Sunday, July 31, 2016

The ego has landed


Ondi Timoner's fantastic 2004 film Dig! charts the contrasting fortunes of two American bands united by friendship and divided by rivalry: The Dandy Warhols, who over the eight years the movie was filmed rise to modest mainstream success, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who seem perpetually on the brink of similar success only to somehow contrive to screw everything up spectacularly, whether by getting busted for drugs or by self-imploding in a mass onstage brawl during an industry showcase at LA's Viper Rooms. The latter's figurehead, Anton Newcombe, is the film's undoubted star - an irascible egomaniac/megalomaniac even by rock 'n' roll's notoriously high standards.

Twelve years on, has he mellowed? Has he fuck. The show is barely ten minutes old and he's already threatening to throw down the stairs an audience member who had the temerity to shout out a request. Also on his ever-lengthy shitlist tonight are baby boomers, the imminent EU referendum, Taylor Swift, Spotify, the stage lighting and his own guitarist and keyboard player (whom he verbally scolds like a demon headmaster admonishing an errant and cowed pupil). When he does switch to enthusiastic eulogy, it's for the face-slashing scene in The Harder They Come and mandolin-playing roadie Christophe, about whom he's planning to make a Dogme-style film.

With his white shirt, beads and enormous tufty, greying sideburns, Newcombe now resembles John McCririck if he'd amassed a stockpile of horse tranquillisers and subsequently developed a Christ complex while on a gap year in India. Many of those present tonight are evidently of the belief that he's the messiah rather than just a very naughty boy. Nightshift is somewhat less certain.

If Newcombe is indeed a genius, then that genius lies either in the ability to hoodwink people into thinking he's a genius or (more charitably) in the ability to effortlessly pastiche and condense fifty years of music history into a two-and-a-half-hour set. That The Velvet Underground are a cornerstone is signalled visually from the outset through the use of Rickenbackers and Gibson 335s and the studious wearing of sunglasses indoors, but there are also variously shades of The Rolling Stones (particularly on 'Who?'), The Charlatans, The Kinks, The Doors, the thuggish stomp of Oasis circa Definitely Maybe, Spiritualized (hardly surprising for a band whose second album was called Methadrone) and The Stone Roses (the accurately titled 'Pish', taken from 2015's Mini Album Thingy Wingy, a release apparently named by Russell Brand).

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - or "The Brain Jonestown Massacre", as the Academy's official poster bills them - even have their very own Bez, Joel Gion, who is dressed like a hipster docker and introduced by Newcombe as "the man" but who fulfils his percussionist duties with yawning indifference rather than goggle-eyed relish. Newcombe doesn't even try to hide the fact that he's built a career on cribbing answers from other people's exam papers at the School of Rock; one of his compositions boasts the brazen moniker 'Here Comes The Waiting For The Sun'.

And yet ultimately you can't dispute either the improbable longevity of that career (26 years and counting, with albums number 15 and 16 on their way) or the band's popularity, reflected in the fact that tonight's show is sold out. Dig! may have implied that The Brian Jonestown Massacre lost the battle, but subsequent history suggests they've won the war. Indeed, this is perhaps even something to be celebrated: in an era of carefully stage-managed plasticky automatons delivering precision-guided product and platitudinous soundbites to a target demographic, Newcombe is arguably just the sort of entertainingly cantankerous, hubristic, uninhibited, unpredictable rock star we need.

(An edited version of this review first appeared in the August issue of Nightshift.)

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