In Hometown Show, Brian Jonestown Massacre Evades Expectations

Categories: Last Night
Brian Jonestown Massacre
@The Fillmore 
June 21, 2010 

Better Than: Watching Dig! on Hulu 

Last night's sold-out Brian Jonestown Massacre show at The Fillmore was anything but predictable. From beginning to end, the audience either had expectations or made assumptions. Time and time again, those were thwarted -- and in the best possible way. 

First of all, many of us -- including myself -- were seeing Brian Jonestown Massacre for the first time. When asked, most people cited Dig!, the 2004 Brian Jonestown Massacre/Dandy Warhols documentary as the reason for their interest in the band. The movie depicted frontman Anton Newcombe as a self-centered, hotheaded rock 'n' roller prone to ejecting band members from the stage. Subsequently, people expected to see a fight.

"I could only hope to get socked in the face," said a skinny youth wearing a yellow and orange scarf commando-style around his forehead.

Wrong. If anything, Newcombe appeared humble last night. As the band filed onto the stage in ones and twos, Newcombe shuffled to one side and stayed there, playing shoulder to the crowd for the entire evening. In a not completely surprising twist, percussionist Joel Gion proved the gregarious one (he also seemed to vie for the limelight in Dig!). Striding to take center stage, he lifted his tambourine up to his lamb chop sideburns and beat it like he was listening to the gods.
Keeping in line with keeping us guessing, new material took a backseat to old favorites. "Aren't they going to play anything off the new album?" I heard a woman whisper irritably about halfway through the two-hour set. But lost in a droney haze of nostalgia --  and perhaps THC -- most of the audience didn't seem to mind. "Cabin Fever," with guitarist Matt Hollywood on vocals, evoked fervent applause, while "Wisdom" met cries of exhalation. 

Speaking of classics, the crowd went wild when Newcombe configured the lyrics of "Sue" San Francisco-style to "all alone she lives on Haight Street." One woman even kept her hand in the air, clenching and unclenching her fist to the meandering ebb and flow of the hum and whirl for the song's entire eight-and-a-half minutes.

As the night wore on, the energy continued to escalate, exceeding expectations again for the last leg of a long tour. The crowd let loose with "That Girl Suicide," crooned along with "Oh Lord" (including a breathtaking silence followed by a collective "Whoa-oh") and made some haphazard crowd-surfing attempts throughout the last three songs.

Finally Joel thanked us ("You guys have been great") and the band exited the stage, leaving the whole room in a wake of whirring reverb. We waited for a full five minutes, patient, expectant, a few power ballad lighters waving hopefully in the air and then ... house lights. 

Garsh darn it, you got us again. What was that guy telling me about between songs? Something about "keeping music evil?" Well, Anton, maybe you haven't really changed that much, after all. 

Critic's Notebook 

Personal Bias: Score another I-told-you-so to the friend that suggested I go to this show. I've always liked Brian Jonestown Massacre, but now I'm a believer. 

Random Detail: Joel Gion deejayed jungle/drum and bass from his laptop between sets. 

By the way: The opening band, Portland's Federale are world-class whistlers and play some of darkest desperado music I've ever heard.

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