The Brian Jonestown Massacre with Ghost Meat at Vogue Theatre, 5/21/18
The Brian Jonestown Massacre has some of the most loyal fans. And a whole slew of them were lined up outside the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver Monday night when the band’s lead himself—Anton Newcombe, in all his beaded, greasy long-haired glory—came outside for a nonchalant smoke.
Everyone in the line was trying very, very hard to be cool. This man is a legend—someone who can effortless pump out psychedelic rock albums riddled with genius riffs and melodies that are strangely beautiful, juxtaposed to sometimes punky vocals. He’s also just one hell of a character. After he went back inside, fans in the line let out long breaths and laughed: “Fuck, I was trying so hard to be chill. That was rough.”
The Brian Jonestown Massacre is unmistakably Newcombe’s band. By that we mean he is king. Tambourinist and possibly-one-of-the-most-fascinating-people-to-watch-ever, Joel Gion, is certainly an important and beloved figure in the band as well. But he lets Newcombe lord over everything. Gion’s laidback, I-don’t-give-a-fuck manner meshes perfectly with Newcombe’s controlling and perfectionist manner. And anyone in BJM has to be that way.
Newcombe is famous for pumping out albums in a very short amount of time. But make no mistake, while it’s often quick and he has seventeen studio albums alone under his belt, these compilations are quality. The show at the Vogue kicked off with “We Never Had a Chance,” and the danceable quality of every track would carry through to the end of the show.
The group performed a lot of new songs, including “Forgotten Graves,” “What Can I Say?,” and “Who Dreams of Cats?” And all of it is good. No matter what BJM creates, they know how to BJM-it-up. It’s distinctly them.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a BJM show without at least one mini freak-out by Newcombe. Halfway through the show, he reprimanded his guitarist in front of the audience for “playing out of tune for five minutes.” He was pissed. But after all these years, countless meltdowns on stage and a rock documentary that highlighted this part of BJM’s reputation—Dig!—one has to wonder if it has become an act.
Newcombe was constantly fiddling with the volume on his guitar and speakers, and was constantly tuning and retuning. His faithful roadie sat at the back of the stage—but still onstage—watching Newcombe intently and waiting for a moment where he was needed. And those moments came fairly often. Whether it was untangling Newcombe’s microphone chord, running to the guitarist to let him know he was out of tune and that Newcombe wasn’t too happy about it, or just lending an ear to the picky lead singer. This is Newcombe, and while he’s still obviously a bit of a handful, we love him for it.
Gion, meanwhile, was prancing, gyrating and floating around stage with his tambourines and maracas. No one ever made these instruments look so pro and entertaining. His facial expressions alone make him someone that one could just sit and watch for hours, mesmerized.
While the band, understandably, wanted to cover a lot of new material on this tour, there was a hole on the setlist that songs from the Revelation album should have filled. The 2014 album is sheer brilliance, evoking catchy, psychedelic ecstasy amongst audiences in past BJM shows. It being the first album recorded at Newcombe’s Berlin recording studio, stylistically the album is really, really something—a fusion of traditional BJM with Eastern influences. While the group gave an outstanding performance of the album’s “Vad Hände Med Dem?,” that would be where Revelation began and ended on Monday night. Still, old school BJM classics “Sailor” and “Anemone” were highlights of the evening—a reminder that Newcombe can write some really, really pretty stuff.
BJM didn’t offer up an encore, but the Vogue audience that night seemed pretty content none-the-less. As always, Vancouver could dance more at shows like this. But the band didn’t seem to care.