Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Bluebird Theater, 5/8/12 (photos and review)By Amy McGrath | May 9th, 2012 | 2 comments
Lucky for Tuesday night’s crowd at the Bluebird Theater, Anton Newcombe and the Brian Jonestown Massacre came to Denver to play. Not to whine, rant, tell stories, argue or complain — they came to play. And play they did, for well over two hours, in a set that was largely joyful and expansive.
The success of a Brian Jonestown Massacre show seems to be firmly tied to the mood of a few key members of the band — now touring as an eight piece (four guitarists, with an occasional addition of a fifth, when organist/keyboardist Rob Campanella picks up the axe). BJM fans who’ve seen the outfit in Denver before (Monolith 2008, for example), or who’ve checked out “Dig!,” the 2004 indie-doc featuring a melodramatic retelling of the band’s trials and travails, know that it’s just as likely to see the band disintegrate into petty arguments and moodiness as it is to see a focused, professional musical collective.
But everyone, it seems, was in a great mood at Tuesday’s show. Lead singer/songwriter/dictator Anton Newcombe, who was downright surly when we saw him a little over a week ago at Austin Psych Fest, was the most affable and engaged I have ever seen him, greeting fans before the show and even sitting in on vocals and tambourine for a song with opening act Blue Angel Lounge, who also put in a strong, driving set of Echo/New Order-ish darkly psychedelic rock.
Opening with “Stairway to the Best Party in the Universe,” BJM kicked off the night with a multi-layered collage of jangly guitars and driving rhythms which carried through to other mainstays like “I Got My Eyes on You.” Newcombe’s sunny mood was evidently shared by guitarist/vocalist Matt Hollywood, and by auxiliary percussionist Joel Gion (amusingly, the most dispassionate tambourine player in the world) with whom he even shared an on-stage smooch. The set featured songs representing a wide swath of the band’s catalogue — nearly 20 years of music. At best, the sound was swelling and expansive (what you’d expect from five guitars).
The band lost momentum occasionally, straying away from pop-infused psychedelia into narcoticized, molasses-slow jams that seemed to strain the attention of the otherwise engaged audience. But the group powered through these moments and eventually landed in “Straight Up and Down” featuring a “Sympathy for the Devil/Hey Jude” coda complete with an audience sing-along. The band left the stage, but Newcombe and one guitarist stayed, filling the smoke-filled Bluebird with a sonic haze of keyboard and guitar distortion, and reminding the sated crowd, finally, that BJM had come to play.
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.