I had been looking forward to seeing The Brian Jonestown Massacre perform for the longest time. Throughout the years, their albums have given me hours of enjoyment and some of their songs have touched me in a way most rock songs do not.
What I did not look forward to, however, was the sight of a dead-drunk dude wandering around a stage, crying out for bottles of vodka while his bemused band members tried to seem less embarrassed than they obviously were (save for recently returned tambourine-man Joel Gion, who managed to look completely disinterested at all times). Sadly, this was exactly what the main part of BJM’s set amounted to. Endless disappointment.
After what seemed like an eternity of the band plugging in and tuning up, and eventually tuning out, Newcombe handed out salt pastilles to the adoring crowd before a familiar drone sounded and the show commenced. And for a good 20 minutes, all went according to plan. They played classics, and they played them well, the crowd danced and folks sang along. At its best their music grabs you by the nerve endings and drags you along.
Then Newcombe wanted some vodka.
The intervals between songs got increasingly longer as the show went on. Various requests for drinks, tuning up, handing out salt pastilles, and looking bored while the crowd got increasingly thin, dragged on for all too long. While every BJM fan knows that the band has a reputation for rowdy onstage behaviour, fighting among themselves, baiting the audience, I refuse to believe that’s what they all came to see. That would be underestimating the music – which is good at its worst, enchanting at its best – and its fans.
Maybe BJM were just moving in on a five-hour set, something that would have evened the bullshit/music balance to a nice equilibrium. That was not to be, however, for the venue closed at one and pulled the plug as BJM prepared to go into their next song. Alas, no one had apparently informed them of Iceland’s drinking laws, so they never managed to play the evening’s purported set. Too fucking bad.
Decadence has for long been a staple of rock music. It’s part of the reasons it’s good. Drinking, drugs, fighting and unprotected sex probably amount to about 75 percent of why people like certain types of rock ‘n’ roll; watching someone live out hedonistic, self-destructive fantasies can provide catharsis and a sense of cool essential to the type of rock BJM play. But, goddammit, they need to play it too. It’s not enough to stand around onstage, drinking and looking cool. If that was all the audience were after, they could just as well have saved some money by going to Kaffi Stígur to watch the local bums cavort.