Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Take Me Home, Country Pigeon

Whoa, I found my old review of my favorite Largo show ever, back when I wasn't properly smitten with Jon Brion. You may note how naive--that is, not obsessed--I sound in this write-up.

Thank you, Yahoo search, especially for ranking me higher than Google does. Grrrr to Google!

Grant Lee Phillips (with Robyn Hitchcock and Jon Brion), Largo, July 31, 1999: I flew in from Silicon Valley, picked up my friends, and headed over to Largo, where a pretty big crowd was already gathered. I guess I should preface "big crowd," as the Largo holds about 100 people. Also, I got a table this time, so that made a difference. We sat down, and I noticed Robyn Hitchcock standing around, drink in hand. I had seen him on the Flaming Lips' MABD Revue in San Francisco earlier that week. I thought that he was just hanging out, enjoying the atmosphere. Not a single suspicion crossed my mind, and I totally forgot that he was a guest player on Jubilee, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that he was the opening act. He played a short acoustic set with Tim Keegan, including the very lovely "I Saw Nick Drake." Jon Brion also joined him for a few songs. I've never been a big fan of Robyn, but he's a very likeable performer and put everyone in a great mood.

A short break, then came--what?! A man in a red and black cape and a gold mask came onstage, accompanied by a creepy single-note piano tune, where a miniature altar of sorts (lots of candles) had been erected. He called up Jon Brion and asked him a few questions, then demanded that he take off his clothes. When Jon refused, he requested that at the least Jon take off his shoes. When Jon again said no, he settled for Jon's offer to play the piano. Then Jon turned the tables and asked the man to take off his mask. He did--and it was Grant all along!

(I know my account is doing this no justice. I'm sure that I haven't been able to express that this was a straight parody of the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut.)

OK, on to the music. I took a stab at the set list, but I forgot it on my way out the door. Grant was joined onstage by Phil Parapliano and, eventually, Robyn. They did about half old songs (Arousing Thunder, The Hook, Honey Don't Think, Truly Truly, The Shallow End, Mockingbirds, Fuzzy), half new songs (a good five or six of them, featuring lots of sampled beats), one of Jon's songs, and the song on Robyn's album that they did together. Robyn did one verse of "The Hook," ad-libbing one line about "I'm up here singing with Grant," and playing guitar and harmonica. I can't even begin to describe Grant's between-song patter, but he had us in stitches.

Again, another short intermission, then Grant came back on karaoke-style. I have no idea what the backing tune was; it sounded very Bay City Rollers to me. This interlude was much less structured. They took a title ("Maggot Love") from an audience member and made up a song on the spot. Then they produced five different songs about pigeons. The highlight: Robyn's interpretive dances (when he wasn't throwing together lyrics off the top of his head) and his dubious drumming.

Even my friends were very impressed by the end of the evening (and it was quite an evening--I think Grant was on for at least two hours), especially by Jon Brion's chameleon-like ability to jump from the piano to the drums to electric guitar to improvised lead vocals. [Editor's note: Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!!!] If I were a teacher and had both Grant and Jon in my class, I'd probably have to separate them, because they're obviously too successful in encouraging each other's mischieviousness. But when you're going to see live music, that's the kind of stuff you hope for.

Also, there was a pigeon theme for the night...I think these are the five songs they made up:
» The Haunted Pigeon
» The Haunted Passenger Pigeon (Grant sang a line about the pigeon always coming home to you, obviously mistaking the extinct passenger pigeon for the common carrier pigeon. OK, enough National Geographic.)
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon, "only without the 'country' part," as requested by a mysterious female voice in the sound booth [Editor's note: I now realize it was Mary Lynn Rajskub speaking.]
» Pigeon Lips
» Pigeon Pot Pie (wherein Grant rhymed "smidgen" and "bitchin'"--among other words--with "pigeon")

Oh, there was also a song about Britney Spears in there too.

See also:
» top 5 Largo memories
» please share my umbrella
» unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour

Saturday, December 24, 2005

let your heart be light

Undoubtedly, 2005 will go down as my Year of Largo (the first of many, if I'm lucky). What had once been a diversion has now become a need, and there was no question that I'd catch the last Largo show of the year, which coincidentally--or not--turned out to be Jon Brion's gig.

Jon Brion, Largo, December 22, 2005: Annie and I got to Largo relatively early, only to find a fairly lengthy line, even for those with reservations. As it turned out, they squeezed in nearly everyone that evening, as there would be no second set. I was just glad that we were at a table and not crammed in at the bar.

Jon came out a little before 10pm, downing Red Bull and wishing us a "merry effing you know what." He jumped into "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," starting with jazzy, discordant piano, then meandering to the synths--well, I think it was still the same song. I know for sure that he segued into "Here We Go," this time adding a couple of notes to the sublime piano motif that characterizes the song. (I wish I could be more technical.) It worked, but it was still surprising to hear him tinker with near perfection. He followed with "That's Just What You Are," which began with a seemingly resigned tone but ended on a passionate, rousing note. I love the song, even if my secret hope that he would do "Amateur" again wasn't realized that night.

He built "I'm Further On," then pretended to look around the stage for his next instrument. When he couldn't decide, he announced, "What I need isn't on this stage. Fiona, get up here." Of course, Fiona Apple showed up, though the surprise wasn't so great for us, as we had spotted her on her way in. Flanagan gave their set a little push, and as customary, they took on a few standards as well as a couple of her songs, mostly with Jon on acoustic guitar. I'm not a Fiona fan, but beyond a doubt, her voice is beautifully suited to the classics.

A lot of times, you watch Jon and realize what it means to be a producer. Sometimes it's as obvious as, say, Jon doing the Sex Pistols à la Bacharach, but if you're lucky, you get a glimpse of it in his onstage interactions with other artists. Case in point: As Jon played the instrumental bridge for a song, he urged Fiona to keep going. She didn't understand him at first, but after more egging, she sang the bridge--that is, she "oooh"ed where she had previously stayed silent and stood back. All of a sudden, I could see that happening in the studio. Throughout Fiona's stint, Jon added backing vocals to a couple of songs, but he otherwise mostly grinned widely and supported her musically. At the end of her portion, they gave each other huge hugs, and towering over her, Jon bestowed a little kiss on the top of Fiona's head. As she left, she waved frantically, stared out intently, and blurted, "Merry stuff!"

