Tuesday, January 16, 2018

sings a song sounds like she's singing

Last year was a drag (and worse) in most regards, but at least I was able to see it out with awesome tunes, courtesy of Lucius at the Independent.

Lucius, the Independent, December 31, 2017: I'm not the concertgoer I used to be, and often, I don't even see the bands that I've enjoyed on other occasions. For example, Lucius was fantastic at Solid Sound, but when they came around on tour, I didn't bite. Honestly, I might have opted out on the worst socializing night of the year if Paul weren't in town. Fortunately, he's never led me astray, and it turned out to be a fantastic evening.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I lean toward the earnest and acoustic, but one can't subsist on folk music alone. Even I need to mix it up now and again, and it's a bonus when musicians can blend solid foundational skills with a wink, a nod, and a beat you can dance to. You may first notice Lucius' glam looks with the blond wigs, dramatic makeup, and coordinated outfits. But give them a listen, and you can't deny that their voices are golden, especially in unison.

To that end, they took a different angle with each show of the New Year's triptych, with one all-acoustic night, one electric night, and one surprise night. I'm sure invested fans already knew the plan, but I didn't -- and was delighted to learn New Year's Eve would include lots of cover versions.

The band started the night with its own tunes, but as a uninformed casual observer, I can't tell you what they were. Paul told me one was "Dusty Trails," but I don't know if that was the a cappella track they performed from the middle of the dance floor, under the mirror ball, followed by the New Year's Eve countdown. In any case, they sounded amazing and made me think of how cool it must be to sound that good on your own, without any tricks or effects. What a gift!

The second half of the show was devoted to covers as suggested by fans on the internet (Twitter? Facebook? Instagram?). They started with "1999," and let me tell you, the song still works in 2017 going into 2018. It was all hits from there on out -- no obscure tracks from experimental 1970s albums by one-shot supergroups. Nope, we got all the fun songs from Stevie Nicks, the B-52s, Lips Inc., and more, with not even a whiff of, say, "Despacito."

As a Gen X-er, I was surprised by the song selection, perhaps moreso regarding the audience. You'd expect Lucius as musicians to know a wide range of artists and eras, but if these tunes were indeed suggested by the audience, you had to wonder if they were drawing from their parents' or babysitters' record collections. Yes, I know, music has no bounds now, thanks to the internet and pop culture in general, and I'm not complaining about hearing "Edge of Seventeen." Anyway, thanks millennials! It was the most unadulterated fun I've had at a concert in a while.

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence opened, and it was my first time seeing them, despite living in San Francisco this long and even working with perhaps a junior member of the troupe! They were the perfect choice, and I could see how they helped set the foundation for gay rights and expression in the city, even if their skits spoke more of a past era. When they rejoined Lucius at the end of the show for the cover medley, you could certainly sense that their influence had indeed spread to artistic and curious young men and women all over the country.

See also:
» the boys are back in town

Saturday, January 13, 2018

sorry charlie honey he's back from LA

On the fourth day of Christmas, my music gods gave to me two shows with Jeff Tweedy! Fa la la la la fa la la la!

Jeff Tweedy, Largo at the Coronet, December 28-29, 2018: When Jeff Tweedy first appeared at Largo in 2012, we didn't know what to expect. For his true debut performance at Largo in 2013, there was too much going on for me to fully take it in. This time, it felt like the culmination of -- gulp -- two decades of dedicated music fandom, as external forces had our backs twice over, and I couldn't be more grateful that it all came together. I can't truly put in words how much it means to me to see my two favorite musical artists ever at my favorite venue on the face of the earth within such a short window of time, but I'll give it a try.

To put it mildly, I've seen Jeff at many venues, though perhaps not at the same rate these days, and of course, Largo is a special spot for me, but I can say with confidence that Jeff puts on a different kind of show here. I mean, the music is always good, but his stories and banter are something else on that stage. Last time, he told a story about his meeting with a mohel, and I couldn't believe he started sharing it at other shows. This time, there was a tale of the family's vegan diet and, as a result, the inadequate supply of toilet paper at their expensive Airbnb, as well as extended banter on whether he wanted to be our friends in real life. (He mostly didn't.) I'm doing neither any justice, but they were great in execution.

