Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, October 26, 2018I had reasons for this trip that I won't bother sharing now, but long story short, I discovered what I needed. However, this was unlike my usual forays to Largo, in that I arrived straight from the airport a few minutes shy of 9:30, and without a request for a saved seat, I instead headed to the back row. The room was about 70 percent filled, and I might've been able to find a closer chair, but it didn't matter. The only downside was that I was scribbling mostly in the dark, so you'll have to forgive any lapses in my notes. It's a miracle that they're legible at all!
The first thing I noticed was Jon's full setup: drums, video screens, several electric guitars, the Leslie cabinet, and enough wires to overload the eastern seaboard. Another welcome sight: Flanny's lightly bearded face. He referenced the World Series game that was in the 11th inning when Jon took the stage, but trust me -- the sports update mattered little to either of them.
Jon quickly promised us that we were in store for "live soundchecking," and he delivered, at first sticking to piano. He said he was going to play in the style of the 19th century because it feels like we're in the 19th century, and he even made up a few lines to a song involving robber barons, the KKK, and the game of Monopoly, as he stabbed at various keyboard-bearing instruments.
He started the set proper with a call for requests, and in a move that surprised me, he went straight to the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." I attend fewer of Jon's shows these days, but I feel that the Beatles haven't been part of the rotation during my last few visits, though I always welcome their inclusion. As he often does with crowd favorites, he asked us to sing along, and overall, we delivered nicely, including on the more ethereal parts. It's a ton of fun as a fan.
Jon moved over to the electric guitars and remained on the request train. I'll include the setlist below, but be warned: Many of the titles were only snippets, a lick here and there. "Barracuda" was one such morsel, though Nick Lowe's classic track got a longer airing, complete with guitar buzz and some Les Paul-style fingerpicking.
Jon returned to the piano and warmed up the video decks, bringing out clips of Andres Segovia and Maria Callas. He may have been warming up, as neither added a ton to his eventual performance of "Strings That Tie to You" until he worked in a vocal punch from Maria at the very end. Her contribution didn't follow the blueprint of the song, but if you think of Jon's shows as a laboratory, you might see how it elevates the emotion, especially if you consider that the song is part of the soundtrack for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
It was back to requests for "Sloop John B," and Jon even commended the guy for trying again when Jon didn't bite at first. Once more, he asked us to sing, and because this was Los Angeles, a good portion of the audience not only knew the words, but delivered them pretty well. Kudos to that crew!
By now it was clear that Jon was working directly from our requests instead of operating on his own agenda. Fortunately, that included some of his own songs, so off he went to the drums to lay down the rhythm for "I Believe She's Lying." Odds are Jon can loop a song using dental floss and a paper clip, but I have no problem confessing that given a preference, I'd request that the drum kit be included at every show at Largo.
We once again went into requests/snippets territory with the Buggles, the Smiths, the Zombies, and Abba. Someone tried to request "Monster Mash," which Jon acknowledged. I tossed in one of my annual holiday requests ("Bela Lugosi's Dead"), which elicited a laugh, though not a performance. I yelled out for XTC too, but alas, Jon didn't go there either.
He did apologize for a few moments of "Stairway to Heaven" -- it was that kind of a night -- but went gung-ho for "All the Young Dudes," and again, the audience came through. In a previous Largo life, I recall a performer (Jon? Paul F. Tompkins?) alleging that we all wanted to hear it, but none of us knew any words other than the chorus. Tonight proved to be the rare exception, as the crowd knew at least a couple of verses. Of course we all roared out the chorus in unison and on key. To follow up, Jon gave us a little of the Casablanca theme.
Over to the drums again! It's always fun to guess at what he might be playing, and at first, I thought it would be "Happy With You," which I hadn't heard in a while. But after the second set of loops, I realize it was another song: his own "Get Over Yourself." I'm not crazy about that tune, but I appreciate that he can do a rocker every now and then, not just lovely waltzes (as much as I adore them).
I didn't take extensive notes on this, but Jon went into "Purple Rain" next -- I'm assuming on guitar only, no drums, though I could be wrong. In truth, he didn't sing it at all, aside from the "oooh oooh"s toward the end, instead playing only those immense guitar chords. It was still pretty amazing.
Jon wanted a closer, but I'm not sure we helped much because he went with "Telegram Sam," which I didn't recall hearing among the requests. He did set down some drums for the tune to accompany the guitar, but it was a little tough on his voice, for whatever reason.
Then he dove back into request world, with a lick or two of a bunch of popular songs. My setlist notes "Tom Petty" because it went too fast and the room was too dark for me to attempt anything deeper. I did the best I could with the rest.
"Jump" started out as a joke (maybe in Van Halen's world too?), and Jon even remarked that he would not attempt nor did he expect us to know any of the words. But it got such a huge reception from the audience that Jon gave it a second go, complete with drums and the song's signature synth sounds. It probably helps that "Jump" is entirely of my generation, but I thought it was hella fun.
"Don't Fear the Reaper" was more of a flirtation than a performance, but the next tune offered full commitment. Jon returned to the drum kit and requested that the staff dim the lights all the way down. In the darkness, he unveiled -- ta da -- glow-in-the-dark drumsticks! I guess they were his nod to Halloween, but from my seat, they looked not unlike lightsabers, especially as he started bashing away on an even bigger treat: the Beatles' "The End."
The song was more of an opportunity to play out the drum solo and launch into even more covers, including my beloved "When Doves Cry," along with "Hot Blooded," "Hot Legs," the Cars, Cream, Nirvana, and Patsy Cline. When he circled back to the Beatles, he flipped on the video decks again to air Leon Theremin, Percy Grainger, and Eric Clapton, among others.
Overall, it was a crowd-pleasing set, but through the entirety, Jon was in great spirits and didn't seem to mind catering to us (even if my requests didn't land). It's hard to imagine that anyone left without a smile on their face.
And for those playing at home, the baseball game was in the 16th inning when Jon finished up. What a night!
-- A Day in the Life
-- Barracuda/Peace, Love, and Understanding
-- Strings That Tie to You
-- Sloop John B
-- I Believe She's Lying
-- Video Killed the Radio Star
-- How Soon Is Now/This Will Be Our Year/Dancing Queen/Stairway to Heaven
-- All the Young Dudes
-- As Time Goes By
-- Get Over Yourself
-- Purple Rain
-- Telegram Sam
-- Cherry Bomb/Tom Petty/Sea of Love/I Want Candy
-- Don't Fear the Reaper
-- The End
-- When Doves Cry
-- Hot Blooded/Hot Legs/My Best Friend's Girl/Peter Gunn/Sunshine of Your Love/Crazy/The End