The Brian Jonestown Massacre

David Marchese

Where's the wreck? Newcomb and the Massacre stay strangely on track.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

City: Toronto
Venue: Lee's Palace
Date: 2004-10-30

The Brian Jonestown Massacre
On a night when everyone else was invited to be something they weren't, the Brian Jonestown Massacre raised questions on the importance of identity in rock and roll's image-obsessed culture. The band, half of the focus of Ondi Timonder's recent documentary Dig!, floated in a haze of half-familiar melodies employing faintly recognizable motifs. One song sounded like Lou Reed singing with the Byrds, the next like The Cure jamming with Spacemen 3. It might have been a legitimate gripe to say that the band is completely disinterested in a sound they could justifiably call their own. That is, if they hadn't sounded so good. There was a sense of excitement inside the packed club, one that probably had something to do with the band's sudden notoriety as documentary subject. Dig! portrays the BJM as a ramshackle bunch of ne'er do wells led by its undisputed leader, guitarist and singer, Anton Newcombe. The film paints Newcombe, who has publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the film, as a drug-dependent egomaniac, unwillingly dedicated to sabotaging his chances at popular success. Though the portrait is far from flattering, the film presents him and his band as an example of "authentic" rock and rollers. Who knows how many broken dreams have come as the result of the myth of rock and roll authenticity? Probably not as many as the number of records that have been sold on the back of the same doomed romanticism. Undoubtedly, many in the crowd were hoping for some kind of spectacular flameout or meltdown. These were the kind of people who liked Fat Elvis more than Sun Elvis -- a video store not too far from the club rents compilation videos of rock stars freaking out in public. We all slow down to look at car wrecks. Unfortunately, for those looking to get off on schadenfreude, "good" Anton showed up. He spoke humbly and good-naturedly to the crowd, honouring requests to tell stories and to perform fan favorites. Now and then, subtle hints of instability would creep out: Newcombe seemed incapable of tuning his own guitar; he abruptly stopped on two or three occasions to tutor band members on their parts; he disappeared from the stage for a minute here and there. But on the whole, Newcombe hardly lived up as the model of instability described on this very website just over a year ago. Compared to the personality of their leader, the Brian Jonestown Massacre's music is easy to read. The rhythm guitarist, in a cheesecloth shirt, strummed rudimentary chords with just the right look of disaffection. The keyboardists played universe to the bands' stars, covering space with drones. The bass player must have listened a lot more closely to Bill Wyman than the rest of us ever did. The lead guitarist excelled at fulfilling the requirements of his charge: frenetic movement and excessive sweating. The drummer spent the whole night looking as if he was deathly afraid of messing up. Newcombe stood stage left, strumming and singing, rarely moving as he played, positioned with one eye on the crowd and one eye on the band. Together they made a sound that came pretty close to bliss. Even if he's a musical mimic, adapting the work of those more visionary and talented than himself, Newcombe and his shambolic cohorts perform a valuable service. For 12 bucks you get two hours of musical make-believe. Close your eyes and it's San Francisco circa 1967. Blink and you're in a dank basement in post-punk London. Blink again and it's happening right here, right now: guitars cascading and shimmering around each other, an organ droning in the background, rhythm section thumping and vrooming. Add a skinny white boy singing over the top and you have something that will sound just as great in the future as it does in the present and did in the past. The band's most recent studio album is titled Tomorrow's Heroes Today, but on this night they more closely resembled the heroes of yesterday. Maybe the Anton Newcombe I saw was an aberration, a bad man caught on a good night. Maybe he really is the screw-up from Dig! But on Halloween, when Little Richard danced across the room from Jacques Cousteau, and the corpse of Kennedy drank with the Devil, no one got any strikes against them for putting on a costume. The Brian Jonestown Massacre wore a lot of musical costumes, but each one was a good fit. It's when the music stops that Anton Newcombe seems unsure of who he his, or at least who he's supposed to be.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.