I consider myself very lucky when I can see one of my favorite bands live in concert. When they come back a year later, it's like an overtime bonus show. But three out of four summers in a row? That's concert nirvana.
And when we're talking about The Brian Jonestown Massacre, a band that must be heard live to be fully appreciated, well, you've just described me in my "happy place."
What's amazing to me about this group is how unbelievably prolific it was in the mid '90s. And, while some of what BJM has put out over the years is actually a little tough to listen to because it really challenges the listener, more of it is what I consider sparks of brilliance.
Apparently, Milwaukee agrees. Turner Hall on Friday was mostly filled up, just as it was the last two (out of three) summers. And like me, the crowd assembled knew it was witnessing something special, as a wall of guitars (and one tambourine) rolled through its parade of hits – if you could call them that, since BJM never had any airplay – like "Anemone, "Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth," "Servo" and "Straight Up and Down." That last song, by the way, is the theme to HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," and it was received with added enthusiasm. That it turned into an extended version of "Sympathy For The Devil" to end the set was extra amazing.
BJM is touring in support of its new album, "Aufheben," which good, although to my ear, most of the magic comes from the band's golden era, circa 1996-1997. In other words, you know you're listening to art when the band goes all experimental, but it's not always as fun to listen to as the vampy, surf rock that almost sounds Brit pop at times (except the band hails from San Francisco).
Always a volatile lineup, front man Anton Newcombe was quiet, letting his music do the talking. If you've seen "Dig," you may have formed an opinion of Newcombe, but having recently interviewed him, he's actually mellow and friendly. So the normal juvenile taunts from the audience, seeking some conflict, are just wasted energy. Three years ago, it got downright tense when Anton stopped the band several times mid-song, staring down the drummer with a "you're doing it wrong glance." This year, he had a few words for one of his five guitarists regarding his pedals, but everyone moved past it.
Anton is always the main story, but this is a band of characters. Of course, you have Joel Gion, the mutton-chopped tambourine player, clad in all black on stage, and the super-talented Matt Hollywood expertly going about his business. When you put it all together, BJM is just so very rock and roll.
For me, this has been a great concert summer. BJM's bizarro-twins, The Dandy Warhols, played Chicago at the beginning; now this amazing show at the end. I rarely leave a show feeling completely and utterly fulfilled. Tonight I did.
And as long as the band keeps coming back every year (or so), so will I. The Brian Jonestown Massacre in Milwaukee is quickly become a favorite summertime tradition.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.