My favorite bit of the night, however, may be Jeff's semi-confession during "California Stars" that when he asks us to take the melody, we're actually doing him a favor, as it livens the song for him when he sings the harmony. Among my friends, the song gets a mixed reception, but it was funny to hear Jeff somewhat admit to its shortcomings as well. It'd probably be cut out of Storytellers, though.

In between, he also asked for requests, then chose them based on who raised their hands, and complained about a squeaky seat in the audience not keeping the beat correctly. In fact, on the second night, as he ceded the stage to his sons, he approached the fellow in the guilty chair directly and placed an accusatory hand on his shoulder. My guess: That gentleman will never wash his shoulder again.

The other aspect of seeing Jeff at Largo: He sounds so good. Obviously, a lot of it has to do with the foundation of chords and melody he sets with every song, even the intricate "Impossible Germany," paired with his plaintive and endearing voice. Now imagine that in a small room where every note sinks in and the audience is deeply engaged to the point of almost holding our collective breath. In that regard, Largo is like no other, and I'm sure no one minded when Jeff forgot some lyrics and chords. (All's forgiven!)

Jeff debuted a couple of new songs, including a tune about Noah's flood where he asked us to sing along to the chorus. In terms of relative rarities, there was no way he'd skip "The Ruling Class" in Los Angeles, and we got a few requests with "Either Way" (which he confessed to not playing very often, but I love it so much) and both versions of "Outta Mind." As the shows were ostensibly promoting Together at Last, he hit several tracks on the record -- I especially appreciated "Lost Love," one of my favorite tunes Jeff has ever written. It's hard enough to encapsulate Jeff's career over four or five nights, much less two, so odds are good he left off some audience members' beloved titles. Nonetheless, the song selection ranged from Uncle Tupelo all the way to the most recent Wilco album. You can't blame him for trying.

The sweetest part of the shows was the family involvement. Jeff played "Bob Dylan's Beard" per Susan's request, though with his usual caustic aside (he suspected it was the only title she remembered). On the first night, a guy in the audience -- who also got a request for "Blasting Fonda" the second night -- asked for a Chris Bell song. After his typical smart-ass commentary, Jeff obliged by asking Sammy to take the vocals for "Thirteen." Both the song and the son charmed us. Night two, Sammy and Spencer played "Military Madness" as Jeff stepped offstage entirely. From our seat, we could hear Jeff softly singing along with his babies. You can't beat that scene.

Nick Offerman and Sarah Silverman opened for Jeff on respective nights. Nick's set was a shorter version of what he did at Solid Sound, and Sarah slightly tweaked her material from the previous week's Jon Brion show. I was particularly pleased to hear how well Sarah's set went over with the crowd. Also, because I'm strangely gifted (?) with this kind of thing, I can report Friday night was a comedy nerd's dream, as members of Superego, at least one Sklar brother, and Carrie Brownstein were in attendance -- and some guys named Andrew Bird and Jon Hamm too.

I don't expect Jeff to become a regular at Largo, and I won't even bring up that one addition that would make my head explode [HINT HINT]. All I know is that Largo once again saved the best for last and that I'm one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to attend.

See also:
» so flattered by fate
» every night is a test
» always hated normal american kids
» when we came here today
» a few of my favorite things

Monday, January 08, 2018

a few of my favorite things

Happy 2018! I have a pretty good feeling about this coming year, but if you don't mind, I need to step back in time for a few posts. I promise they'll be worth it, starting with Jon Brion's annual quasi-Christmas show at Largo at the Coronet.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, December 22, 2017: You know the drill. This has been my favorite musical event of the year for the last decade-plus, and 2017 was no different. In fact, I feel like I needed this one more than ever because even as the rest of the world has gone to shit, Largo has remained true. Stay gold, Ponyboy!

The calendar says I went to three Jon Brion shows this year, which is about my average nowadays. I can't speak of any ongoing trends at Largo, but the last two shows I've attended have featured an opening slot filled by a famous comedian -- sorta like the old days on Fairfax. Tonight, we got Sarah Silverman trying fresh material before our eyes. I'm not sure if I've actually seen Sarah's standup; perhaps I caught a set back at the smaller club, but I can't vouch for it. Anyway, she was fantastic onstage, even as she scanned from her notes to try to connect points she had jotted down. Her material was fresher than the cold-pressed juice for sale from the finer vendors on Santa Monica Avenue, and I'm curious to hear how she further refines her thoughts.

