Brian Jonestown Massacre at Turner Hall

Documented public outbursts sometimes overshadow their body of work, but The Brian Jonestown Massacre put on a damn good show at Turner Hall on Friday.

By - Aug 20th, 2012 10:56 am

The Brian Jonestown Massacre at Turner Hall Ballroom. (Photos: Erik Ljung)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s shoe-gazed psych-rock has led them to become one of the most influential and erratic groups of the past two decades. The engrossing documentary, Dig!, released in 2004, followed BJM’s tumultuous exploits over a seven-year span from the mid-90s through the early ’00s.

Band leader Anton Newcombe.

At the heart of these tumultuous exploits is creative genius and perceived madman, band leader Anton Newcombe. Internal problems and documented public outbursts sometimes overshadow their body of work that began in the early ‘90s, so at Turner Hall on Friday night, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to finally get to see a band I love play some of my favorite songs or witness a complete disaster. Either way, I knew it would be a memorable night.

Minneapolis band Magic Castles kicked the night off, playing jam-heavy psychedelic rock to a fairly sparse crowd, but as soon as the Minneapolis-based quintet finished their set, eager fans arrived and began to pack the historic ballroom for an evening with The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Touring in support of their latest album, Aufheben, the band took to the stage eight members strong, including familiar faces Newcombe, the only consistent member since the band’s inception, tambourine player and mutton-chops aficionado Joel Gion and founding-member, guitarist and sometimes-vocalist Matt Hollywood. The crowd roared as BJM tuned their instruments as screams of “Joel” and “Hollywood” were heard throughout the ballroom.

Singer-guitarist Matt Hollywood.

They opened their set with “Stairway to the Best Party in the Universe,” a new, tripped-out track with “Paint It Black”-like riffs and Newcombe’s delicate delivery. This was one of only a few tracks played off of Aufheben, as the rest of the set consisted of what would be considered the band’s hit songs.

1995-1998 is arguably BJM’s musical heyday, a time when they churned out six fantastic albums in those short years, and when Friday’s set-list came largely from this period, the crowd reacted with cheers and excitement. Ripping through tracks, with an arsenal of drums, a keyboard, tambourines, and up to 5 guitars, on “Anemone,” “Wisdom,” “Super-Sonic,” “Servo,” and “This Is Why You Love Me,” Newcombe was reserved with his eye-contact but his concentration—to the craft he will literally punch you in the face for messing with—was unshakable.

The highlights and most energized tracks of the night, however, came when Matt Hollywood took the vocal lead on songs including “Oh Lord,” “Got My Eye On You,” and “Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth.” Considering Hollywood’s numerous band departures, it was a welcomed sight. But it wasn’t just Newcombe and Hollywood manning the vocal’s on Friday night, as Joel Gion got in on the mix, belting out a bluesy cover of Bobby Jameson’s “There’s a War Going On.”

Joel Gion.

BJM closed their set with and elongated version of “Straight Up and Down” from 1996’s Take It From the Mana song that has enjoyed a rebirth as the theme for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. As the song played and the crowd cheered, a different, yet familiar tune crept in, as the song morphed into the Rolling Stones’ classic “Sympathy for the Devil.”

A good two hours after they began, The Brian Jonestown Massacre waved good-bye to the applauding crowd. While at one point, Newcombe did yell at a guitarist about his pedal usage calling it a “sin city of pedals,” nobody really seemed to notice, and at this point, the band appears able to accept those outbursts as Anton being Anton.

While it seems that some things will never completely change, most notably Anton’s unbridled passion that sometimes turns confrontational, one dramatic adjustment has been the rest of the band’s ability to handle these outbursts and continue to function as a band. BJM has been making Milwaukee a standard tour-stop in recent years, and it’s comforting to know that this great band was able to resurrect itself after years of destruction…and put on a damn good show too.

Categories: Life & Leisure, Rock

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us