Jon jumped back on the horse, building the "Tusk"-like instrumental, which I'm beginning to suspect is a new original composition. The theme from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a flirtation, lasting a few seconds before he decided on "You Made the Girl." Lest it seems like I believe Jon can do no wrong, let me say that I don't like this tune. It's too maudlin, too long, and too literal ("I hate my heart/I hate the world"). Tonight's version was no different, though the middle trance-like guitar bridge was kinda cool to watch for the first 3 minutes--not so the remaining 10 minutes.

When he finally broke off the song, he sat down at the piano, and a voice requested "Ghostbusters." Instead, Jon added a harmonica for "Knock Yourself Out" but ended with "who you gonna call?" He also did a tiny snippet of "Do Re Mi," but it was a mere preamble to an instrumental "You Don't Know What Love Is," which opened the floodgates two weeks ago.

Jon asked for requests and chose a couple of standards before he introduced the second guest of the night: Matt Chamberlain. Of course, Matt took the drums, and Jon asked him what he wanted to do. I didn't hear his response, but they went into "Sweet Emotion." This set the tone for Matt's session: 1970s classic rock songs.

Jon challenged Matt to "start some shit," and Matt obliged by rubbing his drumstick around the circumference of the high hat, which Jon answered by banging the strings on the upright piano and running his fingers emphatically across the keys. They started their respective loopers and built their improv into a frenzy. Just as I was flashing back to the Nels Cline shows, Jon led them to Badfinger's "Rock and Roll Fantasy" with a lovely jazzy piano accompaniment.

Matt started up a new rhythm, while Jon grabbed a 12-string acoustic and churned out a spare, bluesy "Sweet Home Alabama." With Matt keeping time, Jon removed the lead from his guitar and beat it against his palm. Playing the lead and some pedals, he concluded this exercise with "Stairway to Heaven," complete with a rock jump at the end, lead in hand. Next, back at the piano, the celeste, and the synths, Jon reminded us that no '70s retrospective would be complete with a Foreigner song I recall hearing a few times during my early days at Largo but not recently.

Jon asked for more requests from '70s, and though he acknowledged my call for "Band on the Run," it wasn't part of his ultimate plans. Instead, he picked "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." He had initially laughed it off as not being a '70s song, but that didn't stop him from turning it into a lost classic from the Led Zeppelin archive, complete with high-pitched vocals and a wicked guitar solo. We roared our approval as he--channeling Page and Plant, no doubt--kicked over the music stand. With an incredible gleam in his eyes, he declared, "I just woke up." Clearly, the night had just begun.

The next request granted was "Brown Sugar"--but perhaps in name only. Jon sampled himself screeching "brown sugar," playing with it throughout the course of the song and distorting it myriad ways. At some points, it almost sounded like old-skool hip-hop record scratching. As they meandered into disco territory, I was about to ask Evonne if the song we were hearing bore any resemblance to the original, but Jon kind of answered my question by singing a couple of lines from "I Feel Love."

The next round of requests again raised my hopes when Jon echoed my yell for "Taking Care of Business"--only to go with the Bee Gees instead. Granted, the Bee Gees turned out to be a much better choice, especially when Jon turned it into a tutorial on the aspects of a prog (the genre, "not the country recently Westernized") song. Before he began, he requested an accompanying light show, as well as knives from Sami. What he planned for the knives, we may never know; Sami brought them up, but they sat at the side of the stage unused. But we got Jon on his knees, playing the Casio while the lights flashed red and orange around him. With his voice echoing per his directions, he sang a few lines of an almost unrecognizable "Staying Alive." Matt took on the requisite drum solo, which led to Jon on an acoustic for the "unaccompanied folk section" and the "fake Spanish section"--in this case, featuring "Jive Talking." The prog checklist wouldn't be complete without the "classical reference" (to the tune of "How Deep Is Your Love") on piano, then the "reprise of the first section." The song concluded with a keyboard frenzy that propelled the Casio off its stand, though Jon was careful enough to lay it down gently.

With order somewhat restored, Jon sat back at the piano and synths for "Love Will Keep Us Together." Indicating that we were nearing the end of the set, he picked up the electric guitar again and kicked off a medley that covered five decades of music. By the end, he was on his knees, reprising "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with Hendrix-style guitar until at least two strings broke. Matt Chamberlain was now relegated to a casual observer, albeit one behind the drum kit. It was actually kind of refreshing; I've witnessed otherwise very talented drummers looking on in confusion and fear as Jon led them down unanticipated but ultimately glorious paths. But knowing that even Matt Chamberlain--who has worked with Jon extensively--sometimes had to throw up his hands put Jon's mad genius in clearer perspective.

I think I have a new holiday tradition on my hands.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to you all. Thanks to everyone who's read along.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas [piano]
Here We Go [piano]
That's Just What You Are [piano]
I'm Further On [build]
After You've Gone* [acoustic guitar]
Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me* [acoustic guitar]
Angel Eyes* [piano]
Extraordinary Machine* [acoustic guitar]
I Know* [acoustic guitar]
Don't Get Around Much Anymore* [acoustic guitar]
Tusk wanna-be [build]
Mr. Rogers Neighborhood [piano]
You Made the Girl [build]
Knock Yourself Out [piano + harmonica]
Do Re Mi [piano]
You Don't Know What Love Is [piano]
Me Myself and I [piano]
I Fall in Love Too Easily [piano + synths]
Sweet Emotion** [piano + synths]
Rock and Roll Fantasy** [piano + celeste]
Sweet Home Alabama/Stairway to Heaven** [guitar]
Hot Blooded** [piano + synths +celeste]
Somewhere Over the Rainbow** [guitar]
Brown Sugar/I Feel Love** [piano + synths]
Staying Alive/Jive Talking/How Deep Is Your Love**
Love Will Keep Us Together** [piano + synths]
Use Me/Play That Funky Music White Boy/Seven Nation Army/Eleanor Rigby/Running With the Devil** [guitar]
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas** [guitar]

* = with Fiona Apple
** = with Matt Chamberlain

See also:
» you don't know the meaning of the blues
» i'll be back again

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

the man some girls think of as handsome

I suppose Haley's Comet comes around slightly less often than Largo--or any venue, for that matter--announces three consecutive Jon Brion shows, but at least one of them can be predicted scientifically. Then again, I'd be willing to argue which is the real natural wonder of the world.

