Review by Lydia Fitzer with Photography by Robert Barrett

This is an interesting one, as I kind of don’t know what to expect. Between die-hard fans and mildly resentful former associates, apparently divisive opinions over recent songs, and the woeful underrepresentation of the support act (according to several web pages advertising the event, Jellyskin doesn’t exist), I go into the O2 Academy feeling somewhat disoriented.

Brian Jonestown Massacre

For whatever reason, Jellyskin weren’t properly advertised and they should have been. They’re a duo comprised of Will Ainsley and Zia Larty-Healy, and they create an apocalyptic sound whose bass hits you right in the solar plexus. Don’t underestimate the lesser-known bands.  A red dress glitters under red light. Shoes come off, sunglasses stay on. They mean business.

They open with the deep thrum of ‘Judder’. This is their newest release, and gives the most delicious sense of darkness and mystery. They follow this with ‘Eater’ from their self-titled 2017 EP. ‘Eater’ has a gorgeous moodiness and an urgent beat. Ainsley’s almost jarring voice contrasts beautifully with Larty-Healy’s vocal, which is so soft that at times it becomes nymph-like. It’s clear, even before they’ve finished the second song of their set, that they have a lot of creative skill to put together this kind of sound. (Also, Larty-Healy’s eye makeup is fierce. This is crucial information.) Their sound moves from dancey to sinister and back again. At times their music wouldn’t feel out of place as the soundtrack to an action scene in a sci-fi film.

Brian Jonestown Massacre

The O2 Academy is Jellyskin’s biggest venue yet, and I’m incredibly pleased that they’ve had the opportunity. I feel that their sound is far better served by a larger space – their music was made to fill a venue, not languish in the corner. Hopefully they’ll move upwards to even bigger things. The one thing they could improve is to have more confidence on stage. I say this so often about bands that I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but a bit of extra confidence in their delivery could go a long way. Their sound is already exciting. If they gave a bolder performance, it could become truly infectious.

It’s almost time for The Brian Jonestown Massacre to take the stage. How do I know? I know because an extremely enthusiastic fan spots someone backstage and cries, “Here it is! Denim on denim!” Oh my. That’s nothing on Anton Newcombe’s deerstalker. Newcombe is general emperor, vocalist, and one of the guitarists. They have many guitarists, and many, many, many guitars. They’re living proof that there’s no such thing as too many guitars or sunglasses. There are seven band members on stage in total, and the majority of them are wearing sunglasses. I can only assume that they’re going for the too-cool stoic look. (Either that or they’re hiding an infection).

Brian Jonestown Massacre

I mentioned earlier that there seem to be divisive opinions over their recent songs. I suspect that this may partly be less to do with the quality of the more recent songs, and more to do with the typical problem of a band that’s been going for several years or more. Namely, some fans might be emotionally attached to a certain period of a band’s creative history and don’t appreciate any deviation away from it, even in the name of artistic growth. The Brian Jonestown Massacre have been around since 1990, so there’s been plenty of time for this kind of fan-favouritism to develop. It’s great to see that the band don’t allow themselves to be too restricted by this, though. They open with ‘We Never Had a Chance’, a new song rather than an old classic. So new, in fact, that it doesn’t seem to have been properly released yet. In late 2017 it was a work in progress, and it might still be unfinished. Regardless of that, it sounds complete and perfect. I’m not getting much of their neo-psychedelic elements from it, but maybe that’s just me. It feels fresh but aged, like an unknown treasure hidden in a record shop. It’s cleanly played, but gives a natural slouchy feeling. It feels like sinking into an old armchair with a glass of whiskey. There’s an easy assurance about Newcombe’s guitar solo. It’s the ideal opening track – you know you’re in good hands.

They follow this with another new(ish) song, ‘Vad Hände Med Dem?/What Happened To Them?’ from their 2014 album ‘Revelation’. They have three guitarists and a bass guitarist. The layering of guitars gives the effect where you feel as though you’re flying and falling.

Brian Jonestown MassacreBrian Jonestown Massacre

The third song of their set is ‘Hold That Thought’, which in my opinion is rather lovely. It’s the first song from their newest 2018 album, ‘Something Else’, and it leads you away to somewhere else. The best thing about The Brian Jonestown Massacre, for me, is that their best work takes you to a different time and place. No wonder their fans are so passionate.

Speaking of passionate fans, there is one song that a lot of the fans are especially passionate about. This is ‘Anemone’, which was originally released as the B side of their 1995 record ‘Cold To The Touch’. As the introduction to ‘Anemone’ begins, the love in the room is a tangible atmosphere. The music has a really classic feel. It has old rock in its bones. I’ve been talking to a lovely girl next to me – ‘Anemone’ is her favourite song, to the point where she has a tattoo based on it. She’s waited to hear it performed live for years. She’s the kind of fan that young bands dream of having one day. The Brian Jonestown Massacre should be incredibly grateful that they have such wholehearted support. Another iconic moment arrives in the form of ‘The Devil May Care (Mom & Dad Don’t)’, a real weeper from the 1997 album ‘Give It Back!’. It seems to be based on Newcombe’s own problematic relationship with his parents. Although the situations giving rise to the song are very particular, the themes of the song are relatable. It talks about loss, conflict, genuine affection, and the need to find personal space away from familial pressure. The genius is that it addresses all these issues in a couple of verses. The whole crowd gently sings along. It’s easy to find your own story traced in the simple lines and solemn acoustic.

Brian Jonestown Massacre

They raise the energy for the last few songs, finishing on ‘A Word’. This is another unfinished track, played at top volume. The riffs are big and sexy – the sound harmonises with the screams of the crowd. The noise grows to colossal scale at the end of the song, and goes on, and on… It goes on until every member of the band has left the stage. It goes on so long that I actually get bored of it. Most of the fans are electrified, though. That’s real love!

Honestly, the main thing I’ve learned from The Brian Jonestown Massacre was taught by the wonderful and talented Joel Gion. I’ve learned that it takes a true titan to stand next to a twelve-string guitar, look the audience square in the face, and play a tambourine.

Brian Jonestown Massacre

Brian Jonestown Massacre

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