WW intern Sarah Jacoby jumps right in to seeing Brian Jonestown Massacre and gets exactly what she bargained for.
I admit it. I didn't know anything about The Brian Jonestown Massacre until I saw the infamous DiG!
—a movie that lead singer Anton Newcombe would probably like us all to forget. Having seen the somewhat unflattering portrayal of the BJM in the film, I went to the band's show last night not knowing whether to expect either an amazing, opiate-laced three-hour set or an ego clashing, all-out brawl after only one or two songs.
Either way, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed.
From the first song on, it was clear that, when performing live, BJM thrives on creating an intense sensory overload in the most pleasant way possible. With three, often four and sometimes even five guitars playing at the same time, it takes a few seconds to tell that someone is playing a solo and even longer to figure out who is actually doing the playing. That sense of hazy confusion, along with the palpable tension that comes naturally with just having that many musicians on stage at the same time, is something that doesn't come across when listening to BJM on headphones while staring at a computer. If they're not all directly in front of you, it can be easy to forget just how many hardworking people it takes to create that heavy, garage-rock-infused psychedelic sound the BJM is known for.
With the group's rotating cast of characters, one can never be entirely sure who will be on stage at a BJM show. And, considering this is a band whose alumni seem to be more famous than those members still sticking it out, it was nice to see some familiar faces. Guitarist Matt Hollywood, cool as ever, sang a few of the band's best numbers and percussionist Joel Gion was on hand with wrists of steel to provide some necessary tambourine and a healthy dose of crowd-pleasing charisma. Colin Hegna (who also plays with the night's opening Spaghetti Western group, Federale) is a Portland celeb in his own right. Even Zia McCabe (of Dandy Warhols fame) showed up to lend her own tambourine talents to BJM's “Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth.”
And, of course, Newcombe's presence was undeniable. Even with his hair permanently in his eyes, his hold over the other members of the band persisted through every moment it was on stage. With a few technical difficulties throughout the show that only Newcombe seemed to notice, I found myself whispering, “Please don't have a fight. Please don't have a fight. Please don't have a fight.” And, just as I had convinced myself that BJM's reputation for violence was more a myth than a promise, Newcombe cut “Satellite” short and yelled from one end of the long line of musicians to the other, ordering one of the many guitarists to put their instrument down and get off the stage. The song started again, but it would be the group's last of the night.
Newcombe's perfectionism can seem excessive and often appears downright belligerent. But the result is BJM's own brand of neo-psychedelia that combines a tribute to the great genre-expanding experimental acts of the '60s and '70s with '90s shoegaze influence, constantly reinterpreted to include ever-increasing amounts of distortion, then filtered through Newcombe's maze of a mind. There's really nothing quite like feeling the first beat of a BJM bass drum as the stage explodes with the sway-inducing sounds of existential enlightenment.
Brian Jonestown MassacreSpace
Image courtesy of Sarah Jacoby