Jon Brion, Largo, December 10, 2005: The message on Largo's answering machine said tonight would feature Jon Brion and "very special guests," and rumors abounded. But the bigger question for me was whether Jon was up to another show. Sure, Friday's gig had ended on a brilliant note, but his small meltdown was fresh on my mind. Still, there was no way I was going home before I had a threepeat under my belt.

Evonne, Paul, and I were ensconced in the back corner of the bar, getting ready for the show, when we were (politely) interrupted. Largo had arranged for someone to videotape the night's proceedings; by asking us to make room for him, the camera guy basically confirmed that we had indeed claimed the best spot in the building. He said there were no plans to release the tape, but I wouldn't have expected otherwise. More importantly, we could see the stage just fine.

Around 10 p.m., Jon came onstage to introduce the opener: Zach Galifianakis. Zach is a regular at Largo, both on- and off-stage. VH1 once gave him a short-lived late-night talk show that even featured a performance by Rhett Miller (accompanied by Jon Brion). I was a little worried that I was laughing too loud for someone standing next to the camera, but I couldn't help myself. In the course of his act, Zach made fun of Carrot Top, Kathy Griffin, a physician sitting at the front table, and of course, himself. I dig him, and I hope others get to see him.

Around 10:30, Jon came out and thanked us for joining him this evening. He sounded like he was in good spirits, joking about his Saturday night ritual of "watching TV in the studio, waiting for the computer to boot up" and playing standards. This seemed to serve as an explanation for the selections of the night. He started off with his usual piano warmup, which segued into the sublime "Here We Go" and a song build of the rollicking "Girl I Knew." Jon jumped over to the guitar for "Fooling Myself," then "Excuse to Cry" (with an "ooh"-ing bridge), and an instrumental that we couldn't exactly make out. Paul speculated it might be a Christmas song, and I may have heard strains of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the chords, but I can't swear on it.

Jon moved back to the piano for "That's Just What You Are," for which he has cowriting credit, as I like to remind everyone. What a treat--this was the first time I had heard it done on the piano. Jon stayed at the piano, turning out a gorgeous instrumental preamble. I thought it was something from the Eternal Sunshine soundtrack before it finally dawned on me--holy shit, it was "Amateur" from I'm With Stupid. If I needed any justification for staying an extra night, I had found it. I already love this song, but I had never heard Jon do it before, and his version turned out to be intimate, low-key, devastating, and wrenching. In other words, it was unspeakably, utterly fucking mesmerizing. If I ever find a recording of Jon doing this song, I'll be ecstatic. For now, I'll try to subsist on my memory of his rendition, supplemented by as many repetitions of Aimee Mann's studio take as my iPod will allow.

For the next number, Jon built an instrumental that I couldn't place, though it sounded like it could be a Duke Ellington tune, only sped up and with a suitably frenzied, post-punk interpretation. He shed the extras for a piano and a harmonica and--what else--"Knock Yourself Out." He returned to the piano and the celeste for "Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way." This song has been hanging around for a long time; you can find it on the Jon Brion demos floating around the Internet, though it recently showed up on the Huckabees extra material. I don't recall hearing it live before, and I loved the rousing, passionate delivery this night. He stayed on piano for "Strings That Tie to You," another unusual treatment for the song. Switching to acoustic guitar but remaining with the theme of alternate instrumentation, he bashed out "Same Thing," a perennial favorite.

The pace of the evening hadn't let up, but Jon hadn't spoken much. If you hadn't seen his Friday night show, you might've thought everything was OK, but I wondered if there was something else on his mind. Regardless, he asked for requests for the first time that evening. He honored the call for "Nice Work If You Can Get It" but put a fast, punk, screechy spin on it. Jon seemed to have finally found his theme for the night: Gershwin. He turned "Our Love Is Here to Stay" every which way, starting with a bombastic piano opening, easing into a gentler tone, then ending with the vocoder and spacey chords, as well as a final flourish on the celeste.

The electric guitar was the instrument of choice for an understated "How Long Has This Been Going On," then the last song of the night was the magnificently built "Someone to Watch Over Me." It sure beats watching TV and waiting for your computer to boot up.

Zach Galifianakis opening
piano noodling
Here We Go [piano]
The Girl I Knew [song build]
Just Fooling Myself [b+w Gretsch]
Excuse to Cry [electric guitar]
Christmas song? [electric gtr]
That's Just What You Are [piano + celeste]
Amateur [piano]
mystery song build
Knock Yourself Out [piano + harmonica]
Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way [piano + celeste]
Strings That Tie to You [piano]
Same Thing [acoustic guitar]
Nice Work If You Can Get It [song build]
Our Love Is Here to Stay [piano, synths, vocoder, celeste]
How Long Has This Been Going On [electric guitar]
Someone to Watch Over Me [song build]

See also:
» you don't know the meaning of the blues
» i'll be back again

Sunday, December 11, 2005

you don't know the meaning of the blues

Annie and Dance joined us at our favorite four-seat table for night 2 of the Largo campaign. The best part? I still had one night to go!

Jon Brion, Largo, December 9, 2005: Flanagan made the introductions and alluded to the week's Grammy nominations for Late Registration. Again, he referred to it as Jon's album, though Jon was quick to remind everyone that Kanye may have a differing opinion. Jon began the set in his typical manner, knocking out a Duke Ellington song, followed by a couple of his own, as well as his old favorite, "Someone Else's Problem Now." There was a time in the not so distant past that the Punch-Drunk Love theme would've left me in the dark until the delicious, distinctive tickle that characterizes "Here We Go" kicked in--not so now, for what it's worth. It's the softest, warmest blanket of a song I can think of, and it makes me melt every time I hear it live.

Jon asked for requests and, amid the volley of shouts, picked out Bowie, slamming out "Lady Stardust." From there, he did a song build that I didn't recognize, though the beat sounded like "Tusk." I know I invoke that song way too much, but that beat stays with me, and it's the best stab I can take. "If I Only Had a Brain" started out as an amusement while he readied "Knock Yourself Out," but Jon did a couple of verses anyway.

