Tuesday, November 06, 2018

every kind of memory

Rocktober turned out respectably after all, with a quick (fact-finding) mission to Los Angeles to see Jon Brion at Largo at the Coronet -- my first show of his for the year, believe it or not.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, October 26, 2018

I 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 BrionJon 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.

Jon Brion"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!

-- piano
-- 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
-- Jump
-- 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

Monday, November 05, 2018

oh that city sound

Hat tip to Denise for informing me of Kevin Morby's show at the California Academy of Sciences' NightLife program. Chances are I would've missed it entirely -- and regretted it -- otherwise.

Kevin Morby, California Academy of the Sciences, October 11, 1018

One of my favorite books when I was a kid was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. I'm hardly alone, as this classic has endured over the years. I credit that book with instilling in me at a young age a desire to go to New York City and see that wondrous museum for myself. Fortunately, I've been able to scratch that itch, though I had to leave at closing time, just like everyone else.

Kevin Morby, California Academy of the Sciences, October 11, 1018I wonder if the NightLife team was similarly inspired. I've attended at least one event before at the DeYoung Museum, but it was a broader, cocktail-party-style shindig. I hadn't been to an actual rock show at any of San Francisco's cultural landmarks.

Early in the evening, the Academy was fairly mellow. Though certain sections were roped off, the line for the rainforest exhibit was manageable, and you could check out the planetarium if you bought a ticket for a specific time. Unsurprisingly, I did neither, though this was mostly due to the fact that I had visited a few months ago with my cousin. I flipped through Amoeba's bins and wandered around a bit, but mostly I wanted to see the show.

There was no need to line up, but when indications came in that it was almost time, the audience moved in accordingly around the stage. The crowd was respectable outside, where the show was held, but I suspect the majority of visitors that night were there for the museum, not the entertainment. For the music fans, it was a comfortable fit. Meanwhile, we could see the museum visitors wandering over to take it as the concert proceeded.

Kevin Morby and crew were last here only in April, and thus, they put on a similar show. I was surprised to see that Meg Duffy was there, mainly because I thought I saw an Instagram post about her leaving the tour for gigs with her own band Hand Habits. I was happy to be proven wrong, as she remains a sorceress on guitar. Also in the band was their keyboardist, who was new to the group for the show at the Fillmore. He's stuck around, and he sounded great.

Alas, Kevin wore a white medical-looking jumpsuit this time around. We didn't get to see that fantastic Nudie-style suit again.

The set was slightly shorter than the show at the Fillmore, as they hit much of City Music and a number of favorite older tracks, including "Parade" and "I Have Been to the Mountain." As I recall, the audience was very supportive at the Fillmore, and the people in the front at least were at least as invested at the Academy. I could hear a fellow somewhere behind me singing along to each song -- and doing it well, to boot!

Also unlike the Fillmore show, this gig took place outdoors, in an open courtyard adjacent to the museum. If you stood back far enough, you were under the stars, but over by the stage, we were sort of under an overhang. To highlight the incredible exhibits behind the band, the lighting person projected natural images, including stars, branches, birds, and more, against the backdrop. You wouldn't have mistaken it for a headlining set at Coachella, but it was a nice nod to the venue.

Kevin closed the show with a solo song (though I've now forgotten which one), and we probably could've listened to several more. Let's hope this is the beginning of even more good stuff from him.

See also:
» may you find out who you are

Saturday, November 03, 2018

early in the morning

When Wilcoworld announced Jeff Tweedy's show at the Fillmore, it took about a minute for anyone who's familiar with the San Francisco concert calendar to note the date and conclude that an appearance at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival would follow. Lo and behold, confirmation eventually followed.

Jeff Tweedy, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Oct. 6, 2018

I approached this festival appearance the only way I know how: I woke up (too) early, gathered my supplies, and headed out to the park. Fortunately, a couple of factors worked in my favor: (1) I live pretty close to the park, and (2) Jeff was scheduled for the Rooster Stage, one of the smaller stages at the festival. Granted, the Rooster Stage can be a pain to access later in the day, after the crowds have filled in, but in the morning, it was as open as I've seen it. And it's still a huge improvement over the free-for-all of the Banjo Stage, which Jeff and Tweedy have played before. Coincidentally, just as I arrived, I saw my friend Jenn and her crew setting down blankets, chairs, and all the usual accessories. I took my place next to them.

Thus, I activated festival mode, which means I don't go anywhere until my preferred performer plays. Jeff was the headliner, which meant I was there all day. It wasn't exactly a hardship, as San Francisco's summer kicked in with blue skies and a slight breeze. The trees surrounding the meadow offered exactly the right amount of shade too. I don't think I felt a moment of discomfort all day. It also helped that Paul arrived around noon with a burrito and a beverage.

Jeff Tweedy, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Oct. 6, 2018

The Rooster Stage often follows a format. Over the last few years, Conor Oberst has hosted his own revue at the Rooster Stage on the Friday of the festival. This year, Buddy Miller was the curator for much of the day, but not immediately. First up was the Go to Hell Man Band, composed of family and friends of the late festival founder Warren Hellman. They hit a bunch of Americana classics and looked like they were having fun. More importantly, they reminded us of the festival's roots and, honestly, how lucky we are that the tradition continues, even after Warren's passing. Let 'em play!

I have to admit I don't know much about Buddy Miller, and I fully expected a surplus of old-timey stuff. I was happy to be proven wrong, as Buddy's selections for his cavalcade of stars offered different takes on what constitutes roots music these days.

To start, the Cave Singers played their take on modern indie rock. I was unfamiliar with Tracy Nelson but soon learned of her ties to the '60s-era San Francisco music scene, and I appreciated the fact that Buddy chose to highlight her talents. In some ways, Molly Tuttle is the traditional fit for this festival with her bluegrass skills. At the same time, she presented a very young face to this storied history of Americana. The War and the Treaty were an African American husband-wife duo who took the energy way up with their spirited delivery and up-tempo tunes. All of them were highly entertaining, and they each joined Buddy Miller for his own set to cap off the cavalcade.

By the time Jeff took the stage, my original cohorts had left to go see Ani DiFranco's set, but as is the way of festivals, other fans and curious parties had streamed in to take their place. Still, it remained comfortable at the front, and we never felt pressed.

If memories of the Fillmore show lingered, I don't think Jeff showed it, though Paul posits that Jeff's song selection ("You Are Not Alone," "Ashes of American Flags") indicated otherwise. However, Jeff was all smiles as he came on, the only true solo performer of the day, and squinted into the setting sun to take in the audience. I hope he liked what he saw.

Jeff played his usual festival set for a little more than an hour. Some of his standards are certainly made for such occasions when you're playing in a grove of trees out on the best coast: "Remember the Mountain Bed," "California Stars," "Acuff Rose," among others. Once more, he asked us to sing with him on "Let's Go Rain," and the crowd seemed amenable, at least from where I stood. Jeff of course couldn't help himself from making fun of us and himself here and there. I think the audience got it. And for us die-hards on the rail, "A Shot in the Arm" was a great closer to get us singing, to keep the energy up, and to remind us of how far the Americana label can stretch.

Thus, I exhausted my allotment of Jeff Tweedy concerts for 2018. I certainly got to see more of his shows this year than I have recently, though perhaps I'll never reach the same numbers I hit during the prime years when we drove through states at all hours for shows. I probably saw more drama than usual, thanks to that gig at my favorite place in the city I call home, but overall, we ended on a high note, with a bunch of good times thrown in. Can't wait to start it up again.

See also:
» feels lucky to have you here
» summer noon
» i will try to understand
» make something that no one else has
» the old buildings downtown empty so long ago