The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Forum, London, July 16, 2008

It’s rare that you go to a gig and wake up the next morning to The Sun printing a story about how the guitarist has been stabbed to death. Thankfully, the Currant Bun got it wrong on this occasion (there was, apparently, an incident that remains shrouded in mystery – whatever the record company says), but it’ll surely go down in history as yet another episode in the ongoing soap opera that is The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Cards on the table, the Jonestown are one of my very favourite bands. I’ve probably seen them more times than is healthy (my girlfriend would definitely agree). What with the countless stories of Newcombe-isms and general musical shenanigans, its almost easy to forget that the BJM remain one of the greatest live bands around – the grandaddys of the ‘neo-psych’ movement and a true bunch of innovators.

When the circus rolls into London, there’s always talk that ‘the band never put on a good show in the capital’ or ‘Anton always loses it at the big gigs’. For me, apart from one, notable drunken exception at Koko in June 2008, those fears have always been unfounded. The Forum date, was possibly their biggest triumph to date in London town. The same line-up that we’ve grown accustomed to over the last couple of years (is this the most stable Jonestown line-up ever?), with the notable addition of Willie B Carruthers (yes, the other one from Spacemen 3 and the first Spiritualized album) replacing the honeymooning Collin Henga on bass.

Some of the more hardcore BJM-ers (to be found lurking here:http://keepmusicevil.freeforums.org/) have bemoaned the lack of variation in the band’s setlist over the last couple of tours. I freely admit to considering myself whether I’d pay the admission fee to hear ‘Whoever You Are’ open the set for what seems like the millionth time. Tonight, the setlist saw a number of welcome additions; yes we got firm set staples – Nailing Honey To The Bee, Here it Comes, the ever majestic Hide & Seek, When Jokers Attack, Servo and Swallowtail, but we also got a couple of relative newbies – Yeah Yeah and Golden Frost off the new album, and the as yet unreleased (and very Waiting For My Man esque) Prefab Ambulation which they performed as an encore after (yes AFTER) Swallowtail.

The overriding memory of this night (‘stabbings’ notwithstanding) was the fact this was a kick-ass professional performance from the band. Sure, it was shambolic in parts, and it took them until about the third song before things really started sounding as they should – that’s what you get when the circus rolls into town – but the band were as tight as they’ve been for the last couple of UK tours. It wasn’t a flawless gig, there were a number of technical gremlins, and there was the usual abuse from the ‘cool’ London crowd, but the band didn’t let it break their stride. It was mostly good-humoured – even Anton’s running gags about the knife crime epidemic in the capital…

Joel, stalking the middle of the stage with a new found post Dilettantes confidence seems to have found a whole new raft of stage moves, and a longer-haired Frankie Emerson was a little more, well, let’s just say animated, than usual. Emerson was given free reign on Golden Frost. Apparently he made up his own words to that one…

Carruthers, however, was the real star of tonight. He’s played bass guitar on a couple of the greatest modern psych/drone albums of modern times, and he brought his swagger and poise to the BJM basslines like never before, complementing Anton’s guitar perfectly, freeing them from the freelovebabies. Sorry Collin, but may this collaboration long continue.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre in London: always an experience, always lots of talking points. Surely, the band are never slick, and their set is always full of peaks and troughs, highs and lows. Tonight, however, any troughs just made the peaks seem even clearer. It’s just a shame Frankie had to die in the process.

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