The Brian Jonestown Massacre @ The Barby, Tel Aviv 11/7/12
I fell in love with The Brian Jonestown Massacre after seeing DiG when I was 15. I know that BJM frontman Anton Newcombe didn’t appreciate his portrayal in the film, but to me, the band I saw in that film was so incredible because it was almost as if all they had was their love of 60′s music and their conviction that they could make music just as good for their time. And that went a long way. I immediately went out and bought Their Satanic Majesty’s Second Request - that was a great album. I downloaded the rest of their discography and loved most of it – there were a couple albums I wasn’t that excited about – namely the newer ones, as much as I hate to say it. The BJM were a great band in the 90′s, partly because they were so out of time and place – there was nothing ’90′s’ about their music after Methodrone. By 2003′s And This Is Our Music they kind of consolidated their sound and they lost that great ‘fandom’ energy that made them so exciting up to that point, as they jumped from exploring one sound to another with each new album – all the time, still sounding so essentially like themselves. I stopped listening to them for a while, only returning after hearing them at a trashy hipster bar in Brooklyn in 2010 and remembering how great a band they were, especially if you listened to them in the right context. When I found out they were coming to Tel Aviv, I was psyched to have a chance to finally see them live after listening to them for so many years. I managed to get a guestlist spot to cover the show, and so here are my impressions of the BJM in 2012.
The lineup I saw included many of the key players from the band I fell in love with in DiG, such as Matt Valentine and Joel Gion. They all actually look pretty much the same, despite the fact the band I saw in that movie was really at least 10 years younger than the one I saw on Wednesday. Unfortunately though, it’s not quite the same band. These weren’t the young fuck-ups in an up-and-coming band with a hopeful future ahead of them and the world at their feet from the movie – these were musicians. Perhaps they were playing the music they knew and loved - indeed, much of the set was from their classic 90′s output – and perhaps they were having a great time doing so. But that ‘youth element’, that unpredictability they were so renown for, was nowhere to be seen.
Musically they sounded professional – not astoundingly tight, not loosey-goosey – but professional, able. They played the songs; they sounded like they did on record. Ironically, there may have been a lot of audience members in the 90′s who wondered why this band couldn’t put their shit aside and just play a fucking concert, but here they were doing just that with no problems and at all…and it just didn’t feel special. And with a band like the BJM it is all about the feeling. The BJM isn’t Radiohead - they’re not a band whose songs in and of themselves are really all that mindblowing – nor are they Led Zeppelin or some band known for being really tight and technically impressive. What made them so great in the first place was the feeling that they had and could infect their listeners with. And you can still hear that feeling on their 90′s records, but in 2012, it’s just not there anymore. Most likely this is something they can’t be blamed for – they’ve gotten older and they’re just not that young and exciting anymore.
I believe that there’s going to be a time when The Brian Jonestown Massacre are really, really cool again and we’re going to re-love them like we do Guided By Voices – but I don’t think we’re there yet. My advice to the band from this perspective would be: lay low for a bit and then come back and play a bunch of reunion shows that makes everybody piss their pants, just like Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine did and continue to do. But that being said, at least in Tel Aviv, there’s plenty of demand for them right now – indeed, the show was pretty full – and maybe the bandmembers need the cash.