Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The Brian Jonestown Massacre at The Kentish Town Forum, London Tuesday October 23rd

The Brian Jonestown Massacre at The Forum - Photo by Retro Man Blog
I realised that I hadn't seen The Brian Jonestown Massacre play live since 2006, I think by that time I’d just had enough of attending some pretty fractious gigs where there was vitriol in the air and the atmosphere was getting unpleasant. It seemed that the success of the documentary "Dig!" was turning out to be something of a double-edged sword. Sure, there was no doubting that the film raised their profile considerably but by concentrating on the violence surrounding the band, gigs started turning into a bit of a freakshow as people were turning up seemingly more intent on goading Anton than appreciating the music. However, I think hearing the brilliant “Aufheben" on its release in 2012 piqued my interest in the band once again and I started to keep a look out for their new releases. I remembered what I originally loved about the BJM and each consecutive release seemed to get better and better, culminating in this year’s stunning album “Something Else”. I suddenly got the urge to catch them play live again so here I am at a sold out packed-to-the-rafters Kentish Town Forum waiting impatiently for my first BJM gig in 12 years to start. Thankfully, as I was to discover through the course of tonight’s gig, the audience has grown with the band, there was zero heckling during the show and now it’s all about the music and nothing but the music.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre at The Forum - Photo by Retro Man Blog
For me, the enduring impression that I got from “Dig!” was that no matter what physical or mental state Anton was in throughout the movie, he always seemed to be consumed by the urge to make music. You could feel it coursing through his veins, bursting to get out. He also reminded me of some other uncompromising maverick favourites of mine working outside the usual corporate music business and all rooted in 60’s Psychedelia such as Julian Cope, Michael Head of Shack and Ebbot Lundberg of The Soundtrack of Our Lives. No matter what extremes these Artists go through, they cannot avoid writing beautiful melodic and moving music. In fact, as an aside, in a recent interview I did with Ebbot, I asked if there was anyone that he wanted to collaborate with and his answer was succinct - “Anton Newcombe”. At our recent Retro Man Blog Night for Ebbot’s return to London with his new band The Indigo Children, we played the BJM’s “Panic In Babylon” as his intro music and it sounded amazing. Anyway, back to the gig and I could feel a buzz of excitement as the band takes the stage, Anton is on the right side facing more towards his band mates than the crowd and I notice there has been a significant change in the line-up that I was once familiar with. I only recognise tambourine maestro Joel Gion (surely a cultural icon...!) and guitarist Ricky Maymi but it’s soon clear that all the new (to me at least) members fit in seamlessly. There is a somewhat low-key opening as they kick off proceedings with a sultry new song "We Never Had a Chance".

The Brian Jonestown Massacre at The Forum - Photo by Retro Man Blog
This is followed by the hypnotic “What Happened to Them" which might be more familiar under its Swedish title (not something you'll hear said very often...) "Vad Hände Med Dem?” the opening track on "Revelation". There are only two songs from the excellent new album “Something Else” and these were "Hold That Thought" and the brilliant "Who Dreams of Cats?" which is as catchy as hell. However, Anton’s already moving on and it is testament to his prolific nature that there were more new as yet unreleased songs as there were from the current album. The new single “Forgotten Graves” was absolutely stunning and "Drained" was a revelation, riding in on an acoustic groove and a great guitar riff; it has immediately been transported up there among all my old BJM favourites. Talking of old favourites, the set is peppered with a selection of classics from throughout the band’s career. "Sailor" was sublime, and sums up the very reason why I want to experience live music in the first place, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. During “Anemone”, the crowd lifts their arms into the air in unison as Anton sings "You should be picking me up" and from my vantage point on the balcony it looked pretty damn impressive. The Brian Jonestown Massacre know how to play with your emotions and the stripped back Gospel-Blues of "The Devil May Care" and its heart-breaking opening line "say goodbye to mum and dad, the two best friends I never had", brings a lump to the throat. Things get a bit more lively with "That Girl Suicide", a breath-taking "Nevertheless" and the Garage Rock singalong nugget "Who?" The familiar riffing of "When Jokers Attack" and a shimmering, almost transcendental "Pish" are both real highlights tonight.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre at The Forum - Photo by Retro Man Blog
There’s not much interaction between band and audience tonight, just a few words from Anton, mainly about his radio show, but he looks relaxed and in good spirits. Joel is his usual laconic self although he does blow his cool once by failing to catch his tambourine after hurling it into the air and it crashes into the photographer’s pit. He redeems himself by trying again and falling to the ground as he successfully catches the next attempt, it’s a classic slapstick moment that injects a bit of warmth and humour into the show. Towards the end of the set Joel produces the biggest tambourine I have ever seen, it’s of Spinal Tap 'one louder' proportions. The band end the show with another new number "A Word" and a couple of roadies with guitars join them. I haven’t seen so many guitarists on stage since the last time I saw The Blue Aeroplanes run through their customary free-for-all encore of Tom Verlaine’s "Breakin' In My Heart". It’s a powerful way to end the set and as the song collapses into squalls of feedback with Ricky playing with his effects pedals, Anton gets behind the drums and suddenly everything turns into a Psychedelic Krautrock rave-up until the house lights go up and I file out of the venue, thoroughly satisfied after such a great show.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre at The Forum - Photo by Retro Man Blog
I must just mention one incident though. Sometime during the set, a fan at the front of the stage gave Anton a cool knitted lookalike doll and the delighted singer props it up next to his amp. I later hear that the doll, who the band had named Tony, was stolen by some backstage chancer; it’s unbelievable that someone could be so dumb and thoughtless. So if anyone has any information please do contact the band. The Brian Jonestown Massacre have a new single “Forgotten Graves” out soon on 'a' Recordings and Anton has collaborated once again with Tess Parks on a fantastic new album "Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe". Tess will be playing a Bad Vibrations show in London at the Dome in Tufnell Park on December 13th, we have our tickets booked and will definitely report on that show for the Blog. Anton has also been working with the brilliant French band The Limiñanas and they are definitely well worth checking out. Finally, as regulars to our Blog and Podcast will know, we are also big fans of Joel Gion’s solo work and I would really recommend his latest self-titled album, you can hear a track in Retrosonic Podcast Episode 29 here
 


More photos of the show can be found at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here and there are some videos at our YouTube channel too, here's a taster...



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