I know it’s only rock and roll

Brian Jonestown Massacre
Live at Schubas in Chicago, February 26, 2002

By Derek Phillips

If I could stick a knife in my heart
Suicide right on stage
Would it be enough for your teenage lust?
Would it help to ease the pain?
— The Rolling Stones

There’s a term in boxing that describes the kind of fighter who will never get a shot at the title, never make the big money and slightly more often than not lose the fight. Club fighters make their living by facing better opponents night after night and getting their asses kicked. The one thing most Club fighters have in common is heart. They go up against tough odds night after night for the meager paycheck and the love of the sport. Brian Jonestown Massacre leader Anton Newcombe may have lived a past life as a Club fighter.

Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton NewcombeBJM took the stage at Schubas last night in front of a Chicago crowd equal parts hipster and meat head hell-bent on heckling and drunk on the anticipation of indie rock’s chief historian of classic psychedelic folk/rock. Since 1991, BJM has put out stunning records reminiscent of the Stones’ Satanic Majesty’s Request and Rod Stewart-era Faces. The band’s reputation for explosive live performances precedes them at every tour stop. Chicago was no different and that initially worked against an ailing Newcombe, too sick to sing properly but displaying the heart that makes real rock worth it all.

After nearly 25 minutes of noise jam, Newcombe addressed the audience and told them he couldn’t really sing and anyone who had problem with that could get a refund (albeit, only a 1/3 refund). He then promised to do his best and entertain those who stayed. And entertainment like this can’t be found on E Television.

Frustrated with the guitar volume on stage, Newcombe ordered his band to turn down, which they dutifully did — but not enough. At the start of the next song, Newcombe screamed to “fucking turn down so I can sing!” At which point he proceeded to attend to the task himself and turned down lead guitarist Jeff Davies’ amp. Davies took issue with the pull of rank and tried to turn back up, which sent Newcombe back to his cohort’s amp for more fine-tuning. This went on throughout the entirety of the set and threatened to derail the performance. For the first half hour of the set, Newcombe’s voice continually failed him and his temper flared. To some this may sound like the amateur antics of a mediocre bar band, but to those of us who believe in rock and roll and the power of live performance it was a display of dedication and just like a seasoned club fighter, a dedicated Rock band can be dangerous.

At some point the crowd divided. Drunken knuckleheads who too often are showing up at hip shows stepped up the heckling and one moron threw a full beer at the band. And that was the turning point of the show. Just as a fighter can snap-to at the sting of an unexpected overhand right, the Brian Jonestown Massacre came together and took on the idiots among us. The drunken bottle thrower got slapped around a bit and escorted out of the club — by his none-too-pleased girlfriend — and Anton introduced a song called “Johnny Marr is Dead.” Guitars growled and the rhythm took hold. The band was off and continued to rock the crowd for another hour.

Newcombe’s voice never did come to his rescue but the Massacre’s rhythm section did. The rhythm section makes or breaks a good band and can save the life of a limping performance. Last night the Brian Jonestown Massacre rhythm section held steady a constantly fluxing show with deft drum fills and throbbing, melodic bass lines. All Club fighters have a punch that can take out the best contenders, that’s how they stay in the game. BJM’s sucker punch is the rhythm section.

And like those of the best Club fighters, it wasn’t a perfect performance, but that’s the point. In a world where digital manipulation of tones and click track drums can suck the soul out of any song, the Brian Jonestown Massacre slugged its way through perfectly crafted pop tunes and space jams and for two hours last night saved rock and roll.

You can relive this show on the Digital Club Network.

12 thoughts on “I know it’s only rock and roll”

  1. Great article. It was certainly a strange show. I kept asking myself whether Anton was a sham, a shambles, or a shaman, and I guess the answer is that’s he’s a bit of all three. The guitar player looked like the guitar player from Hedwif and the ANdry Inch, ha ha. Great show though. And the opening act, Asteroid #4, was really great in a very Dead, Burritos, CCR kind of way.

  2. Check out the Brian jonestown Massacre Group page. Anton himself often posts. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bjm/ Here’s a sample of the type of posts you’ll find:has the band’s reputation as a traveling soap opera sideshow preceded them, thus resulting in the presence of a bunch of thick-necked mongoloids who think they might get to see a riot? i don’t know but it pisses me off.i go to see bands like bjm because i want to be moved, because i want to feel the hairs on my neck stand up when the sound of three guitars together creates that harmonic tone that can come from nowhere else.i want to see the music i love kept alive by bands with a sense of tradition and the desire to build on the legacy of what came before.–andrew in chicago

  3. Nice article Phil — glad to see someone else saw the same show I did. Can’t say the same for the other half of the crowd though…

  4. I was there too. Great article, Derek. I had a few cocktails myself and was somewhat confused as to what was going on. I luv Anton. Didn’t know that about him, since last time I saw them at Empty Bottle, the crowd was kewl and Anton was very sweet and talked afterwards for a bit. That’s why I hate Schuba’s….Too many frat boys, whiney-voiced women, and posers, yak, yak, yakkin’ all the time. Couldn’t stand that first band tho;).Steven Trask (Hedwig composer)?? No way! (Gawd I love that movie).(Anybody going tonite to see The Frames?)

  5. I just don’t know what the big deal is about this band????????Now Skinny Puppy, there’s a great band!

  6. Sorry, I’m really pissy today.It’s because there are still 75 more days until starwars episode III is released……..oops, wrong forum.Sorry

  7. I loved this article. Derek’s really good at finding an analogy that guides us through his experience or views. The club fighter thing, like his brown dwarves analogy in an earlier article, really worked for this piece. I don’t know anything (except what I just learned) about BMJ, but am so happy to read the words: “those of us who believe in rock and roll and the power of live performance.” There are people (I dated one) who say live performance is over, dead, history. Can’t be revitalized, etc. That’s so depressing to believe and I see it contradicted almost whenever I venture out to the clubs. Thanks for reminding us about it in an eloquent piece, DP. Hey, did anybody see Andrew Sullivan’s article on how revolutionary Bloggers are? You can find it at Arts and Letters Daily: http://www.aldaily.com Kristy

  8. Kristy,Thanks for the words. I absolutely believe in Rock and Roll and the undeniable power of live performance. It is that faith that keeps me alive in this bland world of corporate cock-rock and banal pop. Sometimes I catch the real thing and it’s almost never on MTV or the radio, it’s in a club or dank bar.

Leave a Reply