It is never easy to be the progeny of a great artist. Expectations are already heightened whenever the industry pricks up their ears at kin, particularly musical ones, stepping forward to carry the torch left by their parents.
In the case of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club frontman Robert Levon Been, one can only imagine what was going through his head when he took the Troubadour’s stage in Los Angeles back in April 2013 with his late father Michael’s bandmates in the Call. This was/is a group deeply rooted in Americana yet, ironically, they never made an enormous commercial impact in the States. But when Peter Gabriel proclaims your band to be “the future of American music,” and Garth Hudson of the Band prominently plays keyboards in one of your music videos, you’re destined to leave an impact.
Emotion is ever-present throughout this CD/DVD combo yet Robert isn’t out for glory here. He wants to embody the spirit and genius of his father, the Call’s bearded, baritone frontman whose harrowing vocals sang of optimism, yearning, emotionalism and even corporate greed throughout the 1980s before tragically passing away in 2010 at age 60. Fortunately, Robert, with his dad’s fretless bass in tow, takes charge and leads the fray with utmost passion and confidence.
The show emphasizes the fact the Call was/is a terrific band. The guitar sounds of Tom Ferrier still clang with the intensity of The Edge. Meanwhile, Robert may not have the same vocal range as his father but his unique Bono-meets-Ian Curtis sound give the band a darker edge that seems appropriate given that the implicit mourning taking place here.
Although it had been over a dozen years since the band was last together, their cohesion is as tight as ever. Kicking right into the timeless “Everywhere I Go,” the Call breathe new life into Michael’s mighty collection of songs. “Into The Woods” is an emotional affair while “Oklahoma,” “Let the Day Begin” and the anthemic “The Walls Came Down” are rocking and spirited numbers. “You Run” is stripped down to just Robert’s voice and a guitar. It’s haunting and breathtaking all at once. Throughout, misty lights and dark ambiance give way to heartfelt songs and fiery passion as the packed crowd feeds off Robert’s magnetism and vitality.
The Call may be no more after this album’s release, which only highlights the necessity and urgency of re-discovering this fantastic band. Robert at the helm is like witnessing Jeff Buckley do a phoenix rise out of his father Tim’s legacy. If this does happen to be goodbye for good, then you couldn’t ask for a more fitting and beautiful farewell.
– Ira Kantor