And this is where the set took a slight left turn. Jon explained, "Chet Baker did this song, but he's dead, and I'm still here," but gave no indication of the cathartic, harrowing treatment that would follow. He built "You Don't Know What Love Is," an old favorite. Unlike the smoky piano ballad I recall, tonight's rendition started out almost violently and was marked by an especially aggressive guitar solo that resulted in a broken string. He stretched it past the 10-minute mark, and at the end of his vocals, he pushed the mic stand to the floor. He didn't slap it or anything melodramatic, but it was an unusual yet emotional move for him. He ended the song back at the piano and celeste, though the tone didn't let up. After the final crescendo, he thanked us and remarked that it had been a "dark two weeks of the soul" and that our coming out meant a lot to him. With that, Jon ended the first set, a mere hour after it started.

A second set awaited, though we hardly knew what to expect. Of course we were staying, but a part of me was more concerned that it would be too voyeuristic a performance to enjoy. Though I've seen moody Jon Brion shows in the past, whatever sense of malaise we may have felt was more subjective; the fact that this time he admitted to turmoil almost implicated us as guilty rubberneckers craning to catch a glimpse of an impending breakdown. But enough of the justification and speculation--let's get down to business.

The break between sets lasted about an hour, and when Jon returned, he looked his more customary chipper self. He immediately called up Benmont Tench for a song that he explained is either about being comfortable with being alone or with only one person for the rest of your life: "Waterloo Sunset." Just that day, Paul had asked me if Jon has any comfort songs--the ones he goes back to again and again. Without a doubt he does, and "Waterloo Sunset" has been the frontrunner at the recent shows I've seen. By coincidence, it was the one song that Annie wanted to hear, as well. Benmont turned in his normal exquisite work, adding a subtle, sparkling touch.

Jon took on the next few songs by himself, including "I Was Happy with You," complemented with imploring gestures that may have indicated his emotional state, as well as the plaintive and stirring "Trial and Error." He asked for requests and answered the shout for Fear of Music with "Heaven" on piano and harmonica. I'm always surprised that Jon knows that era, but I love it when we get to hear them.

At Jon's request, Benmont returned to the stage and named a key. He chose A, Jon took the guitar for "Get Ready," the old soul classic, and that was the end of Benmont's second contribution to the show. Again, Jon went into a couple of his own songs by himself: "Over Our Heads," with synth and vocoder treatment, then "I'm Further On," with a big, crunchy guitar ending that seemed to quote Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man."

Then came one of those trademark Largo moments: Jon called up Michel Gondry to the stage. Yes, Michel fucking Gondry, visual artist extraordinaire. Yes, Eternal Sunshine. Yes, Massive Attack, Bjork, Chemical Brothers, and White Stripes videos. Yes, the new Kanye West video featuring a cameo by one Jon Brion, in a striped suit. And more.

Michel took the drums--his instrument of choice from a previous life, apparently, while Jon sat down at the piano. Jon started by creating a chirpy, beeping electronic background, and for a long time, Michel simply watched him without establishing a beat, though he looked like he was listening for the opportune moment. From there, Jon took a guitar, and the action finally kicked in. They turned it up for what sounded like a Led Zeppelin song, which then became "Once in a Lifetime," then next covered a wide range of influences and sounds, from a rave-up to slow and bluesy to fast and punk. Jon happily brought in another old favorite, "Just What I Needed," and even over the glorious din, the audience managed to shout out the chorus in what was the only real singalong of the night.

Jon put down the guitar and encouraged Michel to take on a drum solo, and the audience was happy to egg him on. Michel found one of the mics near the drum kit and managed to remark, "Drum solos are for zee hippiez, I only keep zee beat," but he gave in to peer pressure and took the spotlight for several minutes. Jon joined him on the synths and celeste, crafting "Rapper's Delight" from Michel's beat. Annie and I looked around to see if Kanye might jump in and rap over it! But nope, we got a seamless segue into Daft Punk's "Around the World" (MP3). I can't even begin to tell you how inspired that choice is. First off, it's yet another song that you would never expect to hear at Largo. And second, I believe Michel directed the video!

They exchanged hugs before Michel left the stage, and Jon asked for requests again. "Don't Fear the Reaper" brought on Jon's impersonation of Christopher Walken and the vow that he would do it only if Will Ferrel played cowbell. Instead, he chose the Les Paul suggestion and married it to the Beatles requests also thrown about. In another twist, he asked us for a Beatles era, of which the middle was definitely our favorite--and Jon's too. Finally, he yelled at Benmont at the back of the room to name a middle-era Beatles album. The reply: Magical Mystery Tour, which elicited "you son of a bitch" from Jon. Meanwhile, other Beatles requests were still flying about, and Jon jokingly turned them back at us. Some of the funnier quotes: "I give you Tench and Gondry, but it's always more!" and "I've been clinging to the sheets for the past week, asking why is life as such, then I come here and bleed for you people."

To satisfy the early- and late-era grovels, he played the opening chord of "Hard Day's Night" and another passage I couldn't place. But the real selection was an instrumental "Your Mother Should Know," but about a million times cooler than McCartney's version.

Benmont was summoned once again to conclude the "Beatle-riffic" evening. "Tomorrow Never Knows" was served folk-style with Jon on acoustic guitar, followed by Jon's big ol' screeches on "Slow Down." Benmont's work was a study in contrasts; where "Waterloo Sunset" was delicate and exquisite, he veritably pounded out "Slow Down." Before he left, Jon thanked us once again; I hope our hoots and hollers showed gratitude enough.

