By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Mar 28, 2009 at 1:33 AM
My first exposure to The Brian Jonestown Massacre was through the amazing 2004 documentary, "Dig!" but I actually didn't set out to become a "BJM" fan when I bought the DVD.

Instead, I checked it out on the recommendation of my friends Eron and Corey, both of whom joined me for the BJM concert tonight at Turner Hall. Eron and Corey knew I'm a huge fan of The Dandy Warhols, the other band in the documentary.

It turns out that BJM is the real rock band between the two, and I've anxiously awaited the opportunity to see them live.

You pretty much need to see "Dig!" before you begin to understand the band, founded by the enigmatic, talented and slightly insane Anton Newcombe.

Newcombe and a rotating lineup of a good two dozen members take the mantra of "sex, drugs and rock and roll" very seriously, having cranked out nine albums, four EPs and 15 singles in their two decade history. I don't claim to know all, of even most, of their songs, but their greatest hits album, "Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective" is a more than adequate primer.

Fortunately I knew enough Friday, and BJM quite literally put on one of the best shows I've ever seen. With eight musicians on stage, including tambourine player Joel Gion and the surprise addition of original guitarist Matt Hollywood, the band pounded out song after song in an astounding three-hour set.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre really went through volumes of its discography Friday, and I'm not exaggerating to say that every song sounded so very tight. A long, drawn-out version of "If Love Is The Drug" went on forever, but in a really great way.

If Newcombe has mellowed after all these years, he barely showed it. Gliding between chatty, angry and intense, he micromanaged the band, especially the super-talented drummer Dan Allaire, who he stopped on occasion to berate for not keeping up with his timing. But otherwise, the group got along, and fireworks were largely avoided (somewhat to our chagrin).

There's almost too much to comment on from this transcendent, packed show. From Gion's larger than life muttonchops, swigging champagne throughout, to the extended solos and jams, this show felt like a musical moment in time that might just last forever.

The opening band was a Minneapolis group called Flavor Crystals, and the guitar-heavy act was quite good, reminiscent of early The Verve. After their set, I talked a bit to lead singer Josh Richardson, who was watching Newcombe just as wide-eyed as we were.

Richardson said he attributed BJM's superb performance to the fact that Newcombe is again sober, and after touring with them, they're really nothing like what viewers saw in "Dig!" He said the movie misrepresented the band, piecing together lots of bad incidents over the years, and that the group is comprised of "perfect gentlemen."

I'm not sure I entirely buy that, since Newcombe looked like he was ready to kill someone when he launched into a some self-described "Icelandic disco."

But for the incessant amp tweaking and on-stage machinations, I had to grin when Newcombe told us he's currently working on five albums right now. We all cheered when he said, "We've got a bunch of songs we're just gonna play till the make us stop."

Before tonight, I would've said that I'm still slightly partial to The Dandy Warhols over Brian Jonestown Massacre. Now I know it's no contest.

Searching my mental archives, I can only think of one other show that bested tonight's: Radiohead in Chicago's Grant Park several years ago. And frankly, this was close.

After the show, we talked to the keyboard player, Rob Campanella, who thanked us for coming and apologized if the band seemed a little tired (Newcombe was chugging Red Bells all night).

If that's what BJM sounds like when sleepy, I can't imagine what they're like wide awake.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. 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 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.