The editors at Smells Like Pop recently experienced the rare opportunity where we were all together at the same show. In this case, it was for Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. And, instead of relying on one of us to do a write-up, we thought we’d all add a short review. Including our friend, Pete Champ!
The BJM show got almost no local press, which was surprising because of a) the band’s famed and filmed love-hate relationship with locals The Dandy Warhols, and b) they put on a kick-ass show. Anton Newcombe orchestrated from the side of the stage, his distinct vocals and guitar standing out somehow over the wall of sound emanating from four to five other guitars on stage at any one time. The result was loud, of course, but almost restrained, counter to the band’s reputation for chaos. Newcombe even thanked audience members individually (rather than kicking them in the head, for instance). The night was given to dispelling all such demons, graciously inviting Zia McCabe herself onto stage, for a distinctly Dandy-ish song. BJM put on a remarkable show, the guitar-work layered and even disciplined, avoiding the pitfall of the many-guitared jam band. Indeed, they didn’t let loose until the final song, a Beatles cover that seemed to have no end. Afterward, I wished it hadn’t.
It’s beyond cliché to reference the documented struggles of Anton Newcombe and his band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. But it does seem to be fair to acknowledge when he – and they – get it right. Highlighting tracks from the band’s latest, Aufheben – which is arguably their most solid album from beginning to end, the BJM transcended that album’s strengths with an even stronger live performance.
BJM ranged through its material, playing some old favorites, as well as showcasing the strength of newer tunes like the catchy “I want to hold your other hand”, and the warm-fuzzy inspiring homage, “Blue Order/New Monday”. Zia McCabe (of Portland’s Dandy Warhols) even hopped on stage to contribute some booty shaking and tambourine support – a nod to the past, while perhaps sensing the forward momentum created by the strength of BJM’s new material and focused performance.
Anton Newcombe is still chief engineer on the BJM express and everyone else is along for the ride. With each song you can pick a small piece from many bands. Now that the drama seems to be over you can focus on the music and relax. Being so prolific with their songs they almost blend together until they unleash a manic tamborine tune that reminds people why they like them.
The audience waiting for the show to start at the Wonder Ballroom skewed older and artier. The seeen-it-all-before crowd was cautiously waiting for something new to happen – again. When the Brian Jonestown Massacre took to the stage with little fanfare, I was secretly glad to see lead tamborurine player, Joel Gion at the center of a stage that also included five guitar players (including bass), a drummer and keyboardist – all looking like they were about to play a show at the ’60s-era Factory as opposed to Portland in 2012. The band sounded great – even better than on record. Songs that have seemed shambling and mishapen in the past, became beautifully orchestrated walls of blissful-noise pop. Songwriter/founder/cult leader Anton Newcombe has found a nice collaborator in Spacemen 3 bassist, Will Carruthers who seems to be keeping the band more centered – there were no interpersonal flare-ups this night. The band played many songs from their great new album, Aufheben as well as a cross-country tour of their previous twenty-plus back catalog of psychedelic inspired pop. If you have a chance to see BJM live, do it. Dig?