Set 1
piano noodling
I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good) [piano + celeste]
Hook, Line, and Sinker [black-and-white Gretsch]
Walking through Walls [song build]
Someone Else's Problem Now [piano + harmonica]
Here We Go [piano]
Lady Stardust [piano]
mystery song build
If I Only Had a Brain [guitar + harmonica]
Knock Yourself Out [guitar + harmonica]
You Don't Know What Love Is [song build]

Set 2
Waterloo Sunset* [B+W Gretsch]
I Was Happy with You [song build]
Trial and Error [piano]
Heaven [Talking Heads; piano + harmonica]
Get Ready*
Over Our Heads [synths and vocoder]
I'm Further On [song build]
Heartbreaker/Once in a Lifetime/Just What I Needed**
Rapper's Delight/Around the World**
Your Mother Should Know [Les Paul style]
Tomorrow Never Knows* [acoustic guitar]
Slow Down* [acoustic guitar]

* = with Benmont Tench
** = with Michel Gondry

See also:
» the man some girls think of as handsome
» i'll be back again

Saturday, December 10, 2005

i'll be back again

Basketball has the triple double, and hockey has the hat trick--the lofty goal rarely achieved by even the best players. Brionists don't have it so easy, especially if you live outside Southern California, but the opportunity occasionally presents itself. With reservations for Jon Brion's show with Nels Cline as well as Jon's usual Friday gig, I was happy enough to combine two events in one trip. When a third Jon Brion show was added, I jumped on the opportunity.

Nels Cline and Jon Brion, December 8, 2005: Those of you who are skeptical about Los Angeles--well, I have no real hope of dispelling your doubts, but all I know is that Nels and Jon are two fine examples of the artistry that can exist in the city, and to see the two of them together is worth the effort. Overall, tonight's show was nowhere as weird as last month's Largo outing, though you could hardly call it predictable either. The best way for me to do this is to list the songs in chronological order. Without further ado:

Song 1: For the first song, Jon planted himself at the piano and celeste for a ragtimey lilt, while Nels took up his white Stratocaster and kicked off with an eerie, Twilight Zone-like motif. This was not unlike the beginning of last month's set. Nels turned in some amazing fretwork, and to my ears, his guitar almost sounded like a theremin in parts, recalling the theme for a scary or spooky movie. Also, much like the songs from November's show, this one seemed to move through many disparate parts, though they were all tied together by the fact that Nels and Jon were playing off each other. The spookiness gave way to a warmer, jazzier sound, with Nels laying down riffs that wouldn't be out of place on, say, a Nels Cline Singers record, while Jon played a tune on the piano that could've been inspired by Duke Ellington. The next phase of the song seemed to combine the first two parts, with Nels adding more space transmission-like sounds, while Jon looped the piano from phase 2, adding some harmonica as well as rhythm courtesy of the Casio keyboard. They both piled on distortion and white noise atop the somewhat wobbly foundation. From here, Jon went to the drums and added a very simple spare beat, while Nels looped some guitar feedback. Jon joined Nels at the front of the stage, strapping on the guitar and ripping it up. For this part, Jon went to town, while Nels played his steady riff. Nels seems like such a generous collaborator; he's obviously an amazing guitarist, but he's so gracious in turning over the floor to his fellow musicians. Regardless, it's probably an indication of how he's earned the respect of so many colleagues.

Nels and Jon eventually hit the same level, creating a wall of guitar. To me, it was like a rocking version of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"--or maybe the sound of the world ending. This morphed into a spaghetti western-like theme; Paul compared it to something that Howe Gelb might do, and I don't think he's far off in that description. They took the passage through its paces, speeding it up, then slowing back down, but before they relinquished the song to the rest of history, there was one more exploration. With Jon on an acoustic guitar and Nels on lap steel, they took on what sounded like a vaguely flamenco beat for a simple but hypnotic ending to their first foray of the night.

Song 2: Nels took on his white Strat, while Jon grabbed a 12-string. Paul thought it might be a baritone guitar, but I have no idea. They kicked off with a psychedelic treatment, with Jon speeding up the tempo for an almost poppy sound, while Nels maintained the swirling feel. Nels took the drums for this song, while Jon went for faster, crunchier guitar over Nels's guitar loops. I wasn't as surprised by Nels's transition this time, but I relished the opportunity to watch him. He seemed a little more confident on the skins, but he still watched Jon attentively for cues. Nels eventually returned to the guitar, and both he and Jon churned out lots of white noise and distortion--this passage could've been taken from a Sonic Youth record. Nels grabbed the whisk he had been carrying in his back pocket and applied it to his guitar, while Jon laid his guitar on his lap and banged on the strings.

Without blinking an eye, Jon returned to the piano for a bluesy, slower passage, to which Nels applied his distinctive jazzier riffs. Jon also played the Casio, using it for a deeper, more rhythmic effect. The end of the song reminded me a bit of Bill Withers, but don't take my word on it.

Song 3: The first two songs of the evening seemed to be very much in the collaborative spirit, with both Nels and Jon taking turns to lead the song to the next level. For this one, Nels definitely set the tone. In fact, he started it off, and for several minutes, Jon simply sat on his piano bench and watched with a huge smile on his face as Nels churned out spacey sounds from his white Strat. Jon seemed to be searching for his own jumping-off point, pecking at the celeste and reaching for a harmonica but not staying with either. Finally, he joined in on guitar. By this point, Nels was delicately picking notes, while Jon added vaguely twangy guitar, but this gave way to Jon's distortion and other effects and Nels's use of the spring. My notes indicate it was a fairly natural progression, but reading that now, I have no idea how they pulled it off. Regardless, building on the chaos, they went on a more experimental bent, with Jon establishing a beat on guitar, while Nels added more noodly sounds. However, they brought it back to the exquisite tone from the beginning of the song. This didn't last too long, as they reintroduced more distortion and less melody, though the song's hypnotic qualities survived. Again, Nels brought out the spring--always a fun sign.

And what do you know--Nels went back to the drums for a fast, aggressive, and bombastic turn. He didn't watch Jon much at this point, and at the Casio, Jon couldn't see him either. I have no idea how they ended this song.

Song 4: Jon took a small guitar and Nels chose the lap steel. This song was gorgeous and straightforward and poppy, resembling a signature Jon Brion song or a tune from an early Aimee Mann record. Jon hummed through parts of it, so I have hopes that it will eventually garner verses, a chorus, and maybe even a bridge. I'd also wish for it to show up on a Jon Brion album, but I'm not going to kid myself on that point.

Song 5: Nels grabbed a teal-rimmed guitar with a matching strap, while Jon turned to the celeste. They crafted a moody opening, and gradually, Jon's lead became more apparent. He tapped out a beat with his feet, then added harmonica and very subtle drums. He returned to the piano and--gasp!--started singing.


