Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Mid-Life Massacre

Men of my age, sinking with a half-smile into a stupor of anonymity, tend to pronounce on the evils of the world from the safety of our four secure walls, more poorly informed informed than ever before. Told that we should “get out more”, we venture through the front door for some real life action, only to scuttle home shaking our heads, wishing we’d saved ourselves the price of a ticket to see The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre aired its core idea in full last night at the 9.30 Club in Washington DC - a strummed intro, followed by four electric guitars all more or less poorly playing the same chord, the statutory drummer who sends it all up-tempo after 30 seconds, and a roof-shaking bass that in a live setting is adjusted to drown out almost everything, including a half-hearted vocal stranded somewhere between death and purgatory. If the bassist was a virtuoso, you could maybe understand why he’d been cranked up to cover the ham-fisted efforts of the rest of the band, but the instrument’s sound is pure thudding indie-plod.

I wondered if I was the only one who noticed, or if my ears were now so knackered that they only pick up low tones. I thought about yelling out in between songs, “Could you turn down the bass a little please, gentlemen?” But this is the first time I’ve ever seen The Brian Jonestown Massacre live, and I’m scared that everyone will turn round and stare at me, and someone will say, “Don’t you know that the Brian Jonestown massacre live sound is built around the bass? It’s been like that for 15 years.” Plus BJM lead man Anton Newcombe has a reputation for attacking members of the audience.

Twenty years ago, if I’d spent the entire afternoon drinking, I’d have thought they were genius. They swill bottles of spirits and smoke on stage and can barely handle their instruments, just the kind of anti-work ethic I always admired in a band.Proficiency was for people who took the whole idea of popular music way too seriously. On the other hand, everyone in The Brian Jonestown Massacre is deadly serious. Bands like this were not formed to smile, and are obliged to hold up indie’s unwritten manifesto that life is grim and unrelenting, like a two-note bass riff turned up to ten.

The only sign of amusement on show is the special needs 1930s farm worker with hamsters for sideburns who stands in the middle of the stage playing tambourine. This is Joel Gion, the bloke Newcombe famously beat up on stage in 1996 the night that music industry reps came to see the band. That Gion’s still in the band could mean that the fight was a set-up to alienate The Man and establish alt cred, or else there aren’t many jobs going for indie-pop tambourine shakers who look like they’d rather be mucking out your mules. Then I remember what I'm reading, Juan Eslava Galan’s excellent ‘The Mule’, and I head for home, lured by the idea of a book on the train over a bass in my brain.

Still, I like this band, and the way it shaped its one idea, sucking up several influences and creating one gratifyingly big, if easily identifiable, sound. At home, when everyone else is out, with the bass turned down, and with a far too sensible measure of whisky in a crystal glass.


nathan3e said...

At 41, I cannot hang with this type of live experience anymore.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

I wasn't by any stretch the oldest old fart there. I was thinking how in the early 1980s I used to scorn middle-aged Rolling Stones fans for still going to watch a band that had been going for over 20 years and that was just trolling through the same old songs. If only I'd known back then to immediately form a band called The Sad Bastards of Tomorrow.

No Good Boyo said...

The BJM spent months thinking up their grimly amusing name then launched themselves on stage, only them remembering that they couldn't play any instruments. Brilliant! It worked for the Jesus & Mary Chain, after all.

The last recognisable band I saw live was Tanita Tikaram, who sounded intriguing but turned out to be one woman from Reading who wanted to tell us all about her Italian boyfriend. Dull. I've stuck to records ever since.

nathan3e said...

At one point in my pre-wife and children existence I would go to First Avenue with alarming regularity. I can recall be nearly afraid at an oversold Tricky show. Jane's Addiction and Public Enemy bordered on riots. Coming home smelling like blunt smoke was a given. Big fun for me. Now? Not so much. In fact, not at all. My live experiences are confined to second division football.

As far as the Jesus & Mary Chain goes, Clement Greenberg once wrote that Edward Hopper would have been an inferior artist if he had been a better painter. This is how I felt about JAMC. Once they learned to play and bought proper equipment (post Darklands) their records made me sleepy. And now they are back. Good lord.

You know who has aged well? Tindersticks. They were born to be this old. Their latest record made my wife cry yesterday, in a good way.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

Nathan - saw the Tindersticks at the same venue last month, and it was indeed a much better night, albeit in front of a small crowd. A dimly lit cellar bar would have been more appropriate. Despite the melancholic nature of their music, they smiled enough to suggest they're content with their place in the world.

Boyo - I think it was a female character in a David Lodge novel who thought that all sex acts took place in the doggy position, because she'd only ever slept with Italian men. Is that the kind of detail Tanita Tikaram was offering up?

No Good Boyo said...

Pop, you're right about the Lodge Moment, and I'm glad to say Tanita spared any details about Guido's penchant for the wheelbarrow, pulling a train or Dutch steamboating.

I'm with you and Nathan on Tindersticks. They make the same album each time, and the singer always sounds like he's recovering from a jab to the solar plexus, but it did Bruckner no harm.