Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Fonda: Still casting a spell

Brian Jonestown Massacre (Photo by Matthew Tucciarone, courtesy of Goldenvoice)
Brian Jonestown Massacre (Photo by Matthew Tucciarone, courtesy of Goldenvoice)

As expected, the fringed-vests and corduroys were out in full force Saturday night for the Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Fonda Theatre. But the scene wasn’t about fashion as much as fusion — of genres, eras, people and mind-sets. If most were there for a caustic and kaleidoscopic experience, they got one. Contrasting hues of red, blue, pink and green light saturated the stage and drenched the band who were set up jam style, with leader Anton Newcombe on the edge of stage-right. Front and center was the band’s omnipresent tamborine player Joel Gion, who as always, commanded attention with his aloof yet theatrical movements and convincing mastery of the instrument. Both fellows were focal points and both wore dark shades, naturaly. The rest of the band, which included the requisite guests, had a chill but happy-to-be-there energy that was palpable.

||| Photos by Matthew Tucciarone, courtesy of Goldenvoice

Some in the audience obviously sought a chemical complement to the proceedings; there were a couple scruffy dudes tripping out near our perch in the back by the bar (one yelling at the stage the entire time and the other struggling to stay upright, hanging and grooving on an oblivious girlfriend). For the most part though, it was a wine and weed crowd. The psychedelic vibes in the room and on stage, not to mention Newcombe’s signature odd, and yes slightly aggro chatter (especially later in the show), made it a classic BJM gathering. But the packed Fonda show also marked a moment in time that, in terms of their persona and public perception, could and should be pivotal to the band’s trajectory. Musically, the BJM have transcended the neo-hippie/retro-hipster clichés, the revolving door band-member drama, and even the preconceived notions that have followed them since the 2004 documentary “Dig!”

Whether you first saw the band’s early incarnation at a backyard jam in Hollywood like we did (we couldn’t tell who was an actual member back then) or during the much-hyped era of A&R courting and hot mess club gigs, or simply as the Dandy Warhols’ frenemies in the film, BJM in person and/or on record never left you bored or questioning the talent. His unhinged moments aside, Newcombe has always had a gift for blending and bludgeoning a multitude of influences into something uniquely his own. For Stones fans and stoners alike, the band’s obsession with Jones-era psych textures and multy-culty sonic excursions as heard on the ’90s releases “Thank God For Mental Illness” and “Their Satanic Majesties Second Request” was provocative on record and even more so live. Not really surprised that over 20 years later, old fans wanted a flashback or that new fans sought to drop and dig it in an authentic way.

Despite the love beads and big sideburns (which have turned snow white in recent years), Anton’s ’80s and ’90s post-punk leanings have been as significant as the ’60s nuances. The influence of Creation Records artists like The Jesus & Mary Chain and Primal Scream, not to mention the Factory-era Manchester acts, both dancey and dark, are undeniable. These elements have emerged in a really prominent way throughout his prolific career. On Jonesy’s Jukebox on KLOS-FM the day before the gig, the BJM leader spoke of his love for PiL, which he probably brought up because of the Steve Jones-John Lydon relationship, but more likely because the two bands really do have a lot in common in the way they play with rhythm and dissonance, yet still manage to maintain melodiousness. The result is experimental music that’s catchy as hell.

Saturday, BJM played material off some old releases and their brand new one, “Don’t Get Lost,” conjuring shoegazer, goth, twang, kraut-rock and electro (explored most on the new release) throughout. It was a really atmospheric hodge-podge, and an example of the band’s epic evolution. Newcombe’s vocals have become richer with age (and maybe sobriety) to the extent that we noticed a striking similarity we hadn’t before — to Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch — on more than a couple tracks. Maybe he’s just singing more passionately these days, who knows, but it was really seductive. We should mention here that show opener Miranda Lee Richards (who has sung with BJM) was equally intense vocally during her early set, showing a new depth that impressed us, especially on material she touted from a forth-coming album.

“Don’t Get Lost” comes only months after a previous BJM release, “Third World Pyramid,” both produced out of Newcombe’s studio in Berlin, where he now resides. He obviously still has a lot to say and he’s seeking to do it in new ways. The music continues to mature, but maybe the man behind it never will. Near the end of the set, the famously irascible frontman started rambling about his sunglasses (which are apparently prescription) and then responding to hecklers in the crowd whom he ultimately said he would have kicked out (it was their last song so, yeah …). The spell was kind of broken by that point, but it was entertaining nonetheless. BJM’s unpredictability remains in tact, and no matter what they do or play or say, at this point, the music is good enough to make up even for a bad trip.