Brian Jonestown Massacre at Turner Hall
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Some would say that Anton Newcombe has been digging himself into a hole ever since he named his band Brian Jonestown Massacre, burying a gimmicky name under absurd song titles and ironic album motifs. Add to that a reputation as a volatile performer that has overshadowed any chance his music had to succeed on its own merits. Given the right balance and good enough music, these potential distractions can serve to enhance the overall mystique of the band, but based on Friday’s show at Turner Hall, the extraneous factors might be a nonissue to Newcombe—words to blunder lazily through in order to let the music speak for itself.
After a very straightforward set of shoegaze by Magic Castles, the opening strains of “Stairway To The Best Party In The Universe” threatened to turn the evening into a monotonous drone of distortion and feedback. But the Jonestown sound encompasses much more than just My Bloody Valentine worship, and the various elements were all on display. For the first few tunes, having nine guys on stage came off as excessive; one twelve-string guitar produces plenty of sound on its own, especially with all those pedals. But a jolt of energy arrived with “Got My Eye On You,” as percussionist Joel Gion (a virtual Lou Reed surrogate in terms of stage presence) provided his goofy vocal interjections to accompany the quasi-chorus of the song. From that point on, the set felt like a nonstop party, complete with a rambunctious and gleeful Milwaukee crowd.
The most obvious thread running through BJM’s music is The Velvet Underground, though the overall sound is actually a lot like an amped-up version of The Vaselines, minus much of a feminine perspective. Based on the loose, scattered nature of the band’s albums, you might expect a lot of aimless meandering in its live shows, but there were no jam-band tendencies on display here. Newcombe kept the banter to a minimum for the most part, berating long-suffering cohort Matt Hollywood for too much diddling with his pedals at one point, but otherwise everyone seemed to be in great spirits. Given the atmosphere and goodwill from the fans (some of whom spent quite a bit of time dancing onstage), you would’ve thought this was some sort of homecoming.
The show ended with a rousing rendition of “Straight Up And Down” that essentially morphed into a “Sympathy For The Devil” jam, complete with “HOO-HOOOO”s. Aside from one last-minute stage crasher getting escorted out by security, the room was all smiling faces as the drone died out and the house lights went up. This was no three-hour epic (and probably more effective as such), leaving everyone wanting more, but still satisfied.