Brian Jonestown Massacre Fitzgerald's April 28, 2012
Brian Jonestown Massacre is a band that packs a dramatic and oftentimes dysfunctional psych-rock punch. With probable thanks to the 2004 documentary Dig!, which shed light on the band's antics, fans old and new were instantly reeled into the BJM soap opera.
Nevertheless, all fans carry an inescapable anxiety at BJM shows. We waited with bated breath in those few minutes past the band's scheduled set time, with hope that frenetic front man Anton Newcombe wouldn't bail after three songs -- with hope that he'd take the stage at all.
Those fair-weather Dig!-only fans are annoying to this longtime fan. However, save for a few outspoken backwards-hat-wearing dudes who entertained themselves citing Dig! quotes, Saturday's crowd at Fitzgerald's was BJM fans through and through.
That said, I'd seen BJM a couple of times before, at SXSW 2006, and at Chicago's Metro in 2010. Only the band's '06 show was tinged with trademark Anton-isms, which included a shirtless Newcombe ordering a front-and-center fan be kicked out for God knows why.
But the band was only ten minutes tardy taking stage, and appeared quite cohesive. Newcombe was seated with his guitar, tucked away from clear sight for most of the set.
He was joined by a full band, including BJM's only (relative) mainstays, guitarist Matt Hollywood and percussionist Joel Gion.
(One pretty front-row fan appeared to proposition Gion between songs. In response, he apolitically flashed his wedding band her way, smiling with flattery.)
Fans reacted to known songs like "Anemone" and the hilariously sardonic pop tune "Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth"; refreshingly, they seemed to appreciate some lesser-known songs, too, singing along to "Open Heart Surgery," "Super-Sonic" and "B.S.A.," among others.
Seeing BJM sans antics allows one to recognize the artistry of the band -- not to mention Newcombe's often overlooked guitar prowess.
Nevertheless, any lack of onstage dramatics was compensated for offstage. Some fans had either too much booze or too much testosterone, as numerous spats occurred in the crowd, resulting in Fitz's security forcibly removing some relentlessly pushy members of the audience.
The set progressed with impressive technicality and somewhat surprising fluidity. Newcombe, a musician publicly addled with past drug use, has supposedly been clean for the past few years -- a fact that could contribute to the band's newfound heightened ability.
But he's kept his edge.
"I'm fucking sick of that song," Newcombe said, off-mike between songs. "I mean, we can play it, but I'm fucking sick of it." (The song that followed was "Oh Lord.")
Afterward, Newcombe suddenly left the stage. Gion eventually took the mike in his absence. "Do you guys think he'll come back?" he asked. Naturally, fans started squirming and speculating, as Hollywood began dressing himself in toilet paper like a mummy to kill time.
But a few minutes later, Newcombe returned to the stage. We wondered whether the dysfunctional BJM aura was being unnecessarily prolonged.
"I think I'm losing my voice, and we have to play [Austin's] Psych Fest tomorrow," Newcombe fretted. (The only other times he'd spoken audibly were to half-ass complain about the monitors and lighting.)
After fumbling onstage a bit, the band seemed to be deciding between continuing or calling it a night. After all, BJM was entering their second hour onstage.
"Thank you guys so much," Hollywood said, leaving us to assume they were bailing. But Newcombe clearly wanted to call the shots; he broke into one final song, "Servo," and compromised -- abandoning its vocals in an effort to preserve his voice. The band complied, played their closer sans lyrics and left the stage.
Personal Bias: BJM is a favorite band of mine, so I couldn't have been more pleased with two straight hours of music sans antics. Would have liked to hear "Who," however.
The Crowd: A rowdy-ass bunch of sweaty, Anton-loving dudes.
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Overheard in the Crowd:: "We've only got 75 more songs to go!"
Random Notebook Dump: Please, don't "boo" when bands play for two hours and don't play an encore.