After 28 years and 18 albums (plus another coming later this year), Californian psych rockers The Brian Jonestown Massacre notorious claim to fame is the 2004 documentary ‘Dig!’.
The film left viewers with the impression that bandleader Anton Newcombe is a chaotic force prone to aggressive outbursts. With some trepidation, I had to see them live.
Surprisingly, a cheery Anton appeared at Brisbane’s The Tivoli Theatre (7 June) with his phone aimed at the crowd. “Can somebody turn up the houselights so I can show my mom how cool this place looks?” he asked. Over two hours, Anton and his band revealed the layers of their music and themselves.
One fan of The Brian Jonestown Massacre is indie rocker Gabriella Cohen, who described opening for the band as “fulfilling a teenage dream”.
She opened alone, accompanied by her bluesy guitar licks and sultry vocals. Gabriella's band joined her after, filling out the earlier bareness with smoky rock. The fun they had on stage was infectious, but no one had as much fun as Gabriella who was all smiles while slapping a tambourine against her shaking hips to her band’s grooves.Click here to read our May 2018 interview with Anton Newcombe.
The six-member The Brian Jonestown Massacre staggered onto the stage, easing into opener ‘We Never Had A Chance’. Starting off slow and mellow, the song slowly bloomed into a wall of shivering guitars.
While tambourine player Joel Gion posed centre-stage, it was Anton who got the most attention, with one fan professing their love to him. “See you after the show,” he laughed in response.
Anton ran a tight ship throughout, taking time between songs to make sure they were note perfect. The audience was restless during these periods, but their appreciation was heard when the stunning 'When Jokers Attack' appeared.
During that song, feedback pierced through the sound. Without missing a beat, Anton grabbed his mic, went side of stage and signalled his roadie to fix the problem, all while continuing to sing.
But Anton’s perfectionism soon got the better of him and his temper flared. Anton halted the grooving ‘Who Dreams Of Cats?’ to address bassist Collin Hegna, who had begun playing the second verse too early.
“Do we play the same f#$%ing song again or f#$%ing start a new f#$%ing song?” he snapped. Unable to hear, he roared “shut the f#$% up”, soon giving up and asking Joel what to do. “Let’s play the motherf#$%ing song,” Joel calmly responded.
The band started again, with Anton keeping a watchful eye on Collin for the song’s duration.
The rest of the set dazzled, especially on fan favourite ‘Anemone’. Fans grooved to the stoner jam, raising their hands and singing “You should be picking me up”. The band followed with the yet-to-be-released ‘What Can I Say?’, but Anton’s temper returned.
He directed his anger at drummer Dan Allaire for “not f#$%ing knowing how to f#$%ing play a f#$%ing four-four f#$%ing beat”. The band regrouped, but the room filled with tension when Anton halted the song again. “It’s all over the f#$%ing map,” he barked. Third time was the charm, and the band delivered with Dan’s playing much more forceful.
They closed with ‘Yeah Yeah’, which exploded into a noisy maelstrom. Guitar lines swirled together before everything was put into maximum overdrive, washing us in pure noise for ten minutes.
As the band left, Anton knelt at his amp and conjured more feedback. Witnessing Anton’s anger was worrying. But when channelled into perfect psychedelic storms like this, The Brian Jonestown Massacre are a force to be reckoned with.