Jon was next, and my notes read "victimless amateur porn smile," which confused me at first, reading them two-plus weeks after the show. But in recounting Sarah's portion of the evening, I now realize it was a nod to a bit about her masturbation techniques and how they differ from the popular image perpetuated by mainstream porn. Whew, glad that's all cleared up!

Before I proceed, I should mention that Jon has a good array of instruments onstage, but not the full load, depending on which shows you've seen. That is, he had several guitars, a drum kit, a Leslie cabinet, a couple of microphones, a Korg synthesizer, a pedal steel set, and either a chamberlin or a mellotron (I don't know the difference). If you're curious, that meant no video screens or mixers and no vibes (as seen in previous Christmas shows); also, the usual jungle of chords when he's in heavy looping mode was absent.

Jon quickly fessed to having throat problems. He sounded fine while speaking and held it together well when he chose to sang -- but more details on that later. Instead, he threatened to stick to the lower range of Morrissey, Chet Baker, and Howlin' Wolf for his song selections.

His opening piano exercise somehow morphed into "Merry Fucking War on Christmas," according to my notes, but I can't offer more detail. However, I can say he delivered on his promised performers with a Smiths song, then a Chet Baker favorite. Alas, I don't think we got Howlin' Wolf as a follow-up.

In a further move to preserve his voice, Jon reached into a collection of records he had brought onstage and found an appropriate title. He settled on the DIY Psychoanalysis Kit and played some tunes over it, adding a beat, bass (via the synth), and piano. This again reminded me of the old place, as Scott in the sound booth would cue up an odd retro album and Jon would react as his whims took him. Somehow, this led into a Christmas song medley with all of your favorites. I'm old-fashioned in that I like when Jon's December shows incorporate a Christmas theme, so no complaints here.

Jon returned to the usual program with "Knock Yourself Out," then asked us for requests accompanied by a wish of his own: Sing along! We did the best we could with "Life on Mars," but not as much as with the next tune, "Bohemian Rhapsody." Fortunately, I seemed to be the only person in the room with no grasp of the song, as it was probably the best singalong I've ever heard at Largo. Granted, I've taken in plenty of good ones, but perhaps our seats in the third row (and not the usual first row) helped highlight the sound. As a nonparticipant, I was impressed.

Next came our first guest of the night: Fred Armisen, whom you may know from Saturday Night Live and Portlandia, among other showcases. After a little banter with Jon, he went to the drums and demonstrated how not to play them in a number of styles: jazz, reggae, Ringo, and Keith Moon. I'm doing no justice to his bit, except to say that we were soooooo close to hearing "Baba O'Riley" when he and Jon went in on the last segment.

Jon then switched to guitar and invited a man I didn't recognize to the stage to play bass with the combo. I believe his name was Steve; as you'll see, the lack of last names will be a theme of the night. Together, the trio tore into a bunch of instrumental tracks. I wish I could name the Dick Dale selection for you, but rest assured it wasn't "Wipeout." From there, "Sleepwalk" was a no-brainer, and we should've seen the "Peter Gunn Theme" coming.

Jon asked for more requests and chose the one from a guy sitting a couple of seats down from me: "Time of the Season." Of course, he asked for our participation, and we did the best we could, though it was no comparison to "Bohemian Rhapsody." The song was a nice reminder to me of the former crowd favorite -- not that it's fallen out of favor, only that it's been a while since I've heard anyone bring it up, and overall, it's a great feelgood track.

The second guest then emerged, and I can't tell you his last name to save my life. Nonetheless, Jon summoned Joel to the mic for a number of songs. He had a warm, expressive voice, and he seemed to favor relatively obscure Neil Young tracks. He also landed on "The Man Who Sold the World" and "Waterloo Sunset," the latter in a more traditional clip than we're used to hearing with Jon. Strangely, for two of the most familiar songs, "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "Cortez the Killer," Jon took the vocals and Joel didn't do a whole lot. I think he was searching his phone for lyrics to the former, but sort of wandered off-stage in the middle of the latter.

