Friday, 13 July 2012

The Brian Jonestown Massacre live at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire Saturday July 07th

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Photo by Steve Worrall
I must admit to losing touch with The Brian Jonestown Massacre over the past few years, I hadn't seen the band since 2006 and didn’t really enjoy the last two albums "My Bloody Underground" and "Who Killed Sgt. Pepper". Those albums saw the band's main songwriter and creative force, Anton Newcombe, moving away from a traditional band format and working more on trance-like, electronic based compositions. They seemed very much influenced by his travels and very evocative of two countries in particular. Firstly, there were the glacial surroundings of Iceland, a country that Anton seemed to be heavily smitten with, and then the Krautrock beats and atmosphere of his new base, Berlin. However, after getting the brand new album “Aufheben” (A Records), which is a mighty return to their best, I was really keen to catch the band live again.

Photo by Steve Worrall
The Shepherds Bush Empire is a complete sell-out, it's unusual to see all the balcony levels opened up and filled to bursting point. There is a real air of expectancy, and an excited buzz all around the packed out venue. The band appears and takes up their positions; Anton stands so far over on the left that he’s almost hidden behind the curtains. I’m a bit surprised to see all the familiar faces from the last time I saw the band live way back in 2006. There’s Frankie Teardrop and Rick Maymi on guitars, Collin Hegna on the bass, Drummer Daniel Allaire and Rob Campanella on keyboards and guitar - it must be the most stable line-up in the band’s somewhat volatile history. We are also treated to the return of Matt Hollywood, who left the band, amidst some acrimony in the late 90’s, to concentrate on his band The Out Crowd. I always loved the way that Anton and Matt’s song-writing complimented each other so well on some of those classic Brian Jonestown Massacre albums and it’s great to see them back together.

Joel Gion by Steve Worrall
Then of course there is Joel Gion, who has taken playing the tambourine to another level of cool. Joel has become a bit of a cult figure amongst fans and, although now shorn of his iconic sideburns, he still exudes that charismatic nonchalance and gets the biggest cheer of all as he takes his usual position centre stage. They kick off with “Stairway To The Best Party” from the new album and then into the wonderful “Vacuum Boots”, one of my all time favourite BJM songs, Anton rocks backwards and forwards in that familiar pose as the classic riff spirals out into the venue. Another great track from the new album follows, “I Want To Hold Your Other Hand” which is destined to go down as a future crowd favourite I’m sure. Not since the heady days of The Blue Aeroplanes have I seen so many guitarists on one stage, at certain points during the show five guitarists are all playing simultaneously. This, along with the slightly disconcerting sight of the two roadies/guitar techs visibly tuning up instruments right behind the band, gives the appearance of some kind of psychedelic guitar orchestra.

The set list is well paced and features a superb selection of tracks although some of the old favourites don't make the cut such as "Nevertheless", "Hide & Seek" and "Who", but with such a back catalogue of strong material and a new album to promote it's hardly surprising that some songs will have to be missed out. We are treated to around 1 hour 45 minutes of prime BJM material with a healthy and well-received choice of songs from the new album, which fit in seamlessly alongside their classics such as “Open Heart Surgery” and “Prozac vs. Heroin”.

Photo by Steve Worrall
Rocking versions of “Not If You Were The Last Dandy” and “Got My Eye on You” spark crowd-surfing and crazed dancing at the front of the stage. In fact one difference I notice in the long time since I saw the band live, is in the audience. Whereas before, you’d always get a bunch of people seemingly only there with the intention of goading Anton into reacting and losing the plot, to witness that media-stirred Brian Jonestown Massacre freak-show. But tonight the packed out crowd is there for the music, there's no heckling or knucklehead behaviour and the band respond with an unbelievably blissed out performance.

However, there is one moment though where there's an audible gasp from the crowd as Anton delays the start of one song to seemingly berate the sound-man "Hey Mr Soundman, I'm the lead guitarist and I expect...nah, I'm just kidding you, you're doing a great job". It's good to see him making a joke at his own expense, he seems in good spirits, a genial "cheers" follows a rapturous reception to one track and he also gives a nod to the support act. There’s more self-deprecating humour, "I bought 10 tickets myself to give to all my Star friends but it seems I don't have any Star friends anymore so I sold the tickets outside". There is just one false start at the beginning of “David Bowie”, where he tries to get the song started with the correct tempo but other than that, it's a pretty intense and seamless performance with the band locked in perfectly together.

Brian Jonestown Massacre - by Steve Worrall
The guitars intertwine and on "Super-Sonic", with Matt getting out a tabla style drum to propel the Eastern rhythm, I almost experience a transcendental moment, the heavy air of spliff smoke might have contributed to that though! The band bring things to a close with a rousing run through of Matt Hollywood’s “Oh Lord” and end it all with “Straight Up & Down”, now the theme tune to the gangster TV drama “Boardwalk Empire”. This runs out into a coda of “Sympathy To The Devil” and they leave to a squall of feedback that, despite the ear-splitting noise, does nothing to drown out the massive roar of appreciation from the crowd.

Here's a video of "Oh Lord" - for more of my videos of the gig please visit the brand new Retro Man YouTube Channel.

With many thanks to Joel Gion, without whom...You can check out an earlier Blog feature on Joel's excellent new solo E.P. HERE. Also, visit the great Committee To Keep Music Evil site where you will find more Brian Jonestown Massacre information, merchandise, a fan's forum and news on other releases.

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