Why We love The Brian Jonestown Massacre

10 July 2008

I had been dying to see The Brian Jonestown Massacre for years. Tony O’Neill, a most splendid novelist who now resides in NY, had turned me on to the BJTM whilst he had played keyboards in my band for the Tiger Mouth and Psychic Cat live shows.

Tony had played briefly with the BJTM in his early days in L.A. and had told me plenty of cool stories about that time and the enigmatic, talented, Anton Newcombe, which had sparked my interest in the band.

I loved their album, Tepid Peppermint Wonderland and vowed to see the BJTM play live after watching the heart achingly poignant struggles of Anton and the rest of the band in the classic rock ‘n’ roll film, DIG!.

The time finally came last night. I had booked my tickets months before to avoid being disappointed as last year, the tickets had sold out super fast in London.

We turned up to the Birmingham Carling Academy, which used to be the old Humming Bird venue. About a million years ago, I used to go there all the time as a teenager and watched Sonic Youth and Iggy Pop, play stunning gigs there.

Not much had changed, your feet still stick to the beer drenched tacky floor and the toilets are in exactly the same state of dysfunction as a million years ago.

However, the BJTM were playing in a side room which I hadn’t known was there. One of the reasons I love watching bands in Birmingham, is that there is a friendlier attitude than at London gigs, I always seem to glide effortlessly to the front row at Birmingham gigs. Last night was no exception and beside me stood a sweet blonde haired boy who smiled and was obviously as excited as I was, about finally getting to see the BJTM play live!

We caught the support band’s last few songs and they were pretty cool but when it was time for the BJTM to wander on to the stage, a tangible excitement began to creep through the crowd. Punctual and handsome, the band emerged from the florescent lit rectangle of the backstage area and Anton Newcombe approached the stage.

In the front row me and my blonde teen friend were overcome with happiness as the legendary band’s founder, shook us by the hand as he walked over to the end of the dark stage and I felt a true buzz at looking into Anton’s deep blue eyes. The man is a true artist and I was so elated to finally be in the presence of this awesome band.

The gig was by far, one of the best, most exciting, truthful and rock ‘n’ roll gigs I have had the pleasure to see. This wasn’t just because of the splendidly rock ‘n’ roll way that Anton stood in the corner like a Denim Messiah, playing his guitar and singing his heart out, despite the low mic volume (this in no way impaired the songs, his voice kind of blended with the music).

Neither was it due to Joel’s fantastically pouty tambourine theatrics, Frankie Teardrop’s wine infused guitar antics or the remarkable bass and drum relationship which kept the songs riding the waves of elation in sound. Rob Campanella’s wicked organ skills surely gave another life to the music. 

But what made this gig so very special was that I felt truth in my every raw nerve, every song the BJTM played, sounded like the truth to me. There were no signs of the glitzy flash corporate rubbish that has infiltrated so many recent bands’ shows. No concern about taking a cigarette break or getting the count in to a song messed up. No shame in stopping a song to start over, or taking long breaks in between songs to get the feeling back for the next one.

When a guest singer (I’m not sure who she was but I assume she’s sang a song or two with the BJTM on a record), came on to the stage and bad vibes began emerge due to her inexperience and unfriendly attitude with the crowd, Anton didn’t falter, he didn’t um and ah or ponder what would be the correct way to deal with this awkward situation, no my friends. Anton told her, in no uncertain terms to leave the stage .’ Go. go on, I’m gonna show you how it’s done.’  Much to the disbelief and refreshed amusement of me and my blonde haired teen friend standing beside me (who incidentally kept flashing his friendly smile and saying “I can’t believe Anton shook my hand!) he sent his guest singer off stage and the band continued to play the song with Anton singing the words perfectly and sublimely. After this there then occurred a classic rock comedy moment where Anton and the rest of the band discussed the fact that he actually didn’t need her (the guest singer) to sing the song.

I love this band and it’s not just because each one of these golden souls are very strong characters and/or musicians in their own way, or because
they take their time to make their music in their particular eccentrically precarious manner, or because Anton Newcombe has struggled and raged against demons and the corporate fist of mediocrity, not to mention himself,  to be standing here on this stage right now.

All those things matter, but I guess the main reason why we love the Brian Jonestown Massacre is because when they get into the music it becomes magic, they become shaman and they take us on a very special musical trip. My heart is pounding, the guitars are spiraling, the organ is pulsing and the music is sublime. My mouth is open, my eyes are closed but I want to open them to see these remarkable musicians, then I want to close them again to be really in the midst of the belly of the whale. This band is real, they strive to make music, it’s not easy to be them, they know what’s going on, no tooty fruity, whack , heartless or mundane message here. Just Anton and his friends and believers, making honest to god, real rock ’ n’ roll music in the face of corporate adversity and doing it with the wicked unmistakable style of a denim clad, wasted messiah.

They make us feel, we relate, we get it and they get it. It’s not just about playing the right chords or putting on a show. Sometimes, on rare and beautiful nights, it can be about so much more, about the struggle and the people and the journey and most of all, music transcending the everyday and becoming ritual, medicine and magic. This is why we love the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Favicon Bookmark on   Digg Favicon Bookmark on Digg   Reddit Favicon Bookmark on Reddit  


3 responses to this journal entry:


On 10 August 2008 Muffy St. Bernard said:

If I could slightly bruise myself for every time I’ve missed the BJTM, I would.

Or maybe I should just make DAMN SURE that I see them next time!

Beautiful tribute.


On 29 August 2008 bo ekman said:

one of these bands that makes one believe
that the rock/pop music scene has not selfdied

qualitywise that is

taking in consideration all the
like a tin can factory music
thats recorded nowadays by most record

its somewhat like north korea

a couple of guys = record company executives/producers

deciding on everything

frank zappa said about the jazz music scene
(sometime in the seventies)
jazz is not dead/it just smells funny

same can be said about
rock/pop music nowadays

rock/pop is not dead/it just smells funny

any chance that you kelli would make any of the cd albums
that youve made so far available on vinyl
do you have any say or does the record label decide on this matter 100 percent

tell you what i wouldnt mind financing a
limited vinyl “tigermouth” pressing
just to be able to play a vinyl “tigermouth” on my
english made vintage tube sound system

im not pulling your leg i mean it

yours sincerely

bo ekman in sweden


On 20 October 2008 Mandy said:

That was cool! really liked the way you post in your blog.. I love your postings!

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