The Brian Jonestown Massacre are an act that seem to generate feverish anticipation wherever they touch down. Perhaps it’s partly due to the chaotic representation of their live shows that were featured in the hit documentary film Dig! a decade ago – something that frontman Anton Newcombe claimed to give an inaccurate portrayal following its release.
But the days of punch-ups, rioting in the crowd, and walk-offs seem to have now been replaced by an experience that is a little more mellow. Those heading out in search of a Spinal Tap style soap opera might be disappointed by this. But given the fact that recent albums Revelation and Aufheben have marked a real return to form, the show is now truly about the music – a shift that means the band look like they will have far more longevity than some would have predicted a few years ago.
The return of inaugural members Joel Gion and Matt Hollywood have helped get things back on the rails (again, not a prospect that would have seemed plausible back in the 90s) and the result is that those who are really in it for the music can catch The Brian Jonestown Massacre at the top of their game at the moment.
After a slightly subdued, albeit enjoyable, set on the John Peel stage at Glastonbury two weeks ago, the band are currently in the process of playing a string of gigs on British shores. On Thursday (July 10th) Newcombe and co rocked up at the Ritz in Manchester to play to an excitable audience comprised of a typically widespread range of ages and socio-demographics.
The band take to the stage and are greeted by rapturous applause. The wall of sound guitar parts (which grow to five during certain numbers) create a reverberation around the whole of the 1,500 capacity venue – no mean feat given that many newer acts’ sounds can become lost when they make the step up to the Ritz for the first time.
Classics like ‘Anemone’, ‘Satellite’ and ‘Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth’ inevitably get the greatest reactions, but more recent material blends into the set perfectly. ‘What You Isn’t’ is a true gem from Revelation, with an infectious riff sprinkled with the 60s psychedelia that the BJM borrow from so well.
Newcombe and Hollywood are now older and wiser, proving that they have learnt how to share the limelight without tensions boiling over – something that may well have been helped by the former deciding to go T-total. The whole thing just has more of a professional, well-thought out feel to it.
Though some might argue this takes away the grittiness and unbridled anarchy of past performances, we all have to grow up at some point. There isn’t a great deal of interaction with the crowd, but Newcombe finds time to bring up the fact that Gion won’t be visiting Manchester when he hits the road in a couple of weeks with his new project The Primary Colours. Unsurprisingly, a chorus of boos are directed at the tambourine-enthused talisman.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the BJM’s desire to make every penny their fans spend worth it. The set comes in at just shy of two hours – an eventuality that is no doubt sending shivers down the spines of killjoy curfew-setters all over the world. At a venue where the headline act often does little over the hour, this could be seen as a bit of a risk. However, the audience are not only interested, but encapsulated.
When the set comes to a euphoric climax, sweat-drenched superfans can be seen leaving the venue in a state of mesmerized ore. The more casual prefer nodding their heads in quiet appreciation. Either way, its fair to say the BJM have provided a stormer of a show perfect for a sizzling summer night.