Review: The Brian Jonestown Massacre at SWX

Review: The Brian Jonestown Massacre at SWX

Posted on: 31 Jan 2023

"A typically chaotic two hours from one of rock n roll's last great eccentrics"


Anyone who has seen the 2004 rockumentary ‘Dig!’ knows the tumultuous nature of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Equally, anyone who has listened to Take It from the Man! or Thank God for Mental Illness (both 1996) knows how brilliant their music can be at times.


That’s why, whenever there is the opportunity to catch Anton Newcombe and co in action, I do my best to catch them. It seems that I am not alone either, with the band’s appearance at SWX at the weekend proving a sell-out. Despite it being a Sunday, there was a real buzz in the air with gig-goers both young and old descending on Nelson Street. 


The BJM have never been ones to do things in a traditional manner and this proved to be the case here with the only support act being The Magic Mod, “rock’n’roll’s favourite magician” who has warmed up for the likes of Paul Weller and The Libertines in the past.

It was then the turn of the main attraction as the six-strong band took to the stage with the most resounding cheers coming for the ensemble’s maverick frontman, and only consistent member, Newcombe and iconic mutton-chopped percussionist, Joel Gion.


The first of many interactions that Newcombe had with the audience saw was to mention the good work BJM do with their ticket raffles. Each (almost always sell-out) show sees the band give away a handful of tickets, selected at random from fans who donate a small amount to charity.


And then they were off. It can take time to take in the sheer sonic power of The BJM with an impressive setup of four guitarists, often all playing the same riff to create a hypnotic wall of sound that washes over the audience. The sound was not quite right for the early numbers, but this was soon fixed as the band played out epic renditions of their discography – and their blend of sludgy psych rock and shoegaze suits a dirtier sound anyway.

Spanning over 2 hours, the set saw the band play more than 10 tunes both old and new with Newcombe’s signature off-kilter voice acting as an instrument against the intense, overloaded sonic landscape that is created by the sheer number of amps onstage.


However, as one may expect from the indie icons, the epic two-hour set was not all plain sailing – and who’d want it to be? Newcombe was in classic disruptor form, embarking on long monologues throughout that were difficult to make out other than the occasional slurred expletive. 


At one point the celebrated multi-instrumentalist praised Bristol for pulling down the statue of Colston and, before playing the blistering track ‘The Mother Of All F*****s’, Newcombe told a story that ended with him declaring: “there’s nothing wrong with f****** mothers”.

Equally entertaining were Newcombe’s occasional spats with his bandmates. While perhaps not quite as exciting as the dramatics seen in ‘Dig!’, this is clearly something that the ensemble must often deal with as the frontman’s shout of “We can either play this set or I can come over there and sort you out”, was met with bemused smiles. 


On another occasion, the band were stopped by Newcombe halfway through a song with the perfectionist frontman declaring: “You’re not fucking syncopated!”. However, he was proved to be correct as the final 20 minutes of music was one of the most exciting demonstrations of musical inventiveness that I’ve seen from a heavyweight band such as The BJM.


For the final two numbers of the set, the already amp-heavy ensemble welcomed both techs to the stage, both armed with guitars. What followed was a 10-minute sonic blitz that captivated the sold-out crowd and clearly transported the sunglass-wearing BJM to a different plain altogether.

No encore here, this was pure rock n roll with Newcombe and one of his bandmates teasing the audience with a few minutes of reverberating feedback, followed by a quick record signing a heartfelt thank you.


Overall, this is exactly what any Brian Jones Massacre fan wants from a show: an incredible 2-hour long set of psychedelic rock with a healthy dose of unpredictability from Anton Newcombe, without the whole thing falling to pieces. Well worth a late bedtime on a Sunday night!


For a comprehensive look at what's coming up at SWX, visit the venue website.


Images: Giulia Spadafora

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Article by:

Stanley Gray

Stan is a born and bred Bristolian, recently graduated from studying English Literature in Sheffield. His passions are music and literature and spends the majority of his time in venues all over the city immersing himself in Bristol’s alternative music scene. A lifelong Bristol City fan, Stan’s Saturday’s are spent watching his team both home and away.