Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – the Music and the Myth

Bitterzoet, 27 June 2012

What can you really say about the Brian Jonestown Massacre that hasn’t been said before?


Second only to Oasis, they have probably been the most publically belligerent and unstable band seen over the past 20 years. A reputation that was highlighted in the 2004 documentary Dig!, which showcased lead singer and guitarists Anton Newcombe’s volatile personality and the bands love-hate relationship with friends/rivals, the Dandy Warhols.

Although they have never made it into the music main stream, with more than 20 albums to their name they have developed a huge cult following over the years. This was demonstrated fairly accurately in Amsterdam, with Bitterzoet selling out reasonably quickly and the crowd on the night being pretty passionate in their love for both Anton and his band of talented misfits.

Even though I enjoyed the show, I am not sure if I can count myself in the passionate fan category. For me there were two main things I took away from the experience – the Music and the Myth:

The Music – There is no doubting Anton’s talent as a musician, or anyone else’s in the band, and if you enjoy that sort of jamming neo-psychedelic rock, there is no reason you wouldn’t like their music. But to me it is hard to get beyond enjoyable background music, or something to get lost in your own thoughts with. And that is how I felt during the show. There were 8 band members on stage (until one stormed off – see below) and at times there were up to 6 guitars playing. Even though the sound mix was pretty good, it was tough to really tell any of them apart and it just became a wall of sound.

The other part noted by both myself and JV before and after the show is that they don’t have any real standout songs; good or bad. It was clear that the fans had their favorites, but we both found it tough to walk away and say what the best song of the night was. You can’t help but think this is part of the reason for their lack of commercial success.

This was in stark contrast to their “rivals” the Dandy Warhols, who we saw earlier this year (VPM's Dandy Review), and who were able to pump out almost an entire set of hits. Just like in the documentary it is not hard to see that Anton may well be more talented, but it is the hits that bring in the crowd and at least to me made the Dandy Warhols the more enjoyable show.

The Myth – If you have read or heard anything about the Brian Jonestown Massacre, you will know Anton has the reputation for being both volatile and at times violent, with both his band mates and the crowd. With respect to Dig! I always took this with a grain of salt. I mean of course his prima donna antics make for a better documentary than the nights that went well, and in seven years of filming they were bound to get enough footage for a 2 hour doco.

So I went into the show with low expectation of actually witnessing this myth.

But all I can say from my sample of one show is that everything I had heard and read was pretty much on the money. He is a strange and complex dude. He didn’t say a word the entire set, in fact he barely seemed to make eye contact with the crowd, which is pretty strange at such a small venue where the front row is only centimeters from the band. And then at the end (well, what became the end – it is hard to know if there was actually meant to be more) he just snapped.

One of the 6 guitarists stormed off during the final few bars of the song and Anton just snapped. You can check out the video of it below – it is hard to say exactly what happened but it was sort of like watching 8 year-olds argue with each other. “You weren’t even fu%#&ng invited on this tour!”

This level of volatility certainly adds to the excitement of the show and I walked away pretty pumped up with what we had just witnessed. Am I listening to more BJM now? Not really. Was it a memorable show and worth the money? You’re damn right it was!


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