(reviewed by Scott Causer)
Tonight we find ourselves in the civilised surroundings of the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the 1st day of Patti Smith’s Meltdown Festival featuring a very rare UK appearance from US psychedelic protagonists The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who will henceforth be known as BJM due to my extreme laziness, unwillingness and inability to keep repeatedly writing their name. The concert itself is a seated affair and we’re very close to the stage. Such are the surroundings, it’s almost like waiting for classical musicians to appear.
First up on the bill tonight is Ed Harcourt. Not being familiar with his music I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. A number of unusual instruments grace the stage. I’m half expecting a small orchestra to walk out, but only 4 people walk on the stage, all multi-instrumentalists, swapping instruments as the songs demand it. The guitarist switches to xylophone and then accordian, the bassist from electric bass to viola to double bass. The violinist sticks with the violin and why not when you play an instrument so well. Ed himself switches from piano to guitar to drums. The drummer is apparently absent tonight, not that you’d notice – the songs are really intimate as a result of this and sound like they should always be played this way. The songs themselves are little stories and the silence in the crowd, all listening intently to these little stories, prompts Ed Harcourt to ask if anyone is bored? He can rest assured that no-one is and he even rocks out for one number. The music (although not the voice) is reminiscent of Tom Waits and wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jim Jarmusch film soundtrack.
BJM do a fine line in vintage guitars and Nuggets/Pebbles-style psychedelia. Armed with their Rickenbackers and Gibsons they set out to out-elevate the 13th Floor Elevators and sound more like the Stones in 1968 than the Stones have ever actually done themselves. BJM have had over 40 members in the last 10 years (more than most but less than PSST) including Peter Hayes from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Tonight’s band consists of three guitarists, a bass player, a drummer who plays like one of them rabbits from that Duracell advert and a Bez by the name of Joel, difference being his tambourine and maraca playing do actually add to the overall sound of BJM.
The compere introduces the band on as friends of his – ‘well at least they‘ve never chucked any shit at me.’ The songs they play tonight are a mixture of old favourites from their recent retrospective compilation ‘Tepid Peppermint Wonderland’ and new songs from their forthcoming album. Songs played include ‘Hide & Seek,’ ‘Open Heart Surgery,’ ‘When Jokers Attack’ and ‘Who?’ Ed Harcourt even returns to the stage to sing on a new song they’ve recorded for the forthcoming BJM album. BJM are surprisingly (for a band going for 10 years) unorganised and are at times a bit ramshackle. ‘Which song you want to do next? How long have we got left? I don’t know. Shall we carry on playing?’ This however only adds to their charm, especially in these majestic surroundings.
Anton Newcombe’s certainly reputation precedes his arrival and on occasion BJM are heckled by the more moronic elements in tonight’s crowd hoping for a reaction, notably when the Beatles and Coldplay are roundly abused by various band members. Anton however is on fine form and is not rising to it, instead choosing to respond with ‘Why are you shouting at me? I don’t shout at you, when you’re working behind the counter in Boots do I?’ The only one who does react is Joel who kicks back a coin which someone has thrown on stage. Anton reminds him to ‘simmer down and let people throw that shit on stage, cos we ain’t throwing it back.’ However, you always get the feeling that the show could descend into chaos at any given moment. It is well documented that Anton walks a fine line between genius and madness, and sound and equipment problems are not making various band members happy. One guitarist stops while the technician goes off to find a fuse for the amp. The music though, (which is really what it’s all about and which some reviewers unfortunately treat as incidental when writing about BJM), transcends their reputation and all their shortcomings. Even when one of their guitarist’s amps packs up, you don’t notice anything missing. However, BJM while being one man’s lone vision, are very much a sum of their parts. The sounds coming from between the guitarists aren’t coming out of anyone of their guitars, but as combined sounds. The show ends in a crescendo of feedback, with BJM leaving their instruments to feedback as they leave the stage.
Anton Newcombe has been blamed directly by various elements for BJM not crossing over into the big time. Maybe this is so, but in a parallel universe (and in their own little world) BJM are the biggest band in the world and Coldplay are doing the rounds, playing to one man and his dog, in dingy little dives across the shitholes of the UK. Peace and love to BJM!