Why should you see The Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Granada this Friday? They lack the irresistible draw of an up-and-coming artist, and the prestige of best-selling albums and chart-toppers. So why, if at all, should you attend their show?
For one thing, you won’t want to miss one of the most interesting and talented bands of the past two decades.
I’d be remiss to write about The Brian Jonestown Massacre without mentioning the band’s struggles: an aggressive and volatile band leader, a constant-revolving door of entering and departing band members, and rampant drug and alcohol abuse. In the 90’s, The Brian Jonestown Massacre (or BJM), epitomized the oft-used caricature of the deflated burnouts. They were talented youth who were unsure of their place in the music industry, or even if they wanted a place to begin with.
The band’s conflict is well-documented. The 2004 Sundance documentary DiG! chronicled the fights, bad gigs and arrests that made the band infamous, contrasting them to the much more grounded musical rise of fellow psych band The Dandy Warhols. As the leader of BJM, Anton Newcombe’s tenuous hold on stability fueled the film. Without Newcombe’s uncomfortably frequent breakdowns, the band may have had a more clear shot at success and band unity, instead of becoming a punchline for his temperamental behavior.
While DiG! exposed BJM to new audiences, it was hardly the exposure the band had previously hoped for. With Newcombe as the butt of the joke in some music circles, audience’s flocked to BJM shows in hopes of witnessing drama.
With a back-story like this, it’s easy to push aside the music, but the music of BJM goes hand-in-hand with their evolution as a band.
The early days of Brian Jonestown Massacre were heavy in shoegaze pschychedelia, with Newcombe’s calm voice stretched over the slow, rhythmic tambourines and guitar drone. Entrancing and impenetrable, the band’s second album Methodrone was a glimpse into Newcombe’s instrumental curiosity.
As they grew more raucous, so did BJM’s albums. Later releases including Give it Back! and Thank God For Mental Illness drew a rhythm and blues influence, reflecting the band’s upbeat party-hard attitude that had gained them a small, but steady following. This was the band’s peak, an amalgam of harmonicas, sitars, lutes, and a variety of other instruments. Amazingly, the musical variety avoided “hodge-podge” territory, and instead created an emotionally-driven and insightful work.
After DiG!, Newcombe retreated from the center-stage, giving most of the singing parts to other band members. For the later albums My Bloody Underground and Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?, BJM discarded their previous sound, moving into synthesizers and vocal obfuscation.
While The Brian Jonestown Massacre have gone from flouncy-shirted hippies to rock ‘n roll bums in their near two decades of existence, the constant release of high-quality music is what stopped them from becoming has-beens as soon as DiG! was released. I recommend that everyone see the show on Friday. After all this time, The Brian Jonestown Massacre still deserve your attention.