Archive for July, 2008
Months ago, when tickets went on sale for the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s only U.S. show this summer (at New York’s Terminal 5), I said to someone I was trying to persuade to go, “This could be a complete disaster, or it could be transcendent.” Those are the poles they swing between: the train wreck or the sublime. And of course, with the news from London last week that Anton Newcombe had been arrested for allegedly knifing guitarist Frankie “Teardrop” Emerson, the odds seemed to tilt toward disaster. Five minutes into the opening song, “Whoever You Are,” we had the answer to what was in store for us: The Brian Jonestown Massacre were transcendent.
“Whoever You Are” has a slow loping, “Tomorrow Never Knows” mid-’60s feel, and the tone for the evening was set: bright and shimmering guitars in layers — sometimes three guitars, sometimes four — an emollient, occasionally droning organ, and Daniel Allaire kicking the living bejesus out of the drums. Anton Newcombe, fragile, his back to the audience most of the time, stayed on the edge of the action that he thoroughly controlled.
Like so many others, I got a sense of the BJM’s stage mayhem only from watching “Dig!” — Program note: “Dig!” is available below via a widget from SnagFilms.com; you should watch it, snag it, and put it on your own site. Now it was clear what role Joel Gion plays: we already knew he doesn’t sing, he *just* bangs the tambourine, but he holds the center stage that Anton, for a complex brew of reasons, can’t or won’t. Anton seemed frail, and even as his guitar gathered strength, his singing was tentative. You had the feeling you were watching a version of Syd Barrett with both a bark and a bite: a savant who simultaneously exuded reticence and a very sharp edge. But Anton could afford to stand just outside the glare of the stage lights, for inside them, the band was magnificent. It all revolved around his songs, his guitar, his singing. BJM circa 2008 isn’t quite Anton’s backup band, but you get the sense they know the reason they can lay claim to greatness is because of him.
When they played “Who,” the band all wailed their “Whos!!!” like they were auditioning for Jean-Luc Godard’s “Sympathy for The Devil.” It was 1966 and Brian Jones was out of it, but the San Francisco scene hadn’t taken its inevitable turn toward Jonestown, toward Altamont and the long morning after. Donovan was still wearing shaggy vests and putting flowers in his hair. And bands played these long sets with guitar lines searching for space like jungle lianas fighting for light.
I think it’s true that “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the first Velvet Underground album were released the same week, and if so, last night represented some kind of mash-up between those two Albums of the Week. There’s no actual connection between the music of “Sgt. Pepper’s” and what these guys do — their “psychedelia” is closer, perhaps, to a jam including John Phillips and Skip Spence and Keith Richards in some farmhouse in the Cotswolds. But their music is a capsule dug up from such times. And while last night the band bore little resemblance to Lou’s ensemble — there’s an optimism and a brightness to the guitars, a lack of cynicism to the whole effect — if there was a musical God standing offstage, it was, no doubt, Sterling Morrison.
We could have stood not having Anton and Frankie Teardrop leave the stage for a long smoke while a subset of musicians noodled, wasting time. We could have lived without having some guy who strutted like Roger Daltrey and sang like Keith Moon come on as a guest for a song. By the time they closed with “If Love Is The Drug, Then I Want To O.D.” it was clear just why it was Music’s loss that the careerist Dandy Warhols, not the screwed up genius of Anton Newcombe and his band, were the “winners” in “Dig!” The Dandy’s are bohemian like you. The Brian Jonestown Massacre break on through to the other side, at great cost to themselves, no doubt, to their career aspirations certainly, but to the delight of anyone lucky enough to get to see them.
The Morning After Girls are showing signs of life. New song posted on their MySpace pages. Great guitar sound, high production quality, vocals strong in a Stone Rosey way. Hey guys — I mean, girls — can we hear some more please?
UPDATE: So “Who Is They” begins with the same ominous noises as an episode of “Lost,” and ends with a controlled version of the orchestral crash of “A Day In The Life.” In between are pretty harmony vocals, a brightly picked repeating riff — think of Noel Gallagher’s guitar intro to “A Bell Will Ring” — that builds gloriously. There are a lot of late ’80s/early ’90s bands that come to mind — good ones, like House of Love. Very powerful. Which means whatever Sacha and the boys, er, Girls have been up to is good. The sooner they get it out there, the better, for The Morning After Girl’s “Prelude EPs 1 & 2” was no proper debut. Magnificent sounding, and put together at LP length, two EP’s stitched together does not a freshman outing make. C’mon, guys — putting “Who Is They” up has tantalized us. We want more.
Brian Jonestown Massacre Deny Knife Reports
American rockers BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE have denied reports a knife was used during an incident in their dressing room following a concert in London last week (ends11Jul08).
The band’s guitarist Frankie Emerson reportedly sustained a stab wound during the incident, which also involved frontman Anton Newcombe.
But a spokesman for the band denies a weapon was used during the altercation at the Forum in Kentish Town.
A joint statement, issued by the band’s label and management, insists Emerson’s cuts were “caused by some glass splinters.”
The statement continues, “Frankie Emerson’s injuries were superficial to his arm and stomach, he was treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
“These injuries were caused by horseplay by the band in their own changing room after the gig.
“There was no knife or knives involved in any shape or form in this incident.”
Newcombe was arrested and questioned by police, but released without charge.
I wasn’t much of a fan of Black Oak Arkansas, I enjoy but don’t need the Black Keys, and the Black Crowes leave me cold. Black Sabbath? Please. Still, I’m ready for a show in basic black. How ’bout a triple bill of The Black Angels, Black Mountain, and BRMC? The Black Angels would probably have to go first to warm up the crowd, since they’re less well known than Black Mountain or the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Plus, they’d set the proper mood, which is to say, trance.
Austinites, they do not come from the same musical neighborhood as Flaco Jimenez. It’s nice to know that after Roky Erickson, the words “Texas” and “psychedelia” don’t automatically lead to discussions about Tex Watson. I think what really got me about these guys was “Bloodhounds on My Trail,” which is mesmerizing. Think of “Hellhound On My Trail” done by a supergroup starring Lydia Lunch, John Fogerty, and Peter Green.
I’m not just trying to be clever about the links to Black Mountain and BRMC — these guys are jacked into the same amps both those disparate, not necessarily kindred, but nonetheless spiritually linked bands play. Their debut album “Passover” brought comparisons to the Velvet Underground, Galaxy 500, the Gun Club, and Led Zep. Can’t go wrong with those references thrown in the blender. Their second album, “Directions To See A Ghost,” adds the Fall’s descending guitar lines to the BRMC dynamic, and cops song structures from “Astronomy Domine”-era Floyd. Alex Maas has this weirdly androgynous voice, and when the levee breaks, he slightly drowns in Robert Plant’s lower registers.
Missed them at the Rock and Roll Hotel, where I think they opened for the Warlocks — more kindred spirits. When John Cale wrote “The Black Angel’s Death Song,” who knew that someday these guys would catch its wind?