The Brian Jonestown Massacre charmed the Oxford crowd with spellbinding, definitively minimalistic psychedelia.
The true majesty of Anton Newcombe’s creative manifesto is captured as he walks across the stage, godlike; he is dressed in white, Neil Young-like side burns aplenty while obligatory Elvis shades furrow his brow. It is this “man out of time” persona that reflects his pioneering 60’s revivalism.
Viewed as a somewhat misguided figure of fun to those doubtlessly weaned on Ondi Timoner’s 2003 documentary Dig! Newcombe has created a Midas touch in reverse, by turning everything into sh*t. Prone to wanton acts of self-destruction fuelled by ferocious drug and alcohol abuse, the aforementioned documentary has served to overshadow the band’s artistic output. It is, as such, a testament to just how good The Brian Jonestown Massacre are that they’ve been able to transcend this mythical satire.
Carrying the onstage presence of Jason Pierce, Newcombe takes his place left of stage, sideways to the audience, with fellow guitarists (minus founding member Matt Hollywood) Ricky Maymi and Ryan Carlson Van Kriedt meticulously positioned close by. As iconic as the band itself, and with mightiest chops in rock music, human metronome Joel Gion poses centre stage, with powerhouse drummer Dan Allaire and keyboardist/guitarist Rob Campanella behind. Earthquaking bassist Collin Hegna stands right of stage and unified, The Brian Jonestown Massacre are a magic that conjure such rich and developing sounds.
Channelling the deathless, fairy-tale cool of the man that they take their name from, The Brian Jonestown Massacre deliver a near three-hour set, covering a 26-year trajectory of Svengali soaked psychedelia. Without pomp, or ceremony the band begin with The Velvet’s inspired, slow burning “Never, Ever” and the rest of the evening is laid out.
Ingratiating low-fi tremors from Newcombe’s Semi-Acoustic Vox recall, both the plaintive warmth of the Mamas and The Papas’ “California Dreaming”, and the dream-like lilt of Spacemen 3 at their most ambient. This 60’s affected drone, entwined with post-modern elements, are what make The Brian Jonestown Massacre most defining.
Subjected to an almost endless trajectory of stunning Jonestown classics, the crowd are entranced by peyote-enriched grooves like ‘Nevertheless’, ‘Servo’ and hit-song ‘Anemone’. While ‘Who’ and ‘Vad Hande Med Dem’ cause a raucousness over the near motionless, mesmerised crowd.
The lights are hailed down by Newcombe’s request midway through the set; a sea of red washes over the venue as the resonant sounding D Minor opens ‘Down’, and things get more intimate. Quasi-junkie folk-rock song ‘The Devil May Care…’ ft. floral wearing, mandolin-playing roadie soon followed and haunted bodies looked on in awe as the sombre lyrics and tremolo surrounded the room.
An Aeonian sway floods the O2 Academy like some lazy Mexican-wave, carefully picked outfits are dismantled and pints are downed with urgency as the venue becomes torrid. The combination of heat, intoxication and hypnotic rhythms result in a hedonistic disposition – like a rave in slow motion by the time ‘Government Beard’ rings out.
Faux British, tremolo vocals from Newcombe “keep(s) the music evil” as a dominating, seductive charm intones over the already enthralling layered melodies.
Decidedly on their own time, with a nod to Spacemen 3, slow, meandering jams and effects followed songs, while synth keys were held down by tape to sustain a note. In turn with a parade of skill, this enabled a tale or two from Newcombe
Posing thoughts on British politics, The BJM frontman is as ever, mercurial and prophetic. In sure words, he slurs, “you should be at home educating yourselves, not here drinking carling!” – retrospective, albeit fruitless advice to the Oxford crowd. Verbal sparring between Newcombe and the crowd continued as heckled song requests were shunned by “We don’t play requests”. “Spotify play requests, and that’s what’s ruining this f-planet!”
Onstage, bickering between Newcombe and (in his words) the “unexpected” Ryan Carlson Van Kriedt, who is also accessary to Psych, Space-Rock bands Asteroid 4 and Dead Skeletons, occurred after he forgot to tune his guitar amid song changes. The two guitarists, bordering, in a devil-may-care manner were not verbally coy, amplified by their microphones; their argument surrounded the venue. Between them, tambourine-shaking Joel Gion, a penchant for tomfoolery, collected the two members, and the show continued.
Resonant with The Yardbirds, the upbeat, and slyly aggressive ‘When Jokers Attack’ chimed and the crowd shrugged with the notion that the evening was soon to be over. Nonetheless, the band continued with timeless power, finally finishing with surf-styled “Yeah Yeah”. The end of the set was drawn out by a jam from Newcombe alone, as the band exited the stage it seemed the tireless frontman did not want things to end.
There was a unified sense of love felt in the modest O2 Academy. To what can only be described as a exquisitely spiritual experience, The Brian Jonestown Massacre were colourfully mind-altering.
This Brian Jonestown Massacre article was written by Chelsea Fearnley, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson. Pictures by Aurelien Guichard.