It was the first time I had heard this song, and frankly, I loved it. The tune was definitely in the mold of Jon's awesome breakup songs, à la "Ruin My Day" but moodier. Fortunately, it was nowhere as maudlin as "You Made the Girl" (even I have my doubts about that one). The chorus seemed to be "I guess I'm wrong/And I could've been all along," and he seemed to sing about five different verses. I hope that song sees the light of day eventually. It's a keeper.

At the end of the song, Jon turned to Nels with a big shrug and said, "Fuck if I know." I guess it was as much of a surprise to him as it was to us.

Song 6: Jon asked for another Guinness and commented that they had the rest of the night staring down at us, to which Nels answered with a rocking riff. Jon's reply: "Dude, you rock," then he took the drums. This started off like a punk song, with two guitars going 100mph. They made way for a short, quieter impasse, but it was as if they were simply revving their engines before the next lap. They came back with Nels's jazzy riffs, while Jon contributed a low-level buzz as a backdrop. They ended with more weirdness, letting the song disintegrate before our ears.

Song 7: Jon took his ukulele, while Nels took his 12-string. Jon plucked out some notes and demurred, "I'm going to play 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,' unless you start something. Those are your two options--take us to the moon or I'm taking us to Bacharach." The moon would wait, as Jon plowed on with Bacharach. Nels, ever the sport, did his part, looking very amused during the number.

Song 8: Nels stayed on the 12-string and Jon picked up an acoustic. Nels started off with exquisite, haunting looped guitar sounds, and from there, Jon somehow managed to turn it into a plaintive, stripped-down version of the Beatles' "I'll Be Back." Nels exchanged his 12-string for the lap steel and played the melody of the song. You couldn't ask for a more gorgeous ending to the evening.

Nels's friend taped the performance again, and he said he'd be back for the February 18 show that Jon announced from the stage. Nels claimed to have no knowledge of the gig, but I'm going to pencil it in anyway.

See also:
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 1)
» top 5 Largo memories

Monday, December 05, 2005

our shore town knockdown sure was fun

Overheard at the show: "I wish we could be cool and say, I like you, you like me, let's get to know each other, but it always has to be about who's in control. Like, she goes crazy if I haven't responded to her e-mail within the hour, and in my own sick way, I know that, so I sit on her message for three hours."

When you're seeing a show by the band that wrote perhaps the greatest breakup song ever ("Happy"--more on that later), you couldn't ask to overhear a more appropriate exchange.

The Wrens, MeadowlandsAny self-respecting indie kid knows that the Wrens are one of the notable success stories of the past few years, and I won't rehash their tale, though it's certainly inspirational. I fell in love with the songs I heard on KEXP, and after another month or so of listening to The Meadowlands, full-blown wonderment blossomed. By the time the lyrics had knotted my stomach and sent shivers of recognition down my spine, I finally got to see the band live at Noise Pop in 2004. Talk about living to play! It's rare that you see a band pour so much energy and enthusiasm into a show, supposed coolness and hauteur be damned. Thus, it was with great pleasure and anticipation that I marked my calendar for two more shows from the band.

The Wrens, Bottom of the Hill, December 1, 2005: I know I've been resting on my laurels when it's been a while since I've gone to Bottom of the Hill, by far the coolest venue in the city, booking groups that go on to bigger and better. For this show, the club was packed with people who had braved the cold, blustery night to see an incredibly deserving band.

The last time the Wrens played San Francisco, Kevin Whelan had a whole bass, albeit one held together with--in addition to a wing and a prayer--lots of gaffer tape. This time, he seemed to sport an oversize, misshapen mandolin, now that entire chunks of the guitar had been lost to onstage antics. Paul mentioned that it had, for example, speared the ceiling of the Knitting Factory in New York. Julie speculated that the next time we see the band, he'll be playing a toothpick.

As usual, the band set up their own equipment, with the help of a couple of tech guys--good to see the Meadowlands profits (ha) being invested wisely. They opened with Greg Whelan and Charles Bissell onstage, playing an older song that I'm not familiar with. Midway through the song, they were joined by Jerry and Kevin, the latter engulfed in a huge parka with a hood that hid much of his face. As the energy mounted, he threw it off; later in the night, a voice from the back of the room requested "more parka." The crowd was pretty noisy at the beginning, maybe because they didn't know whether soundcheck had ended, but early on in the set, when the band unfurled the eerie intro to "Happy," a respectful silence had descended. In the past, I've noted the resemblances between "Happy" and U2's "With or Without You" as well as the Chameleons' "Tears," but tonight, the Comsat Angels' "Lost Continent" was the first tune that came to mind--none of which may matter to anyone other than me, but I dig 'em all.

The Wrens, Slim's, December 2, 2005It's been about 18 months since I last saw the Wrens, and their show was just as powerful as I remembered. The band mostly stuck with Meadowlands favorites, reinterpreting a few. For example, "Boys You Won't" got the now customary audience participation treatment, whereas Jerry didn't sing on "House that Guilt Built" for this outing. Kevin retold the story about Bottom of the Hill's legendary booking agent, Ramona, and how she was the only person who gave them a chance 10 years ago. If they continue to play Bottom of the Hill solely for the sake of nostalgia or gratitude, I'll be a happy girl.

Though the Wrens are emphatically a band--that is, they share vocal duties, none of the members seem like prima donnas, and they don't seem to take directions from a ringleader--it's hard not to single out Kevin Whelan. He's the one jumping up and down, threatening the audience with his guitar, and generally pumping up the crowd. Also, in my humble opinion, he has the best voice in the band. Tonight, he piggybacked on one of their tech guys, and within the span of about a minute, the two had somehow managed to turn him around so that Kevin flipped over the tech's head and was laid gently on his back on the tiny stage. (Think Cirque du Soleil, Jersey style.)

We missed the first band, Pale Pacific, also a 10-year-old band, though from the Washington state. Instead, we arrived just in time to see the Rum Diary, though I didn't realize who they were until the end of their set. You can hear some nods to Grandaddy in their sound, but they're a little too emo for my tastes.

