The Brian Jonestown Massacre is a band that people do not necessary love for its originality. Rather, they love the band because it draws from its influences in such a flattering and unapologetic fashion.
Of course, the most obvious touchstone is The Rolling Stones. In true BJM fashion, however, the band honors not Mick or Keef in its name, but the visionary (i.e., sitar-playing) guitarist who died at the fateful age at which many rockers have left us all too soon. Moreover, the title of BJM’s second album – Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request – is a reference to one of the Stones’ most reviled records, one that I happen to really like.
Other titles in the band’s catalog – ”I Want To Hold Your Other Hand,” “In My Life” (which was performed at the concert described below), and Who Killed Sgt. Pepper – suggest an affinity for that other well-liked British band of the 1960s, while “(David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six” indicates a fondness for another Englishman born with the surname Jones.
If you have any idea what the Jonestown Massacre was, you probably think that this band was all about death (murder?) and tragedy.
However, even if some might consider the name to be in bad taste, you gotta admit that it deserves to be far and away atop the official list of all-time greatest rock monikers. (Although SPIN Magazine put it way the hell down at number seven.)
Anyhow, The Brian Jonestown Massacre played at Royale Boston on Friday night. I was surprised at the choice of venue, because I saw them (although a certain chemical impairment that night makes “saw” an awfully strong word for it) about six years ago at the significantly smaller T.T. the Bear’s Place. I was uncertain of what accounted for the band’s apparently sharply risen profile.
But then, I never did watch that premiere episode of Boardwalk Empire that I TiVo’d almost two years ago. Since I hadn’t watched the first episode, I felt that I shouldn’t watch any subsequent ones. This went on for several weeks, which have become a couple years, and the point is that it had slipped my mind (if it had even ever stepped on it) that BJM’s “Straight Up and Down” is the theme song to the show.
Whereas here it becomes a 90-second instrumental, on Friday it took up the whole of the encore, with several minutes of jamming and feedback added in order to end the 90-minute show with a bang.
The banter with the audience was not much more than leader Anton Newcombe saying, “Thank you all for showing up tonight. This is a great honor.” However, the octet was far from being the aloof, zombie-like shoegazers that such limited interaction might suggest.
Greatly enlivening the set was the trade-off of lead vocals between Newcombe and Matt Hollywood, one of the four guys who played guitar. Also helping were bassist Collin Hegna and guitarist Frankie “Teardrop” Emerson’s super rad staches. Finally, Joel Gion, who stood center stage and sported sideburns that gave his moustachioed bandmates a run for their money, did not for a split second perform as though woodblocks, tambourines, or maracas were tertiary instruments.
As for the setlist, The Brian Jonestown Massacre opened with “Stairway To the Best Party” from this year’s Aufheben, then ravaged through fan faves such as “Vacuum Boots,” “Got My Eye On You,” “This Is Why You Love Me,” “Open Heart Surgery,” “It Girl,” and “Oh Lord.”
At a time in which music commentators never tire of claiming that “everything old is new again,” it would seem that BJM would be the Rosetta Stone for all bands that adhere to such an aesthetic.
However, while “everything old…” is not itself a new idea, it is one that becomes fashionable in cycles. Thus, although Baltimore duo Wye Oak seems to have taken some pointers from songs like “That Girl Suicide” (also performed Friday night), The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s influence on subsequent bands is not readily apparent, unless one wants to count Jet using the lyrics “She looks so fine that I wanna make her mine” from “It Girl” in their song “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”
But as I suggested at the beginning of this review, BJM is more interested in being influenced than in influencing others. In that regard, live and on record, the band succeeds admirably.
(Thanks to BJM superfan Kate Lichtle Zawidzki for helping me with the names of the band members. Kate and her husband Tad named their second child Anton Sebastian Zawidzki.)
THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE (@BJM_BAND)
W/ MAGIC CASTLES
ROYALE BOSTON (@RoyaleBoston)
279 TREMONT STREET