The Dilettantes arrive with a famous frontman wielding an uncommon instrument.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
In the fantastic 2004 rock documentary DiG!, Joel Gion emerges as one of the film’s most memorable characters. A tambourine player and maracas shaker for the wild ’60s rock revivalists The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Gion keeps a sunny demeanor as his group’s ringleader Anton Newcombe descends into drug-induced madness and sabotages the band by doing asinine things like getting into a full-blown brawl onstage at a Los Angeles showcase for record executives.
One of the film’s most poignant moments occurs when Gion comes to the realization that the group he has been playing in for four years is imploding. “I can do it with other people,” the mutton-chopped musician says to the camera. “Not be a tambourine man or anything, but put something together with people and share ideas.”
Now, Gion, who started working at San Francisco’s Amoeba Records after temporarily leaving The Brian Jonestown Massacre, makes good on that promise with his new garage rock outfit The Dilettantes. On their 2007 debut, 101 Tambourines, the Dilettantes draw inspiration from the same well as The Brian Jonestown Massacre: ’60s psychedelic and garage rock. On The Dilettantes’ “Ready to Go,” a groovy rock stomp that Gion co-wrote, the percussionist steps to the microphone to sing lines like: “Here comes the tambourine man/ You know what I mean, man/ Whoah oh, I’m ready to go.”
Even though Gion’s exposure from DiG! has made him the most famous tambourine player in the rock world, when the musician started writing his own songs he decided to stretch out as a performer. “It was never really my intention to be a lead vocalist but I couldn’t write songs and hand them over to someone else and stand over there playing the tambourine,” Gion says from his home in San Francisco.
Gion says that The Dilettantes are not as notoriously off-kilter as The Brian Jonestown Massacre, though one of the band’s initial players, Brock Galland (formerly of the Monterey rock group Starlight Desperation), unexpectedly left the group during their first song at a gig in an Oakland warehouse party. “I don’t know what it was, but it just kind of felt like some of the Jonestown curse crept up on us,” he says. “We were doing a show in Oakland, and he just kind of flew off the handle.”
While The Dilettantes’ well-made rock deserves an audience, it’s hard to imagine they will reach the same level of prominence that the Brian Jonestown Massacre have found since DiG! was released. Gion says the film, which won the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, has been a blessing and a curse to the outfit that he sometimes still performs in. He says the movie has made The Brian Jonestown Massacre hugely popular in Europe but reduced the band’s members to simple characters. “Anton’s not just this raving jerk,” he says. “There are a lot of other sides to him that you don’t see.”
Even though Gion features prominently in DiG!, the tambourine player says it is a part of his life that he does not recollect clearly due to the band’s hedonistic excesses. He recalls being flown out to Sundance to see the film’s premiere– but not much from there. “I don’t remember so many things that it was just a crack-up to see that stuff sober,” Gion says.
One gig that Gion clearly recalls was when The Brian Jonestown Massacre played the Monterey County Fairgrounds for the 1997 Monterey Rock and Art Festival. (The performance is not featured in DiG!) Gion says the group did a nice set on the festival’s second stage before wandering in to see Royal Trux in the Main Arena. “We ended up getting really drunk and surly,” he says. “There was like, maybe, 50 people in the whole concert area. We just got drunk and belligerent and started throwing folding chairs up in the air. Kind of started going nuts. Then the security kicked us out of there.”
Following Gion’s performance with The Dilettantes at Monterey Live, the tambourine player will rejoin The Brian Jonestown Massacre for a European tour that will include a concert at the Glastonbury Festival, a hugely popular British performing arts showcase. According to Gion, who did a whirl through Europe with The Brian Jonestown Massacre last year, the band has not mellowed out significantly since the days depicted in DiG! He recalls an incident at a Liverpool hotel while on tour last summer. “I’m just looking for my power converter to UK power,” he says. “I knock on the door, and one of the guitar techs opens the door. He’s like, ‘Hey Joel, you gotta come here man. I’m about to blow coke up this guy’s ass.’ ”
THE DILETTANTES play 9:30pm Saturday, June 7, at Monterey Live, 414 Alvarado St., Monterey. $10. 375-LIVE.