance tonight makes me lose it. “And we may never be here again” is the line that seemingly does not only make me thing about how very vulnerable our lives are. Looking around after the last chord has been played and after the lights have been turned on again there are touched and tear-stricken faces all over the place.If I had to sum up or compare this show tonight with other BRMC shows I’ve seen, I would have to say this: this has been one of the most intense shows I’ve ever attended. Not by means of having the most fun or being the saddest. Not by means of hearing most of my favourite songs or the crowd being great. However, this show sent the message that, no matter what happens, to quote The Smiths, there is a light that never goes out. That music can unite people, whether in joy or in pain, and that music can give you the strength to move on, can give you a feeling of catharsis, can help to cleanse your soul.No matter where Michael Been is now, I’m sure he was watching and, without having known him personally, as a seemingly devoted and loving dad he was and is sure proud of his son.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ Tivoli, Utrecht