It’s always a boisterous bunch that attends a Chicago show by The Brian Jonestown Massacre. This last one at the Metro, on the Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend, was no exception. BJM plays to a niche audience indeed, but within that niche they can reach demigod-like status that surprises those unfamiliar with the group.
For the most part BJM brings to the table – and has for about 15 years – a brand of edgy, yet mostly traditional, psychedelic rock that has its roots in the mind-altered attitude & energy of the 60’s. Yet the following they have received is not “hippy’ish” in anyway, the people at BJM shows come to rock n’ roll, not to celebrate love. There was a heightened enthusiasm in the crowd that was hard not to feed off of. (Luckily that energy didn’t spill over into an intense fight between spectators, which occurred the last time they played Chicago.)
BJM mostly stuck to that which they have become very well known for, actually steering clear of all the music from their last album (more on this later). They opened with “Super Sonic”, letting the crowd get very used to a dreamy drone-like guitar tone produced by Antwon, the lead singer, continually strumming on 3 guitar strings. Then the swift beat, vocals, tambourine, bass and multiple guitars all surface – but the drone does not cease. BJM leaned heavy upon these hallucinatory whirrs, giving their music a heavy surreal base – upon which they gladly build wonderful rock songs. Yet this technique is not one to be suggested to many bands, for it usually results poorly. But like some sort of weird batting stance that you let slide because the guy can hit – BJM is repeatedly successful in this trippy musical technique.
The Massacre played a lot of their material off of “Strung out in Heaven” and “Give it Back.” Those songs showcase BJM’s ability to create music with ever-present wailing guitars that are put aside a strutting rock n’ roll rhythm section, that sometimes emerges from or into hallucinatory effects. They really shinned on their song “Got my Eye on You”, where their energy really hit a crescendo, and the background talking added by tambourine player Joel Gion created for an kick-ass sonic effect which was verified by an immediate spike in the excitement of the audience. “Not if you were the last Dandy on earth” was another quickly paced song in which BJM really seemed to click and delivered the goods like the weathered pros that they are.
One thing that was conspicuously absent from this show was songs off of BJMs latest album, “Who Killed Sgt Pepper?” – which was a detour of sorts in that it is comprised of mostly electronically-influenced, “rave’ier”, pysch music. Yet it was also a stunning album with a number of stirring songs. True, the full band present on stage may not have been involved in all the recordings of that album, but some of them were… Needless to say it was perplexing and disappointing not to hear how those songs, different as they may be for the band, would have been played and sounded this evening at the Metro. It also marks the first time I have witnessed a band disregard their latest material in a large live show. But then again – it is BJM, and I shouldn’t be surprised at being surprised by them, by now.
Notwithstanding that absence of their freshest material, this show was still a triumph of psychedelic rock n’ roll. The Brian Jonestown Massacre has a way of being unpredictably consistent that few bands can pull off. The sincerity of their rock n’ roll aura, the depth of their desire for a mind-altered state, is tangible when you absorb their live show. It’s why they are one of the most-respected and followed bands – that most haven’t heard of.
By Sean Brna