Monday, May 21, 2012


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Anton Newcombe is on a mission. The enigmatic frontman from The Brian Jonestown Massacre wants to “Rip the lungs outta of pop culture and smoke ‘em”. At Sydney’s Metro show – the first on this tour – he did all this and then some. But then, this came after he’d passed the dutchie to the sole support of the evening, another fellow cult band.
The Raveonettes are Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo. They play garage rock and punk music. At different times this can sound like anything from The Vaccines to The Breeders, The White Stripes to Dum Dum Girls and even Sonic Youth. The fact is the music is energetic and immediate, and it plays out like someone is grabbing you by the shirt and forcing you to sit up and listen.
“Too Close To Heartbreak” saw Wagner and Foo on guitars playing grungy riffs that were like thunder, but also with a flowery 60s vibe and some distortion. For “Heartbreak Stroll” Foo swapped back to bass but it wasn’t a noticeable change because the trio still sounded like they had ten guitars in their arsenal, spilling great waves and riffs beyond the speaker stacks. Nice.
There was a frenzied “That Great Love Sound,” while “Heart Of Stone” had a cool groove to compliment the rumbling guitar riff that seemed to reference the greats like Clapton to Hendrix and various others in between. It was all punchy beats while “Lust” would slow things down a bit, only for the vibrancy to be restored back to eleven on “Dead Sound” and “Blush”.
Wagner was a man of few words. He thanked us all for coming down but for the most part he let the music do all the talking, just as Newcombe would do later on. They had a few songs left to go including the hypnotic “Love In A Trash Can” and the fuzzy, “Ally, Walk With Me”. These guys had put on one tight set, packing more into an hour than some bands do with an entire catalogue. It was sharp, toe-tapping and full of variety, all white light/white heat sounds that could’ve come from an army of musicians and instruments, such was its force and sense of purpose.
But the fact is this audience were there to see one band and that was the headliners, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. They play music that transcends time and geography, and will get you floating away on a moonbeam with its proggy rock-via-psychedelia goodness. “Stairway To The Best Party” was a chiming new track that set that bar high with its rolling layers of East-meets-West sounds.
“Super-Sonic” received cheers form the opening chords and was as fun and nostalgia-filled as sharing those chocolate buttons with little Peter, John, Julia or Sarah back in the schoolyard all those years ago. There was a lot of love in this room for the eight merry men on stage, a rather haphazard looking group if there ever was one. They played guitar (at times up to five of them were playing these together) plus drums, bass and keys. They offered sounds that were textured and full of patterns, it was all rather surreal and like a DalĂ­ painting.
The 60s pop flavoured triumph, “Got My Eye On You” had The Velvet Underground’s brand of art cool. But this serenity was soon dashed when a spry punter tried to storm the stage during “Anemone”. It really seemed indicative of the feelings of silliness in the air. Upstairs a large posse of people were dancing in front of the seated people, leading the latter to follow suit by busting a few grooves on their chairs. There were people smoking, there was a guy in a beanie that looked like he was wearing my nanna’s old tea cosy and there were plenty of girls on shoulders but one truly stood out.
The first time blondie got on her boyfriend’s shoulders security pounced quickly with the lights. But she was defiant and stayed put, responding by making her hands form into a rather cute little, love heart. Both parties continued their standoff, which culminated in her taking her top off to rather rapturous applause from the crowd. Lapping the attention up, she danced like straddling an electric bull, swinging her top around her head. The lighting people were clearly enjoying the mayhem in the crowd; they turned the house lights on the punters at various points in the evening. It was all so fun and zany that I lost count of the number of times the band’s album title, Thank God for Mental Illness sprung into my thoughts.
The group’s prodigal son, Matt Hollywood took lead vocals for the new number “Viholliseni Maalla”. His return to the band has been a welcome one and the song is full of atmosphere and a lazy feel, meaning it sits well amongst the druggy haze of the older material. “Jennifer” was all Beatles-meets-Stones finery with plenty of stomp and golden lights. Then it was time for Newcombe to take the harmonica so Joel Gion could sing lead on the Bobby Jameson cover, “There’s A War Going On”. This had more languid and breathy solos and like much of the music tonight, it seemed perfect to drop in and tune out to. Needless to say, it would have been very easy to float off into the clouds of a colourful, swirling daydream.
There was a lot of dancing in “Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth”. The poison pen to The Dandy Warhols had everyone singing along to the “Ba-ba-bas” of sunny pop. But it was at odds with Newcombe’s stage performance as he was a rather unassuming presence at the side of the stage. He seemed quite content to noodle away on the guitars and sing, but not in a bigheaded way because he just got down to business.
It was a far cry from the band’s shows from previous years, where he was a lot more unhinged and unpredictable. Now this mastermind is happily married and sober – and so, like fellow artist Ryan Adams – he comes across as a lot more sedate even though he still relishes having the “villain” tag and acid tongue. For instance, when asked for a song request, Newcombe gave the best rant of the night. He said, “I’m 44 years old. I don’t take requests. Can you imagine playing 52 shows in a row and being like, ‘Sure whatever you say.’ Do you do everything Tony Abbott tells you to do?”
Now Newcombe may have confused the name of our PM but we all laughed. And maybe we could blame this on the fact that the band sounded like they were sharing acid tabs and hookahs in a song like “Clouds Are Lies,” another speckled journey. Despite Newcombe’s desire to shake up popular culture, it’s also pretty clear that he loves wearing his influences on his sleeves. Nothing is sacred and everything is experimental and creative.
The set was completed by “Waking Up To Hand Grenades” a song with a funky, Happy Mondays groove and moments where it sounded like it had been captured in the far reaches of outer space. There was the excellent “Open Heart Surgery” and “Prozac vs. Heroin” enveloped us all like a warm hug before “That Girl Suicide” left us all smiling to its feel good, pop sounds. We all struggled to sing harmoniously and reach those high notes but no one really cared. We were all having way too much fun, something that was repeated in “Oh Lord” with its sunny, sixties surf riffs.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre are one puntastic aural delight. They throw everything into the live melting pot with the old and the new, something borrowed and others blue. Their psychedelic, Eastern-infused rock numbers boast more flourishes and embellishments then a star-studded show pony. At well over two hours, this show was like an elaborate ten course banquet full of ingredients, a bunch of crazy relatives and the right kind of come down. So you’ve got to hand it to the man because Anton Newcombe sure knows how to smoke it!
Originally published on 19 May 2012 at the following website:
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