The Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Bluebird Theater, 5/8/12
The Brian Jonestown Massacre last night at the Bluebird Theater.
If you decide to put all of your eggs in Anton Newcombe's basket, they're going to end up scrambled. The lead singer of early-'90s psychedelica group Brian Jonestown Massacre might be the group's longest-running member, but he also seems to be the only person not to give a single shrinking shit about that tidbit. Onstage last night, the mercurial 44-year-old hid behind stringy locks and stage shadows in the Bluebird's farthest left corner. He smoked indoors. He cracked jokes about band members quitting -- "again." And for 24 songs, for more than two and a-half-hours, he jammed the opposite of econo.
On a stage the size of a dorm lobby, the eight touring members of the Brian Jonestown Massacre -- five of them on guitar alone -- settled into a setup fit for Broken Social Scene or Arcade Fire. "We've got way too many people in the band," noted bespectacled guitarist Matt Hollywood. "So sometimes we've got to make the decision of whether having everyone on guitar is going to make things better or just worse."
Apparently, they've settled on "better." While Newcombe lurked off center, Hollywood and mime-garbed maracas man Joel Gion reclaimed the brunt of the night's showmanship, adding vocals to Newcombe's and occasionally taking lead on tracks like "Viholliseni Maalla." Early on, the guys reconfirmed their prowess for atmospheric, close-your-eyes-for-daze stadium rock, the kind forged in Newcombe's lazy lilt, solidified by effects pedals and propelled by more guitars than most bands have members. (Seriously, there are so many dudes onstage that the keyboardist spends at least half the show just sipping out of a water bottle. The act has transitioned through more than forty members since 1990.)
Through early numbers like "Got My Eyes On You" and "Stairway To the Best Party," the guys channeled the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" riff and traditional swagger to launch a full-bodied blow-out in a crowd so packed it felt oversold. It was, apparently, the perfect show to get a little high with your mighty -- if the huge puffs of smoke billowing out of the front section provided any clue. But the scent didn't please the band, whose members instead took turns smoking cigarettes in plain view onstage. "Man, that's some shaky ass smelling weed," Gion joked. "Smells like sage and oregano. Come on now. Who got the dank?"
The Brian Jonestown Massacre last night at the Bluebird Theater.
The night's ambition cemented in two surprise tracks: First, "Fuck You For Fucking Me," a B-side on Thank God For Mental Illness, proved so smooth and unexpected that one fan close to the stage passed out during it. The standout was followed closely by BJM's cover of "There's A War Going On," a '60s anti-war ballad penned by Bobby Jameson. (Newcombe asked permission to borrow it on Facebook, of all places, and describes Jameson as "cantankerous but very cool.") Throughout an Avatar-length set, the guys, who are notoriously antisocial onstage, hazarded a few quick jokes. "I guess Matt quit the band again," Newcombe quipped when Hollywood briefly skipped stage. "Just kidding."
But that initial zeal thinned in direction proportion to how long it was stretched. As the band moved through a setlist ripped from across two decades, song like "Clouds Are Lies" and "Prozac Vs. Heroin" lost momentum through sheer virtue of their not being closers. Between songs, fans slowed their grooving and muttered occasional complaints, transitioning from, "This must be the last one," to "OK, so the next one is " to "Wow." This was the outro-riddled time when you brainstormed your own tribute to the outfit's homage to Stones guitarist Brian Jones. (If you were me, you settled on Ryan Seacrest Massacre.) Notably, not everyone in the audience made it through the rough, scattered pacing to song 24.
Eventually, though, even Newcombe had to cut the cord -- but not before sweeping closer "Straight Up and Down" into a partial sing-along medley of the Stones' "Sympathy For the Devil" and the Beatles' "Hey Jude." (Overt much?) And even then, the guys weren't done. For a brief period, there was a moment in which I could not remember a time in my life before this show began. But that ended, after four final drum cues, the departure of 7/8 of the band, the collection of their belongings and about five minutes of keyboard distortion, with a belatedly straightforward adieu from Newcombe: "God bless you all." There was no encore, and really, there was no need.
German opener the Blue Angel Lounge owe as much to Joy Division as New Order does, if not quite as much as Interpol. Studied enthusiasts of musical melodrama, the spellbinding quintet could easily have headed its own bill, but that would have downgraded the surprise of happening to catch them. Newcombe himself seemed to share in the spell, as the singer spent the first part of their set staring from the audience before joining the guys onstage.
Blue Angel singer Nils Ottensmeyer sounds like a bitter, black-coffee Ian Curtis, and the drummer plays like a drum machine. All of the members sport pants so tights that their legs look like boa constrictors swallowing slightly smaller snakes. And their dreamy, eerie, cassette-tape freak-rock is captivating, with peals of distortion spiraling out of control while Ottensmeyer never leaves it. The result is simultaneously soothing and unsettling, particularly when Ottensmeyer breaks through the darkness with a brief, normal-voiced "Thank you."
Personal Bias: I've seen Dig! more than twenty times. (On a related note, The Dandy Warhols will hit the Gothic in roughly one month.)
By the Way: During the set, Newcombe made fun of Mayor Michael Hancock's DIA transit announcement, saying: "Hi I'm the mayor, and we have seven professional sports teams. Seven. You can count them on the fingers of your deformed baby's hand." I'm hoping that's not a joke at the expense of Colorado's gene pool.
Random Detail: After the show, one worked-up fan ralphed onto the sidewalk in front of the Bluebird. Thankfully, guitarist Matt Hollywood interrupted his post-show smoke break quickly enough to help her -- and hold her newly purchased BJM vinyl away from the target area. Awkward.
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