The Wrens, Slim's, December 2, 2005: It's easy to cite today's ADD as a reason for the music industry's slide, but you wouldn't have guessed it Friday, judging by the crowd that came out to see the band "promoting" a 2-year-old album that proliferated mainly due to good word of mouth in the first place. Shockingly, my cousin came to the show, based on what she had heard from me and her coworker. The dear McCormicks also joined the party. Yay!

Slim's can't hold a candle to Bottom of the Hill for many reasons, but fortunately, it's bigger and less claustrophobic, and it means that more people are hearing the band's music. The show opened with Charles and Greg again, though they went with "This Boy Is Exhausted," one of more glaring omissions from the night before. In the Kevin Antics Department, he managed to climb atop one of the amps and jump down to the stage; he also mentioned that it was his 36th birthday and thanked the audience for making it the best one ever. In terms of music, though, Greg took the lead vocals for "Thirteen Grand," and they did a rousing version of "Napiers" during the encore. Alas, they didn't do "Ex-Girl Collection" over the course of the two shows, even though they had put in a good attempt last year.

Overall, this show was looser and jokier, whereas the night before had been more intense. I'd see a full week of Wrens shows if I could, but unfortunately, this was the end of the line for now. I hope they come back sooner rather than later.

Again, we missed the first opener, but we saw the set by Parchman Farm, a local band that has been getting some buzz. Their lead singer is the guy who used to be in another local band, Mover. Even an '80s girl like me could tell they borrowed heavily from Led Zeppelin's sound and '70s style in general. Make of that what you will.

Monday, November 28, 2005

word of the day

Asi-catic: \a-zhuh-kat-ik\ adj (2005): Asian and catty; i.e., perfectly normal

not Asi-catic
I don't think she means this one.

But bless you, Brianne, for the coinage.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

speculating: the sport of kings

Based on my fervent scanning of local club dates, it looks like we may already know some bands that may take part in Noise Pop 2006, no thanks to the rarely updated official site. Mark your calendars now:

Supergrass: February 23, Great American Music Hall
Robyn Hitchcock/Minus 5: February 27, Slim's

And of course, happy Thanksgiving to you all! Nigella Lawson's cappuccino concoction easily beat out the pumpkin cream cheese tart. Next time, I think I'll make individual versions in ramekins. It's supereasy--try it for yourself. (Note: The image below is from the New York Times and is not a representation of what came out of my oven.)

Nigella Lawson's cappuccino cheesecakeRecipe: Cappuccino Cheesecake
Published: May 18, 2005

Time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus several hours to overnight for chilling

For the base:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
3 tablespoons soft butter

For the cake:
1 pound (2 cups) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon Kahlúa or other coffee liqueur

For the topping:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon cocoa

1. Prepare base: In a food processor, combine graham cracker crumbs, espresso powder, cocoa and butter. Press into bottom of a 7-inch springform pan. Place in refrigerator.

2. Prepare cake: Heat oven to 325 degrees. Fill a kettle with water and bring to a boil. Wash bowl of food processor, and combine in it the cream cheese, brown sugar, white sugar, espresso, eggs, egg yolks and Kahlúa. Process to make a smooth mixture with no coffee powder visible.

3. Cover outside of springform pan with a protective layer of plastic wrap covered with a double layer of foil. Fill with cake batter, and place in a roasting pan. Pour boiling water into roasting pan to come about halfway up side of springform pan. Bake until middle of cake is set but not firm (it should still wobble), 40 to 50 minutes.

4. Remove cheesecake from water bath and place on a rack. Remove outer layers from pan and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate for at least a few hours, preferably overnight.

5. Remove cheesecake from refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before serving. To remove from pan, slide a knife around inside edge of pan, then release sides. Place cheesecake on a platter.

6. Prepare topping: Whisk cream into soft peaks, and spread on top of cake. Push cocoa through a fine-mesh sieve to dust cake.

Yield: One 7-inch cake (6 to 8 servings).

p.s. I still like Jon Brion. A lot.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

it's still beyond me

I always say that Jeff Tweedy solo is the other half of the Wilco equation. Now that I've seen Glenn Kotche (more on him later) and Nels Cline on their own, I'm not sure my mantra holds, but Jeff's solo outings certainly offer a glimpse into the major factor driving the band, especially as they seem to be moving toward a more complicated sound.

Jeff Tweedy, Messiah College, November 12, 2005: Three years ago, I pulled what was at the time a pretty goofy move by my standards: I dragged my friend Melissa to the Wilco show at Messiah College, an obscure school outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The show was fun for a number of reasons, but the venue was bizarre: the college gym. Regardless, when Jeff Tweedy's concert at the same college was announced, I didn't hesitate to pick up tickets.

Of the three shows, Messiah was probably the best, partly because it was general admission, partly because my buddies were there, and lastly because the energy level was great. You could hear the crowd singing along--an act I took for granted until the later shows on our trip. Jeff, as always, was warm and engaging, and in the end, the songs just sounded so good. Jeff tried to open up (jokingly?) a dialogue about religion, in reference to a Faith & Culture conference going on at the school at the same time, but a dark, cavernous gym is perhaps not the right place for the discussion.

Also, Jeff did the songs requested by Brianne and me, though we heard one of Brianne's selections only at soundcheck. I haven't been downloading recent Wilco stuff, so the new songs were surprises. Jeff has been playing the Loose Fur song at just about every show, but during soundcheck, we got another new title, presumably written from the perspective of a child welcoming a new sibling home.

Glenn Kotche, Calvin Theatre, November 13, 2005Of course, Glenn opened--the first time I've seen him outside of Wilco (not counting the Largo appearance that I will never shut up about). He was breathtaking, and I was beyond impressed. The first song, the title track "Mobile" from his forthcoming solo album, is incredibly melodic and varied. Then came the Balinese monkey chant, which was unlike anything I've ever heard before. He followed it with a vibes composition based on an African piece of music--I wish I could be more specific, but I'd be doing it a huge disservice to take a stab at its origins. After that was a enchanting João Gilberto cover, followed by Glenn's own "Projections of What Might." Glenn's influence on the current Wilco lineup is undeniable, but hearing and seeing him solo makes me realize how much I've missed. At each show, Jeff found new ways of making fun of Glenn (all in good fun, of course), but the respect and dedication between them comes through in their playing as much as their joking.

