[4 September 2012]
No matter the personnel in any particular Brian Jonestown Massacre incarnation, each recruit is worth their salt in a live setting. A two hour long set is on the short end for Anton Newcombe and co., and few people have the stamina to rock on through a back catalog of twelve psychedelic albums with little break between songs. Maybe this is one of the necessities for Newcombe’s volatile image: make one mistake on stage and you may get stabbed. Although New York’s Webster Hall may not have been the greatest venue for the band to unleash its power in, the energy of the show resisted being dragged down by the setting’s flaws.
Newcombe’s mania is prone to get in the way of his talent, but by keeping to stage right for the entirety of the Webster Hall set—the last of the band’s world tour—allowed space for the songs and the rest of the band’s talents to bloom. The frontline of the eight-person band was made up of Brian Jonestown all-stars, with guitarist Matt Hollywood—who rejoined the band in 2010—and bored-seeming but still entertaining percussionist Joel Gion front and center. This is not to say the rest of the band was not noteworthy; a bassist who has done time in Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized and guitarists from Scandinavian outfits Dead Skeletons and Singapore Sling are hardly people to write off. Sweetening the deal further was the inclusion of a mellotron player and a Kiwi drummer from New Zealand outfit High Dependency Unit.
While a fair share of recent release Aufheben was played, the band was not beyond pulling out fan favorites such as “Anemone”, “Vacuum Boots”, and “David Bowie I Love You Since I was Six”, a classic which has gotten recent attention due to a cover by alt country artist Jessica Lea Mayfield. Songs in which Hollywood took the mic, such as “Oh Lord” and “Not if You Were the Last Dandy on Earth”, plus the Hollywood-Newcombe double-threat “Straight Up and Down”, got a particularly large cheer.
Someone new to the Brian Jonestown Massacre live experience may think that, were a band to perform for two-plus hours, the show’s expanse would plant endless descriptive phrases in the spectator’s head. However, due in large part to Webster Hall’s sound causing many songs with similar rhythms to sound interchangeable, BJM felt like more of the same after an hour.
The sold out crowd cared little about interchangeability or pondered the need for that many guitarists on stage. A large portion of gig-goers seemed to be there for the sole purpose of getting drunk or smoking the particularly fragrant weed they had smuggled in and having a good time. It is very difficult to mention Brian Jonestown Massacre without mentioning DiG!, the documentary that earned the band much attention and revealed Anton Newcombe as one of the more confrontational front men around. It is even more difficult to gauge what fraction of a BJM audience is there to enjoy some rockin’ good tunes and how many people are there to bait Newcombe. Thanks to the eight years that have passed since DiG!’s release, the hecklers were at a minimum on this night. The closest anyone got to provoking Newcombe were a few customary shouts to play particular BJM nuggets. Newcombe’s welcome retort for this was “Bands with 300 songs who put out real albums shouldn’t have to take requests…Requests are for bands with just an album on Bandcamp.”
After this utterance, banter remained absent until the very end of the set when, after the usual thank yous and other remarks customary of the last night of a world tour, Hollywood announced that he was moving out of New York. Newcombe then gave a quick shout-out to droney openers Magic Castles, and recounted signing the band after seeing them for the first time. These few short remarks acted as something of a break before the supposed encore of the night, which the band launched into without leaving the stage. Even though a few audience members left the show early, a considerable amount stood waiting and ready for more as the house lights rose. Seeing as little exhaustion was evident on stage, the Brian Jonestown Massacre could have easily obliged us for an hour and then some. If the band chooses a venue with a laxer curfew on their next outing, it is likely we will all get our share.