Live Concert Review: The Brian Jonestown Massacre with The Veldt
May 9, 2016
Things have been particularly difficult in my world. I’ve had to balance the professional obligations of both a full-time job and this site, along with some very difficult, complex and very hurtful personal issues. Adult life can be so sad, complicated and messy – and from experience, there are countless times in which things seem so hopelessly fucked up that you can’t figure out a solution that doesn’t seem like you’re compromising your values or your soul. And with all of that it’s made it rather difficult to sit down and write in a fashion that I’d prefer. Such is life. Now back in May, I was at Webster Hall to catch one of the most recent JOVM mainstay artists, the pioneering shoegaze act The Veldt along with pioneering psych rock act The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Now as you know, currently comprised of founding members and identical twin brothers Daniel Chavis (vocals, guitar) and Danny Chavis (guitar) along with Hayato Nakao (bass), Frank Olsen (guitar), and Martin Levi (drums), Raleigh, NC/NYC-based quintet The Veldt can trace their origins back to the Chapel Hill, NC music scene of the late 80s and early 90s — a scene that featured Superchunk (perhaps, the best known out of that entire scene), Polvo, Dillon Fence and others. Forming in the early 90s and initially featuring the Chavis Brothers and Levi along with Joseph “Hue” Boyle (bass) and later David Burris, The Veldt were a rarity – a rock band that prominently featured black men in a place and time in which it was considered even more unusual than it is now; and yet they managed to quickly attain “must-see” status in their hometown. And with the 1992 release of their debut effort, Marigolds, the members of The Veldt quickly saw an expanding national profile: not only were they profiled by MTV as a buzz-worthy band, the Chapel Hill, NC-based quintet earned a much more lucrative recording contract with Polygram Records, who in 1994 released their highly-acclaimed Ray Shulman produced sophomore effort Aphrodisiac – and as a result, the band wound up opening for the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Lush, Oasis, Cocteau Twins, Pixies, Fishbone, Corrosion of Conformity and others. However, despite a growing international profile for a sound that meshed soul, shoegaze and early 90s alt rock, the band’s label and management repeatedly told them that they were “too difficult to market” and they were dropped from Polygram and subsequently from two other labels.
Naturally, without the support of a label, the band found it increasingly difficult to tour Europe, where their profile was growing the fastest. And after releasing their last two albums Universe Boat through Yesha Recordings and Love At First Hate on their own imprint, End Of The World Technologies the band continued through a series of lineup changes before officially going on hiatus in 1998. A few years later, the Chavis Brothers relocated to New York and continued forward with Apollo Heights, a project that received quite a bit of attention locally for a sound that meshed shoegaze with soul, trip-hop and electronica; in fact, I remember reading a raving profile about them in the long-defunct New York Press while I was studying in NYU – and based on what I had read at the time, I had been desperate to catch them live. (Their 2007 Apollo Heights debut was produced by Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie and featured guest spots from Guthrie on guitar, Mos Def, Lady Kier of Deee- Lite, TV on the Radio‘s Dave Sitek, and Mike Ladd.)
Interestingly, the Chavis Brothers and company’s work has managed to quietly reverberate throughout the years as a number of highly regarded contemporary musicians incuding the members of Bloc Party and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek have publicly claimed The Veldt as influences, proving the music industry needed 20 years to catch up to the band’s aesthetic.
Earlier this year, the newly reformed The Veldt released the first batch of new material in almost 20 years with the The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation Mixtape and the band had embarked on a series of tour dates to support it, while working on the material that will comprise a forthcoming full-length effort. With the first four or five songs of their Webster Hall set, the band played a towering wall of sound-leaning shoegazer rock that firmly cemented them and their overall aesthetic with the genre’s forebears – namely, The Stone Roses, The Jesus and Mary Chain enveloped the entire room; but just underneath the surface was a swaggering and brooding soulfulness that clearly sets them apart, and should have made them much larger all of those years ago. And along with that was a determined sense of purpose and drive, as though they were openly saying “y’all may have forgotten about us then, but you won’t forget about our asses, now!” Interestingly, while being written more than 20 years ago, the set’s early material managed to also be incredibly contemporary. Indeed, much like Death, The Veldt’s influence manages to be subtly much larger than you think, as both bands fill in the historical gaps, explaining how some of your favorite contemporary bands would even be possible.
Following the older material, the band played several songs off Shocking Fuzz, including a meditative and slower burner version of EP single “Sanctified.” However, the material they played from their forthcoming full-length – the band’s first full-length as The Veldt in over 20 years – sounded much like a return to form as it directly channeled their early 90s sound but with subtle nods to the EP. Before ending a truly impressive, set they played a soulful and wailing version of “Everlasting Gobstopper” that gave the song an ancient and primal ache.
(Photo Caption: Fans during The Veldt’s set at Webster Hall)
(Photo Caption: The Veldt performing at Webster Hall back in May.)
Headlining the night was The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Initially formed by in 1990 and fronted by Anton Newcombe, the band which derives its name from a combination of The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and the infamous Jonestown massacre in the 70s the band has a reputation of uncompromising, relentless and prolific experimentation and rapid-fire changes in sonic direction as the band began in shoegaze before broadening their sound to incorporate psych rock, garage, folk and even electronica. And as the 2004 documentary Dig! reminded critics, fans and even casual observers, the band also has a long-held reputation for incredibly tumultuous working relationships and for Anton Newcombe’s struggles with drug addiction and depression. And during the set, I was struck by the terribly depressing and nagging sense that the prolific Newcombe, who has an uncanny ability to craft a rousingly anthemic hook should have been so much larger – if he were able to stay sober, if he were able to keep his shit straight, if he were able to hold it together, if, if, if and if and more if. Throughout their set, Newcombe proved to be a hyper-intelligent, charismatic curmudgeon, who can talk at length about anything that comes to his mind – he started out the set ripping on The Strokes, which is arguably way too easy and overdone a target of derision and mockery for the NYC scene; joked that he didn’t care if the audience had day jobs because he was playing as long of a set as he wanted; shouted out a local Indian clothing store a few blocks away from Webster Hall; commented on the police surveillance state; and as an introduction to “Prozac vs. Heroin” told a hilarious and aching sad story about once being fucked up out his mind with Robert Downey, Jr.; however, at some point it felt as though he were bursting with way too many ideas and was rambling a bit.
But despite it all, The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s lengthy catalog is impressive and manages to convey a variety of complex emotions simultaneously while possessing a shimmying, danceable quality – i.e., after his comments on the police surveillance state, Newcombe and company followed it up with a stunningly gorgeously song that ironically pointed back at his own comments. That song was followed by a trippy and propulsive song that sounded as though it were equally indebted to The Velvet Underground as it did to 60s psych rock and garage rock, pointing at the fact that when the song needed, the band’s sound can become mind-altering and expansive – and at will. Later on “Days, Weeks and Moths” proved to be a bittersweet lament over things that have irrevocably passed and at one point the song can just knock you back with an ancient and timeless ache. I was impressed but sadly, even I had to leave at some point to head back home because of my day job. Such is life, right?
(Photo Caption: The tambourine player was by far one of my favorite people to shoot in the entire band.)