Four songs into Brian Jonestown Massacre’s set, my friend turns to me and says, ‘they’re quite boring to watch aren’t they? But I mean that in a good way’. I get what she means. For a band with such a broad palette of sounds, such an immense back catalogue, such polarising personalities - BJM are pretty static performers. Not that it’s an issue - they don’t need gimmicks and they certainly don’t need a stage show. Their music is compelling enough to burrow its way into your brain that using the term, ‘transfixed’, to describe the state of the audience in an absolutely rammed to the rafters O2 Forum, is sloppy, but also the only word that will do justice.
Anton Newcombe has an intense commitment to his art. He has a black sarcasm that runs deeply through everything he does, part scornful, part evangelist but always incredibly entertaining. A tragicomic in its most satisfactory form. His unwavering commitment to psychedelic music as a mind-expanding medium that usurps any form of conservatism has carried him throughout a career that’s lasted nearly 30 years and seen him release 18 studio albums, some much better than others, but always provocative, always passionate, always expanding personal horizons.
Tonight’s setlist breaches every nook and crevice of the band’s career, kicking off with the sublime ‘We Never Had A Chance’. Sonically, the whole set just sounds beautiful. The bass could have been louder on ‘Anemone’, but really, who gives a fuck? It’s a song I’ve never heard anyone slag off, ever.
The ethereal loop of ‘Pish’ brings a roar of cheers, it’s just wonderful to hear live - a psychedelic relic that’s clearly a firm fan favourite. ‘Sailor' sounds like heavy vapour rising off of hot sand. ‘Who?’ is the only song played tonight from the incredible, Take It From The Man, an album I’ll never forget first discovering. It emanates waves of joy - Anton doesn’t just play his guitar and sing - the way he delivers lines such as “I see every colour that has ever been inside of you” - is built right in to the depths of the track, a part of the entire infrastructure. It can be quite easy to separate the art from the artist but I think it’s actually really hard to do with Anton. He’s genuinely one of the most intensely, interesting characters in the genre that we like to call rock and roll. He’s so desperately underwhelmed and disappointed with Western culture, so riled by certain levels of injustice that he knows he can have no control over, that it’s no wonder he has become so fully absorbed in his music.
The mass shift in line-up speaks volumes - how many artists can you name that spend their career intent on extracting unique qualities out of such a roving collection of musicians and not be exhausted from the whole experience? It’s the complete dismissal of being a typical ‘frontman’ that makes the band such a provoking presence; Anton stands remote, side of stage, as always, whilst Joel Gion utilises his tambourine like the instrument and not the prop that it’s supposed to be. As far as tambourines go, these swell and sink in size - sometimes they even get chucked in the air to break the crowd’s mass hypnosis.
The UK have an enduring, faithful and passionate love affair with the Brian Jonestown Massacre which is dutifully reciprocated. If there’s one thing I value in BJM, and Anton specifically, it’s the mission to hold the torch high so that others might see a path - whether you’re a fan, a fellow musician or simply just somebody hanging around looking for the next stroke of brilliance. Tonight is a live experience that any man or woman of taste can dig.