Once every blue moon, Manchester’s long-dormant collection of mods and psychonauts come out to play. With The Brian Jonestown Massacre dragging their perfectly organised chaos to the O2 Ritz last Saturday, a sold-out crowd hotly anticipated the group’s next offering of rock’n’roll and infighting.
Sauntering on to the stage in their uniform – denim jackets, sunglasses and Stetson hats – the band are more cult than rock-group. Everyone around them, from guitar-techs to loyal fans, look like a piece of that LA sixties revival and given the group’s infamous history of having over 50 different members, they are as good as interchangeable. Led by loose-cannon Anton Newcombe, Jonestown are a sight to behold. That night, we were all a part of that godforsaken band, and its great leader’s clear, unadulterated vision.
Firing straight into ‘#1 Lucky Kitty’ with commanding drums, by the second song (the flaming drone of ‘The Real’) Newcombe and co seemed to switch the audience on like a lightbulb. Within seconds, the wave of guitars emerged – all four of them – drowning the space in lush psychedelia.
Throughout the show, there would never be less than three electric, acoustic or twelve-string guitars at once; sometimes ranging all the way up to six. Joel Gion’s tambourine seemed to tie the cacophony together, as they powered through hypnotic tracks such as ‘Wait a Minute (2:30 to be Exact)’ and ‘Pish’. Guitars were regularly exchanged for whatever suited the song, just as Ryan Van Kriedt (confined to the far-left corner of the stage) regularly flipped between a variety of synthesisers, keyboards, or whatever six-string was thrust into his hands at that point.
Ever the awkward performer, Newcombe himself was hunkered over his bandstand of lyrics – the composer of his orchestra of oddities. He would stand there the entire evening, delivering his sermon of lyrics stretching their entire career: from the 90s alternate classic ‘Anemone’ to their newest additions, ‘The Future Is Your Past’ and ‘Fudge’.
Occasionally, the sonic mass would fall out of sync with Newcombe’s airtight vision, at which point he would force the band to restart, or aggressively chastise band members or the sound team. At one point, extremely irritated at a lack of reverb on his mic (“There’s nowhere near enough reverb. I don’t know what you guys are doing!”) Newcombe brought the show to a grinding halt, waiting impatiently for the correct amount of saturation his microphone. The irony was, for the rest of the show Newcombe’s petty complaints and aggressive exchanges were mostly lost to an ocean of echo…
Alas, no one was safe from Newcombe’s wrath (not an uncommon sight at a ‘Jonestown gig!) echoing the volatility of the band’s earlier days, captured succinctly in the hit documentary Dig! “I’m gonna start drinking tomorrow… I physically can’t handle the songs being messed up… Don’t get messed up by the truth!”
Clearly certain grievances haven’t fully been resolved…
Closing out the set, Anton launched the mob into ‘Abandon Ship’. Lasting well over 10 minutes, and with both guitar-techs also on guitar duty, the group burned through the krautrock-inspired dirge, lulling the audience into a trance. Some beside me began to scream; some put their hands in the air; others simply succumb to the overwhelming tide of guitars and feedback by closing their eyes – riding the wave.
And just like that, they were gone. They continue as they mean to go on – the same band as ever. To make one thing clear, The Brian Jonestown Massacre are not ‘the people’s band’. They are Anton Newcombe’s band. To see them live is to compromise to this vision, uncompromising and unapologetic. If, however you see Newcombe’s blinding ambition, they’re one of the greatest touring acts going.