As the main man in the acid-fried Brian Jonestown Massacre, Anton Newcombe was a cult figure. He was three parts genius, one part relic, two parts victim of his own volition. As the lead name in Anton Newcombe & Tess Parks (we have no idea why, Parks is the star of the show) he is a band-leader and main songwriter but as a pair they are everything you want them to be – sleazy, fucked-up, detached – all the cool things Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon were in the ’60s and ’70s. Specifically those four because as you watch Newcombe and Parks on stage you couldn’t ask for a more evocative pairing where matters of – and I hate this – “cool” are concerned. Eugh.
Anyway, they arrive onstage just after 9pm and after some Mark E. Smith tinkering with everybody’s rigs the gig begins. The most overused cliché in music journalism is probably ‘launched into’. That didn’t happen. Newcombe and Parks don’t launch into anything, they saunter, fall, stagger and roll into songs. Their album, I Declare Nothing, having just been released, provides the entirety of the set’s content and not one of the songs sounds like it could be launched, such is the acoustic, dry, crackling groove each one creates. They don’t ever sound as if they could be launched above 4 feet but they each house the power to completely grab you and shroud you like a straight-jacket. Heads bobbing, shoulders swaying, Parks growling like a caged beast and the crowd are locked in. The only time Newcombe opens his mouth is to sing the odd backing vocal or to talk to the 4-piece band (6 including the front paring) but Tess Parks has no problem with the crowd. “Come on, friends. Drink, dance, join us” she implores to the Sugar Club. The crowd slowly leave their waited-tables and shuffle to the front of the venue which in turn brings out the very best in the band. As the feedback screams at you and the organ whirls into life Parks’ voice becomes the load-bearing pillar at the centre of each song and for anybody unaware of who she was before now, well, we’re not going to forget it any time soon.
As for Anton Newcombe, it would appear that he has finally found a band he can be part of. He WAS the Brian Jonestown Massacre, he gave birth to bands who became bigger than his and saw the Dandy Warhols not just steal his thunder, more club him across the head with his own guitar and steal his soul. Finally he has fulfilled the potential everybody saw in him and doesn’t look like he’s killing himself to achieve the most meager inch of ground. He still looks, tetchy, that’s not going to change, but his calm, assured and dare we say it contented demeanour would suggest that this union with Tess Parks could be the most fruitful of his career. He is a throwback in all the right ways and music needs people like Anton Newcombe so let’s be grateful that we have the actual Anton Newcombe.
Anton Newcombe & Tess Parks photographed for State by Kieran Frost.