Brian Jonestown Massacre was slow to begin their show at 9:30 Club on Friday night – not hesitant, but almost as if they couldn’t be bothered despite the restless shuffling of the crowd. They’ve been doing this for so long c combining the raw energy of garage rock with a sound bordering on jam band – that the stage is home, and they’d be damned to move at anything but their own pace. And in whichever direction their sound leans, it’s unapologetic – just like their persona.
Even their latest albums have been well-received, so one could take their dilatory start for well-earned swagger. But even once they began, the sludge wasn’t replaced by focus. The group would seem to forget the set list, or just not care. They took long breaks between songs, during which they would ignore the audience and talk to one another off mic. Some of the more restless attendees even started to boo, and others left.
Despite this litany of errors, the show was not to be missed. Sure, the set was bad, but I’d be lying if I said I expected much more. At the very least, I was able to see Joel Gion live, who is a saint in the music genre religion I’ve proudly converted to. Brian Jonestown Massacre has been around so long at this point (since 1990), and had so many members (more than 40), that they are referred to as a musical outfit rather than a band. To understand the distinction, you have to see them live. It’s hard to imagine them as nuanced individuals, each with their own inner life.
Far and away though, their live shows rest on Gion. If you don’t know the band, he resembles a homeless person who wandered onstage at the start of the show and was handed a tambourine – as well as a handful of Percocet. He seems to stare without seeing, and when he turns, you can literally watch as his new vista comes into focus. He’s also a beautiful animal, and a revelation.
At the start of the show, he kept it simple, rattling the tambourine or striking it on the offbeat. However, in short order, it became apparent that it is possible to genuinely play the tambourine, and that the gulf between those who can and those who can’t is massive. Gion can play, and by the end of the show he had the crowd mesmerized by the almost melodic character of his playing and by the way he managed to dance even as the room spun in his eyes.
This latest incarnation of Brian Jonestown Massacre was simply not well put together, but Gion didn’t fail to entertain, and the rest of the crew was full of characters. I didn’t even mention the too-tall Keebler Elf roadie who played mandolin on one number and had the standout solo of the show.
All of the tracks leading up to the finale were forgettable, but the concluding song was inspired. They spent several minutes playing on the dominant, building the tension while members distorted their amps to uncomfortable levels. The band members then walked off one by one while the amps still shook the room. It’s a fitting end to show that largely feels a like f–k you to the audience. But by then, I’d developed a newfound appreciation – rather than a newfound respect – for Gion and his band.
Learn more about Brian Jonestown Massacre here.