Tuesday, August 21, 2012

review: the brian jonestown massacre and magic castles at the metro 8.18.12

photo by Rodney Urbanski

If my best friend hadn’t come to town this weekend for a visit I would never have bothered with this show. Just so this is crystal clear from the outset, that is a good thing. I can’t remember off the top of my head whether or not there is an entry detailing my last visit to the Metro to catch the Brian Jonestown Massacre or not, but I would guess that the probability is quite high that there is. Regardless to say it was such an awful night that Stefanie and I vowed never to return to the Metro. I have now broken this vow twice this year—in my defense it was to catch two of my favourite bands ever (one of which was Spiritualized who hadn’t been through town in almost four years). The last set by the BJM was marred by what seemed like a cold and slightly calculated setlist. The only surprise of the night was a breathtaking live airing of ‘Give It Back!’ opening track ‘Super-Sonic’ (which kicked off the set). From there on they played well, but seemed to lack a certain spark that they can usually be relied upon to deliver at some point on any given night. What was mainly a disappointment was the lack of inspired, extended jams or new material off of the newly released ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’ To be fair they’d already rounded the entire world once the year before turning in blistering two-and-a-half hour sets every night. During the 2009 tour they played with a focus and professionalism that was new to their live show without sacrificing the spontaneity of their gloriously ragged past. Plus they played a significant amount of new material including ‘The Serious Matter’ from the ‘Smoking Acid’ EP, ‘Someplace Else Unknown’ from the as-yet-unreleased ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper’ and a blistering version of ‘Yeah Yeah’ from 2008’s ‘My Bloody Underground.’ It wouldn’t be out of the question to imagine that this was their version of taking it easy (which is still miles better than when most run-of-the-mill bands are giving their all). When reports began to filter back from the BJM’s appearance at the Black Angels-curated Austin Psych Fest that the band were playing tons of material off of their excellent ‘Aufheben’ album as well as mixing in several gems from various eras of their past I wondered if I would be willing to brave the Metro for the second time this year.

Magic Castles from Minneapolis kicked off the night. I was encouraged by many a reliable source to arrive early enough to catch their set and was very glad I did—they were excellent. A mix of spaced-out, dynamic and extended psych and more jangly/poppy psych they were an excellent kick-off to the night. Their mix was clear and packed quite a punch. Opening bands usually don’t sound that great at the Metro. In fact their mix sounded better than BJM’s muddy ‘mongo turn volume all dee way ups’ treatment (which is fairly typical of one grudge I continue to hold against the Metro). I’m beginning to think it would be better to catch bands of their level at First Avenue in Minneapolis since it’s the same size club and bands of Spiritualized and BJM’s ilk are often stopping there before the Metro. It’d be refreshing to hear them with decent sound (which has always been a hallmark of First Avenue’s long-standing reputation). Anton Newcombe watched the bulk of Magic Castle’s set from the side of the stage and walked up to the mic at the end thanking them for playing and berating the late-comers who lined up for $6 Budweisers and Miller Lites in favor of listening to what they could of Magic Castles. Bravo, Mr. Newcombe!

After 20 minutes of quick setup Newcombe and company came out and ripped into ‘Stairway to the Best Party in the Universe.’ I’d cut myself off from most tour reports at this point so hadn’t remembered they were opening with this ‘Aufheben’ highlight. It was smooth, slow and dripping with repeat percussion, just the right amount of fuzz and worked perfectly to set the mood. From there they went into ‘Vacuum Boots’ and a handful of other older songs, hitting a suitably laid-back version of ‘Anemone’ before playing my other favourite from the new album, ‘I Want to Hold Your Other Hand.’ At this point the mix wasn’t bad—the vocals were a bit buried, but I’m partial to that mixing choice myself so it wasn’t a problem for me. Normally the sound for the main band starts out muddy and incoherent and improves to this level. After about an hour the opposite happened. A stupidly sludgy and muddy mix somehow managed to trample the beautiful and stark ‘David Bowie.’ Right around this time a group of d-bags who’d been at the Cubs game all night showed up suitably pre-partied, $11 well drinks in hand, talking loudly and bumping into all of those who surrounded them. One such gentleman was standing next to me and my friend. The subject of their loud conversation? Sports. Perhaps we could discuss this later, friends? So there I was with tons of personal space towards the back of the balcony somehow still getting bumped into every five seconds by this guy, a booming, muddled mix carrying along a beautiful ballad by one of my favourite bands making my ears ring that I was still somehow struggling to hear over these two conversing. It got to me a little after a while and I was ready to go home. The band struggled a bit through a lag at this point in the set.

The band kicked it back into high gear with ‘Waking Up to Handgrenades’ and from there the show began a slow ascent that it rode to an entirely new level. After ‘Sailor’ the band kicked into one of their single chord drone jams. One would think that after having seen them play four times I would be able to identify some common characteristic that these jams share, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you what it was even at this point. It seems the only commonality that they share is that they all start with Anton hugging one chord and signaling to drummer Dan Allaire and the rest of the band joining in from there. This one was a blinder and every minute of it was truly breathtaking. Keyboardist Rob Campanella switched roles with Newcombe in the middle of it and then switched back as the drone began to recede. From there Newcombe spent a few minutes talking about how much he loves the Cryan’ Shames and how ‘Sailor’ was, indeed, a 100% intentional cover of ‘Sailing Ship’ from their ‘A Scratch in the Sky’ album. He also spent a great deal of time thanking the crowd for showing up in droves during their many stops in town over the years (I can remember the Metro selling out for their 2005 stop) and declared that it was one of his favourite cities to play in America along with Portland. Quite a compliment from one as well-travelled as he is and it explained a great deal as to why the caliber of their shows here is often so high.

From there they moved on into the grand finale of the night and the most unexpected surprise—a very extended ‘Straight Up and Down.’ For as long as I’ve been a fan of theirs I’ve always wanted to hear one of their live workouts of this song. This one was formidable in ways I hadn’t expected. During the section with the ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ ‘woo-woo’s mixed with the ‘Hey Jude’ singalong I somehow witnessed the band morph before my eyes into the Rolling Stones of the late 60s. What’s more they made this transformation look so incredibly simple and effortless. I would even go so far as to say that they played with a potency and passion that the Stones have probably been lacking for years. Regardless of whether or not you agree, this is how I felt at that moment. As the band left the stage Matt Hollywood walked up to the mic and raised his hand and said ‘Alright, now who wants to get pregnant?’ and then they were gone in a haze of feedback. Perfection. Although maybe they could stop at Lincoln Hall next time? Please?

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