The Brian Jonestown Massacre Unleash Marathon Set in Byron Bay

The Brian Jonestown Massacre are no strangers to Australian audiences. They last visited our shores in 2013 and have since released two full-length studio albums, as well as a limited edition mini album. Despite being twenty five years into their career, frontman Anton Newcombe and his collection of musicians show no signs of slowing down. They recently kicked off their 25th Anniversary Jubilee tour in Australia with their first stop in Byron Bay, and we were there to witness this little bit of history. When we recently caught up with Newcombe he told us, “It’s going to be better than ever. And I mean that.” Needless to say, expectations were running high.

As the sold out Great Northern fills with punters, Newcombe and Co. take to stage in classic rock star fashion. The frontman is wearing dark sunglasses and puffing nonchalantly on a vaporiser, looking noticeably aged with tufts of grey through his sideburns. If our interview was anything to go by, the musician has mellowed with age and is now more than ever focused on being the best artist he can be. Without doubt, those who have watched Dig! are still eagerly hoping for some crazy outburst, but the chances seem low as the set kicks off.

There are no greetings or fanfare, no need for an introduction. The audience is here to celebrate the long-running outfit, and we knew what we were getting into – for the most part, at least. Nearby, a clearly uninitiated audience member was overheard complaining about how un-charismatic Newcombe was. As for the rest of us, it was unsurprising to watch the shoegaze artist gaze at his shoes. It comes with the territory, as does his immediately hypnotic signature drawl. Time seems to stand still in the small venue, as the crowd loses itself in the wall of guitar-driven sound.

For the tour, the band is made up of Newcombe, crowd favourite and hand held percussion master Joel Gion, Colin Hegna, Rob Campanella, Dan Allaire and Ryan Van Kriedt of Dead Skeletons fame as a new addition on guitar. The sound is much tighter than the group’s last visit, and the band seamlessly traipse between structured songs and extended jams. The riotous Anemone heralds an immediate sing-a-long, with the familiar refrain shouted back almost louder than the vocal track: “you should be picking me up, instead you’re dragging me down.” Every late night angst session that the song has played soundtrack too rings through in that choir of hoarse voices.

Save for the odd commuication, namely simple phrases like, “We haven’t even started yet” and “We’re gonna be here for a while”, the audience was treated to a musical marathon spanning nearly three full hours. Open Heart Surgery is an early stand out with it’s sing song melody and heartfelt lyrics. “I thought I’d write you this song, maybe I’d make you smile, and take your sadness away.” I call a friend who put this track on a mix CD for me in 2005 and hold my speaker up to the air, instantly reminded of just how much this band has meant to me over the years. For every person there that has a favourite track, the band obligingly play it with tender dexterity. Sailor, That Girl Suicide, Wisdom, Prozac Vs Heroin, When Jokers Attack and Servo. They are all there in their nostalgic glory.

There are also plenty of cuts from recent years interspersed throughout the night. Goodbye (Butterfly) from 2014’s Revelations and the high energy single Pish off this year’s Mini Album Thingy Wingy are a strong reminder that Newcombe still has it as a songwriter and a performer. As the night eventually draws to a close, the room has certainly cleared out somewhat, with some audience members lacking the endurance to see the set through to its end. But Anton plays on, keeping his promise to be better than ever. He gives it everything he has and celebrates the quarter of a century achievement with those that have followed him throughout his career. Those left standing at the end cheer him into the night and across the decades and pay testament to the legacy that will be left for many years to come.

You can check out the rest of the tour dates over here.