It seems Robert Levon Been’s time in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club served him in good stead for a tribute he never knew he’d have to make. Emerging from the 2000s-era garage-band aesthetic, BRMC has evolved into a classically anthemic rock band — not all that different, in some ways, from his father Michael Been’s deeply underrated 1980s-era outfit the Call.
By all accounts except his own, Michael ended the Call far too soon. They’d reconvened for a well-received comeback effort titled To Heaven and Back in 1997, but quickly disbanded thereafter. Michael became a steady confidant and sometime sound engineer for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, only to die suddenly of a heart attack while the group was on tour in 2010. The remaining members of the Call admit to feeling there was more to be said, more to be sung, but it seemed as if that time had passed.
Robert Levon Been changed all of that, with a powerful reading of one of his dad’s songs at Michael Been’s memorial. And so, a reformulated version of the Call found itself on stage at Los Angeles’ Troubadour on April 19, 2013, with Robert holding his father’s fretless bass. Captured as a CD/DVD combo pack on A Tribute to Michael Been, the results are profoundly moving.
We watch them return to music that, though mostly written in a flurry of seven albums in the eight years between 1982-1990, still resonated with wit and emotion. A son breathes new life into familiar Call favorites like “The Walls Came Down,” “Let the Day Begin” and “I Still Believe,” even as original members Tom Ferrier, Jim Goodwin and Scott Musick recapture every bit of this band’s glorious power. After 20 years away, and Michael’s tragic death, it was an unexpected gift, I’m sure, for them — and for us.
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