Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, December 20, 2019A couple of days before this show, Largo posted via its Instagram and Twitter accounts that Jon would welcome a special guest at this show. I registered the note but didn't think much of it. After all, I've been to enough of them to know that the guest could be just about anyone, and I come to see Jon. Everyone else is butter.
But not long after we arrived, we ran into another Largo regular, and she revealed the mystery. Neil Finn would be the guest tonight. You can't necessarily tell from this blog, but Neil is a longtime beloved performer. I was already a fan of Largo, but when I heard that Neil was starting to drop in for Jon's sets, I chalked up yet another reason to visit Los Angeles. My wish finally came true in 2004, when Neil guested at a Jon Brion show. I pretty much died that night, and fortunately, I managed to document the experience. Neil has continued to support Largo (and vice versa), but to be able to see him as an unannounced guest is a special treat.
But first, Jon's show! The stage was well stocked with the two video screens, a full drum kit, a mess of guitars, a Mellotron, and a Leslie cabinet.
He started with a piano tune that's probably an actual composition and not simply noodling, but once again, I have to shrug because I rarely recognize any of the jazz standards. Fortunately, he soon went in on a couple of his own compositions. "Knock Yourself Out" was a mostly traditional interpretation on piano, and "Over Our Heads" was also fairly traditional (for Jon), with a vocoder and sampled feedback from inside the piano.
He asked for requests and decided on a mashup of "Moonage Daydream" in the Christmas style. The celeste mostly supplied the holiday effect, bringing to mind "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" at times. Not missing a beat, Jon continued to mess around on the EMS Synthi until he eventually coaxed out "Ashes to Ashes." Once again, the celeste came through for a tiny sprinkle of "Jingle Bells" amid the electronic angst.
With little fanfare, Jon yelled backstage and asked Neil if he felt like singing. Neil joined us posthaste, but he wasn't alone. Largo regular Sebastian Steinberg joined him, and what do you know? So did Mick Fleetwood! Yes, that Mick Fleetwood from that band that Neil has been touring with for the last year-plus. For those keeping score at home, yes, this was Mick's first appearance at Largo, and he made a hell of a debut.
Neil left the stage, but Mick and Sebastian stayed to join Jon as an impromptu jazz combo. This happens at Largo a lot, as new acquaintances become partners and collaborators in real time. Once more, I'm completely useless when it comes to identifying the song or even the artists. The first one was rollicking as each musician settled into a groove. Jon was rocking in his seat, pulling the piano bench back and forth as he moved to the tune. Sebastian was an old pro, his focus evident as a longtime Largo fixture. The second song had a Jerry Lee Lewis vibe, and the third one was more languid at first. My stab in the dark is Fats Domino, but I'm sure that's way off. After the show, Flanny mentioned that one of the tunes was from Thelonious Monk, but I'd be hard-pressed to figure out which it was.
Mick, for his part, looked hugely invested as he worked the entire drum kit, his long arms hitting every inch of the drum kit. I loved watching him as he watched Jon for musical cues and perhaps more -- maybe to express his approval? Like I said, I've seen that look before, and it's a huge tell when world-renowned artists are clearly so happy to be in the Largo environment.
Here's a funny aside: It looked like Mick brought his own tech to the show. A man hung to the side of the stage and intently watched his every move. I believe he also collected Mick's drumsticks after every session.
Jon settled in alone for his "Please Stay Away From Me" and fired up the video machines and footage of Andres Segovia for "Strings That Tie to You," capped by an instrumental nod to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." (No, I don't always need to hear the lyrics!)
But the solo spell was short-lived, as Jon brought Neil back out, this time accompanied by Liam Finn (to audible gasps from Evonne and me). Mick and Sebastian soon followed, and they settled into a Neil Young rock block. The first title, "After the Gold Rush," fell apart a little on the second verse, even though an audience member tried to help.
When they couldn't immediately figure out what to do as the second track, Jon took the lead to bring on "Only Love Will Break Your Heart," which was a lot kinder to everyone involved. It was pretty clear that Jon wasn't really in the mood for singing that night (perhaps related to the afflictions Flanny mentioned?), so it was a good thing that Neil was ready to man the mics. They finished up the Neil-on-Neil set (album idea!) with "Southern Man."
Neil asked for requests and finally opted for Crowded House songs, starting with an audience request for "Chocolate Cake," where Neil and Liam's complementary vocals jumped out. For "Private Universe," Liam moved to percussion, where he and Mick went with the double drummer setup that I love so much (see: early Adam and the Ants records) to great effect.
They came to a short impasse as Neil confessed he couldn't remember the old classics he and Jon have done so much at their combo shows. From the front row, I offered "Moon River," and Neil obliged. As someone who's attended several of their shows together and has listened to a numerous bootlegs, I can do this all day, but I was more than happy that they took up the one request.
To close Neil's portion of the show, Jon suggested "Four Seasons in One Day," and for his part, he played at first the Mellotron, then switched back to the piano for a sublime bridge on this always lovely song.
For the capper, Jon at first tickled some keys, and my heart skipped because I recognized it as Elliott Smith's "Happiness," which probably would've made me cry in my seat. But instead, he fired up the beat machine and opted for another favorite. With Sebastian Steinberg and Paul Cartwright, they coaxed out "More Than This." I will never object to it.
And he threw in a few notes of "Jingle Bells" on celeste for good measure. Happy holidays and have yourself a great new decade!
Flanny and Bobb Bruno intro
-- Knock Yourself Out
-- Over Our Heads
-- Christmas Moonage Daydream
-- Ashes to Ashes
w/ Neil Finn, Mick Fleetwood, and Sebastian Steinberg
-- I Got You
-- Man of the World
w/ Mick Fleetwood, and Sebastian Steinberg
-- mystery song 1
-- mystery song 2
-- mystery song 3
-- Please Stay Away from Me
-- Strings That Tie to You/Somewhere Over the Rainbow
w/ Neil Finn, Liam Finn, Mick Fleetwood, and Sebastian Steinberg
-- After the Gold Rush
-- Only Love Will Break Your Heart
-- Southern Man
-- Chocolate Cake
-- Private Universe
-- Moon River
-- Four Seasons in One Day
-- Moon River
-- More Than This
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
» a few of my favorite things
» on such a winter's day