As you might've guessed, Jon handled "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" on piano, but switched to electric guitar for "Cortez the Killer." For the latter, he also asked Steve to return to the stage and invited up a new drummer: a woman named Page (Paige?), whom I believe to be his girlfriend. Don't ask me how I know this, and I have nothing else to share, but I might as well mention it. She did a great job, by the way.

Jon handled a jazzy piano segment by himself, then a mysterious hand slipped him a piece of paper. With that note, he asked Sia to join him onstage. I often boast of the stars I've seen onstage at Largo, but I know that most of them don't quite register with the average consumer. Of course, I'll always have my Kanye West and Michel Gondry sightings, but a bonafide pop star hasn't been around in a while. Sia qualifies as such a star.

She also had the quote of the evening: "I've been sober for seven years, but I feel like I took a lot of acid tonight." That should give you an idea of how terribly sober my account is and how I manage to take the fun out of everything.

They started with her own "Snowman," from her current collection of Christmas songs, then took requests from the audience. First up was "Silent Night," and we mostly failed when we hit the second verse. Sia theatrically shrugged away her shortcomings with the lyrics, but gamely carried on. Her third and last song was also a request from the audience, and this time she willingly ceded the stage and the microphone to a couple who joined her from the first row. The young man had a great command of the lyrics and exuded confidence, even looking back at Jon a few times to urge him to keep pace with his cadence. Too bad we can't say the same for his actual singing (in)ability. But oh, that stage presence! The pros onstage couldn't have been more gracious and welcoming to him.

(Being a good digital citizen/snoop, after the show, I tried to find a professional connection between Jon and Sia, but turned up nothing. If you happen to know how they're linked, please send me a note. But honestly, how have these two musical geniuses not worked together before?? Anyway, it doesn't matter because it happened and I got to see them with my own eyes.)

Jon cleansed the palate with his own combo of "Punch-Drunk Melody" and "Strings That Tie to You" before bringing Fred back for a few. At first, he asked if Fred knew any Christmas songs, and Fred replied that Christmas made him think of the Clash. Thus, Fred (on electric guitar) launched into "Train in Vain" with the aforementioned Steve on bass and Jon on drums, then piano. In fact, for a spell, both Fred and Steve watched Jon mess with the piano strings, even as they played along. The jazz combo also tried to cobble together a freeform Christmas song -- something about "I hate Christmas and every holiday."

To close out, Jon asked for audience and band participation to narrow down his selection. Together, we chose medium and old, and Jon obliged with "Whiter Shade of Pale." I can't tell you how Jon comes to these decisions, but somehow his choices make a ton of sense.

And for the capper, Jon figured he might as well blow out what was left of his vocal chords, as he paired Dylan and Waits for "Positively Fourth Street" -- because he can. As you can imagine, we weren't invited to the Little Room for the aftershow this evening, but we could hardly ask for more.

Sarah Silverman opener

-- piano
-- Merry Fucking War on Christmas
-- Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now
-- Everything Happens to Me
-- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas/Jingle Bells/White Christmas/Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy
-- Knock Yourself Out
-- Life on Mars
-- Bohemian Rhapsody
-- "how not to play drums" *
-- Dick Dale song/Sleepwalk/Peter Gunn Theme/Secret Agent Man *
-- Time of the Season
-- Birds **
-- Man Who Sold the World **
-- Waterloo Sunset **
-- I Believe in You **
-- Only Love Can Break Your Heart **
-- Cortez the Killer **
-- piano
-- Snowman ***
-- Silent Night ***
-- My Favorite Things ***
-- Punch Drunk Melody
-- Strings That Tie to You
-- Train in Vain ****
-- freeform Christmas song ****
-- Whiter Shade of Pale ****
-- Positively 4th Street

* = with Fred Armisen
** = with Joel
*** = with Sia
**** = with Fred Armisen and band

Ghosts of Christmas past:
» let your heart be light
» i'm offering this simple phrase
» it's been said many times, many ways
» with soul power
» it's the end of the things you know
» you could say one recovers
» a really good time
» the things you do to keep yourself intact
» i've heard a rumor from ground control
» strangest times
» i'll be a rock 'n' rolling bitch for you
» purple rain