An Evening With The Brian Jonestown Massacre At D.C.’s 9:30 Club

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On their 2016 tour of these United States, The Brian Jonestown Massacre are doing something they mostly avoided the last time we saw them — they are playing songs from Anton Newcombe’s fairly astonishing recent creative output, and going deep into the back catalogue.  It is as if Methadrone and Mini Album Thingy Wingy were recorded by the same band in the same year, not by largely different bands more than 20 years apart.

We’d largely forgotten “Never Ever,” which kicked off the set, but if ever you wanted to steep yourself like a mushroom tea bag in the Velvets’ Factory sound, yeah, good place to begin.  And what a thrill it was to hear them play “Goodbye (Butterfly)” or “Pish,” which rank among our favorite recent BJM songs, capturing all the magic of this greatest working band which, not that long ago, may have seemed like their best work was behind them.

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For the initiated, this was a marvelous show, occasionally crystalizing with shimmering layers of guitar, the emollience of the organ, Daniel Allaire kicking the drum kit no matter what else was going on.  And there was a lot going on.  Anton was as cranky as we’ve ever seen him, twice chiding Ryan Van Kriedt for playing acoustic guitar (on “Anemone” and “Prozac vs. Heroin”), even though in the latter case, Van Kriedt politely informed the mercurial bandleader that he’d actually told him to play it.  (“I don’t care, there’s a hole in the middle of the song when you play it.”)  Hey, at least he didn’t stab him, like he allegedly did Frankie Teardrop during the 2009 tour.

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Hearing the band line up with Anton, Ryan, and Ricky Maymi each playing 12-string guitars was a treat, a sonic treat.  Over the course of their long existence, BJM have grafted their own take on the Velvet Underground’s guitar sound atop Cure-era Power Pop, while somehow harkening to a Summer of Love psychedelic dynamic.  When you hear Anton sing and play guitar on a fairly new song, “Days, Weeks and Moths” from 2014’s Revelation, it brings to mind Blind Faith, or maybe Traffic, but nevertheless a band right on the back end of the ’60s.  And yet it is completely contemporary, if you’re an oddball like me who thinks psychedelic rock’n’roll is contemporary.

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There were moments when even Joel Gion grew a little frustrated with Anton’s temper.  But let’s cut the genius some slack.  Since quitting drugs and alcohol, since moving to Berlin and becoming a father, Anton has produced some of the greatest music of his career, which no one, circa 2005, would have predicted.  There were moments during last night’s near three-hour set that were magical, less like seeing a band perform than being inside the rehearsal studio when lightning was captured in a bottle.  Anton promised not one, but two new albums this year.  We can’t wait to hear ’em.

 

 

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