The Brian Jonestown Massacre hit Australia for their opening show at the Odeon Theatre in Hobart, Tasmania – the first visit since 2018. Now, any cheap tabloid publication would make the review all about a certain on-stage bust up between founding members, leading to the departure of one of them three quarters of the way into the set. But we here at Backseat Mafia are above that. It’s about the music, and it was a glorious if not at times downright exciting night from one of the most invigorating bands around.
The creative force behind this band, Anton Newcombe is an irascible tinderstick but with an absolutely mesmerising presence. He is placed at a lectern at one side of the stage, facing his band across the stage, conducting the proceedings. It’s a like a headmaster presenting his star pupils to the audience, a proud but intimidating presence that now and again joined the fray, grooving along to the beats and engaging with the members. Twice he quite rightly and very forthrightly admonished the crowd for talking during the gig – saying words to the effect that the band had travelled a long way to be here, so shut the fuck up and listen. He was right – it was a rare privilege for Hobart audiences for any band to make the trip, and BJM had only just come from a gig in Auckland the night before and after touring extensively across the US on an exhausting schedule. I am constantly baffled by people who come to a gig and then proceed to talk loudly amongst themselves.
If you’ve seen BJM in action, you know what to expect, although as one member pointed out to me, this was a different incarnation than any one before. The common thread is the utterly cathartic sense of restrained chaos – a burning fuse that never erupts into a flame but emits light and heat. And this is what BJM do so well – the music is glorious, shimmering and at times quite euphoric, but there is a barbed-wire spine, an intensity that threatens to derail. The best analogy I can make is that of a luxury car with all its nuts and bolts removed and replace by sticky tape. It’s a comfortable ride but one in danger of falling apart at any moment. The journey is magnificent and reaching the destination a little late, a little worn, where everything collapses in a wash of feedback. A slight hint of sulphur in the air, a frisson of excitement: it all adds up to something quite special.
The set drew heavily from the recent two albums which, enhanced by the strictures of the pandemic, saw an incredible and very fruitful period of creativity for Newcombe. There were only a couple of songs drawn from the earlier catalogue (found in the must-have double album ‘Tepid Peppermint Wonderland’ which collates some of the best earlier BJM tracks). But the strength of BJM’s last two albums render this irrelevant. It’s a new band, and the new material is just as strong as the old. Not many bands can boast that.
‘Anemone’ was one of the only survivors from older material, but the set saw ‘The Future Is Your Past’ and ‘Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees’ heavily represented. The up-to four guitar attack created a glorious psychedelic drone, iced with a shimmering twelve string jangle and glorious harmonies. The band were magnificent – animated, stylish and enigmatic. There was a cool insouciance in delivery – including long breaks between songs which added a charm as the band talked amongst themselves, tuned up and engaged in banter. The kind of banter that did end up with mainstay lead tambourine player Joel Gion walking off after an exchange with Newcombe. I didn’t catch the gist but it did include a reference to Gion’s new autobiography due out at the moment (‘In The Jingle Jangle Jungle’ – available at all good bookstores). This lead to a bizarre Tinkerbell moment where the band and the audience willed Gion to return for ‘Servo’, but it was sadly not to be. Hopefully they will make up in time for their next gig in Perth.
The carriage collapsed with style at the end of the night with ‘Make It Right’ as most of the band departed to a wall of drone and feedback, with no encore. It was two hours of thrills and entertainment and a testimony not only the longevity of BJM but to the creativity and presence of Newcombe.
Catch them if you can throughout the rest of their Australian tour. Dates below.
BJM Set List
Number 1 Kitty
Do Rainbows Have Ends?
Wait a Minute
Your Mind Is my Café
You Think I’m Joking
Don’t Let Me Get In Your Way
That Girl Suicide
Mother Of All Fuckers
Make It Right
The band was supported by locals Lune River who put on a magnificent show driven by luscious three-part harmonies and a tight performance delivering melodic songs with a presence. New to me and with not much history available, this is a band to look out for, a perfect introduction to BJM with their indie pop brand of rock.
Feature Photograph and Gallery: Arun Kendall