review archive

The Brian Jonestown Massacre / The Mutts - The Garage, 26th February 2004

Camden Town 1997, I keep coming across round black stickers dotted in odd places. They bear the legend ‘The Brian Jonestown Massacre’ wrapped around the sneering face of Mr Jones himself, hmm... A few weeks later a friend is telling me about this daftly named band he saw, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, they were pretty cool, I should check them out. Years go by, I still haven’t seen BJM, but The Lollies have a song called ‘Jonestown Mascara’ and seem pretty enamoured of their drone-rocking ways. Sometime BJM pals The Dandy Warhols ride the ad sound-track cash cow to fame and fortune. Fellow LA scene Bomp artistes The Warlocks fuzz and rumble their way to the UK and into my affections. Now, finally on a f..f..freezing February night I get the chance to see The Brian Jonestown Massacre, nine albums into a thirteen year career. I may have some catching up to do.

First things first though, support band The Mutts. Jesus, another g*rage band pulling the heavee Led Zep riffin’ schtick. Hang on though, this is pretty entertaining rockstuff. I catch the title of one song that kind of says it all, ’Hard On For Jesus’. Cheers. The band splurge out low down ‘n’ dirty fuzzy rawk, it’s pretty riff-tastic and rhythmic, not a bad way to warm up a cold Garage, but The Mutts U.S.P. is singer Chris. Looking like a cross between Joey Ramone, Mick Jagger and Bobby Gillespie if his sense of rhythm ever caught up with his body, Chris has the art of rock movement honed to perfection. Every Robert Plant move ever is flung out with utter style and conviction, it’s a joy to behold. From behind the floppy mop and lanky frame rattles a lusty growl, the man’s a star. Even during the final song when the mic lead drops out of the mic. Mr Gillespie, look & learn
So, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, finally we meet. I’m kind of expecting some looong, meandering dronerock, possibly a bit shabby and falling apart in places, but no, we get a set of mighty together, instantly delicious chiming spacerock. It’s gorgeous, just the kind of thing I love. The sound is lifted up by a dual 12-string attack provided by guitarists Ricky (observing the sixties trouser rule in white cords, but let down by dodgy hair) and (oh yes!) Frankie Teardrop (sixties trousers: stripey, hair: excellent). Aah bliss. 24 strings are always better than 6 and with BJM mainman Anton’s contribution the final count is up to 30 (not counting bass and viola also swirling round in the mix). And look! It’s a fabled* Vox Phantom 12 string, isn’t it lovely? Later on there’s (mmm) a Vox Teardrop 12 string, which becomes the centre of some controversy.
I know he's after one thing

Now, controversy, or FIGHTING and SWEARING and general BOLSHINESS are a bit of a BJM motif. Do a little Googling and you’ll soon find references to Anton’s antagonistic ways. Indeed, pre-gig in the pub, we stand right next to him, without actually knowing who he is (hey, the website photos are pretty shady) and I immediately think, ‘Hmm, he seems like a birrova wanker’ in the way you do when you can sense it could all kick off around certain individuals. We move to the other end of the pub.

So, BJM are hurling out these sparkling sonic gems of buzzing beauty, viola spiralling, added undertones of drone emanating in waves from an unattended keyboard stage right. In places it’s more shoe-gazey than I’d imagined (is ‘shoe-gazing’ still a rude word?), there are Ride-bits. You know how The Dandy Warhols co-opted that sound, all pie-eyed floating chords and lackadaisical vocals? Well, BJM do it without being mind-numbingly tedious, they do it with conviction.

Anton-gonistic

Anton’s swigging from a bottle of Smirnoff (it occurs to me that you could rock the whole hardcore spirit guzzling look by filling a vodka bottle with water, just don’t offer it around) and is starting to get a little feisty. First we hear how some halfwitted shop assistant wouldn’t accept his Scottish fiver (shouts of ‘Tourist!’). Then his guitar strap snaps, guitar tumbling to the floor and getting knocked out of tune. He commandeers the Teardrop, but it’s got a bust string, cue haranguing of bandmates.

18 strings and counting

There’s a rant about playing Brixton Academy and only getting paid £30. Cue heckling from the audience. He snaps at Frankie, sneering ‘We don’t need three guitars’ and takes over on 12 string. The atmosphere gets lumpy, but the tunes stay smooth. Song titles I catch, ‘Satellite’, ‘Prozac vs Heroin’ and forthcoming single, ‘If Love Is A Drug Then I Want To O.D.’ Gaps between tunes get longer, but each time they drop into a song The Brian Jonestown Massacre soar. Eventually, over time, they stumble offstage, leaving viola player Zy Lyn to pay eerily keening sounds over a taped down keyboard drone. We drift outside into the heartless cold, glowing inside.

* ‘Fabled’ if you’re taking the Poohsticks ‘On Tape’ as your choice of mythology. As in ‘I know he’s after one thing / My ’67 Vox Phantom 12 string (it’s a copy)’

[top of page]