Formed in 1990 in San Francisco, California, the prolific Brian Jonestown Massacre has released 20 studio albums at a fairly regular clip. None of the albums achieved significant commercial success or crossed into the mainstream, yet the band generated a substantial cult following with its low-fi shoegaze sound. The band released its most recent product, The Future Is Your Past, on February 10.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s founder, Anton Newcombe, is the band’s only constant member, having seen up to 40 musicians come and go from the ranks over the years. The current personnel consists of Newcombe on vocals and guitar, with guitarists Ricky Maymi and Hákon Aðalsteinsson, keyboardist Ryan Van Kriedt, bassist Collin Hegna, drummer Uri Rennert, and tambourine player Joel Gion. Yes, that is correct – Gion stands in the front line and simply plays tambourine (occasionally maracas) for the entire performance.
At Brooklyn Steel, Gion stood where one would have expected the band leader to stand. Instead, Newcombe stood to the side, facing his musicians rather than the audience. Newcombe was the anti-rockstar, seldom taking a spotlight. Instead, he and the band were bathed in dim red and blue lights throughout the concert.
New songs, old songs; they all sounded pretty much the same. The overpowering sound was the mid-tempo chords, with Newcombe’s vocals lending a bouncy melody to an otherwise monotonous drone. With up to four guitars playing the same jangling chords simultaneously, Newcombe’s vocals were indiscernible. The music had little moderation, with few if any highs or lows. An occasional guitar lead or keyboard roll peppered the wall of sound.
Newcombe is a singer-songwriter and bandleader. He is not an entertainer. The same could be said for the band he leads.