I hope Glenn somehow makes it to the West Coast. I'm lucky enough to see various Nels Cline projects, but I'd trade in a few of 'em for some Glenn Kotche shows.

Jeff Tweedy, Calvin Theatre, November 13, 2005: We drove through five states the next day, and I got to take in the fabled Eastern fall foliage. In Northampton, we met up with Dave and Selene for a preshow meal. I could easily hang out with Dave for a long time--he's such a good guy. The best part of the gig was probably when Jeff asked for requests and pointed straight (in the dark) at Dave, who was prepared with his plea for "Fatal Wound." Alas, no luck there, but I give major props to Dave for trying. The Calvin show was good, though as a sit-down venue, it's already at a disadvantage. Still, we got in our singalongs and handclaps, and the people around us were notably moved and involved. After the show, I got confirmation that I'm regarded as the Jon Brion freak by more than a few people--now if only it would help my Google count. Grrrrr.

Jeff Tweedy, The Egg, November 14, 2005: The Egg is like a venue out of a dated sci-fi movie, rising from the Albany landscape like the Vince Lombardi trophy. Inside, it was a very grown-up venue, a far cry from Messiah College just two days previously. Before the show, Sooz and Paul scurried about secretively, leaving Heidi and me to take in Stan's great between-set mix (the Zombies!). During the encore, their tricks became apparent, as Jeff played my remaining request for "Promising," a song that he was supposed to play at the basement show but didn't quite get to. He couldn't remember the first words, and I was too shocked to recall them, but he managed regardless. This was definitely my favorite part of the show, made all the more apparent in contrast to the abysmal crowd throughout the rest of the gig. The hecklers were ridiculous, and though Jeff visibly strained to hear us during an early song, we were bitchily urged to shush during our singalong to "Heavy Metal Drummer," a tune we don't even like! At that point, we sort of gave up and let the comatose crowd dig its own hole.

Mart Rivas and Craig Meyer, Slane, November 15, 2005: Mart forgave us for showing up late after we explained to him that we had just came from an incredible meal at Babbo, where we saw Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Michael Stipe, and Michael's boyfriend having dinner together--on the 30th anniversary of Born to Run, no less! But there was no way I was going to miss Mart's gig.

First off, I have to say that Mart obviously played to Heidi all night, doing just about every song that she requested! But I won't hold that against either of them, especially since Mart made everything sound so great, even a couple of Madonna classics and my favorite single ever released, "When Doves Cry." Bless Mart for putting up with our caterwauling, considering he can more than command a room with his soulful, sweet voice, no thanks to us.

See also:
» i won't be denied
» i'll be out on the town

Thursday, November 10, 2005

surrender. dislocate.

Or, not: i like jon brion. a lot. (part 4)

U2, Oakland Coliseum, November 9, 2005: My auntie's friend couldn't come to the show, so with little protest, I took her ticket. This is the third time I've seen U2, the first two times being the shows in 1997 with Oasis, and they turned out to be surprisingly powerful.

I'm sure someone else has a much better report, but some points jumped out at me. Eight years later, their show was a lot less frivolous. I enjoyed the glam and camp qualities of the early-'90s incarnation of the band, but let's face it--U2 is one of the few rock bands left in the world, and you want to see them belt 'em out. The setlist was cool, and I can't ever complain about hearing "Bad" live. I also liked the Patti Smith allusion at the end of the song. Stadium shows will never be my thing, but that sense of community you get at a truly good one is hard to come by these days.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

i like jon brion. a lot. (part 3)

The Google thing isn't helping, but I can't stop myself. And today, I offer an MP3 of "September Gurls," recorded at Largo on January 30, 1998. That's the late Elliott Smith on drums, by the way. May he rest in peace.
» Jon Brion and Elliott Smith, "September Gurls"

See also:
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 2)
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 1)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

i like jon brion. a lot. (part 2)

The next salvo in the Google campaign. Thanks for humoring me.

Jon Brion, Largo, November 4, 2005: In my old rules of rock tourism, I traveled to see a musician/band only if I could be guaranteed a multiple-night set in one location. *insert knowing laughter here* Though I don't follow that rule any more, it's not a bad one to go by if the opportunity presents itself.

Jon came out around 10:20 and opened with his usual keys work, this time taking the big Casio and the piano for an ominous-sounding passage. My friend's friend remarked the Casio was the first sampling keyboard ever manufactured, and it allowed you to make, like, 1-second samples--a revolution at the time! I'm sure the million other loopers and gizmos onstage took care of that need nowadays.

Jon greeted us with a facetious "Welcome to Perkyfest '05," and this pretty much held for the rest of the night. For whatever reason, our requests didn't really register with him, so the sing-along element didn't kick in. I know as well as anyone that there's more to a Jon Brion night at Largo than goofy covers, but you gotta admit they're sure crowd pleasers. I had to wonder if the previous night's show with Nels had left him with some sort of improv hangover.

Anyway, back to the set. For the next song, he sampled his own grunts and yells, then took to the piano and the celeste for a jazzy riff, while Scott in the sound booth added a funky beat. Jon later unapologetically admitted that it was a "Hey Ya" ripoff, a thought that had crossed my mind. More piano noodling followed and was greeted with a "yeah!" from the crowd. Jon stopped to ask what the guy thought he was hearing in Jon's "farting around." The guy said it sounded like Elliott Smith, but Jon vehemently denied it. In case you couldn't tell, we were off to a fairly disjointed start.

A spacey, reverb-heavy "Over Our Heads" was the first "real" song of the night, and it was lovely, with tons more layers than the studio version. Next up was "Trouble," also with reverb; the song has long been a favorite of mine, but on a couple of passages, Jon changed his phrasing ever so slightly but to devastatingly poignant effect. A couple of song builds ("So I Fell in Love With You" and "I'm Further Along") followed, then he went solo electric for a crunchy, bass-heavy rendition of "Strings That Tie to You," also very unlike the official release available on the Eternal Sunshine soundtrack. After this was a long instrumental guitar passage with elements I couldn't recognize.

He asked for requests, and he settled on the theme from the TV series The Greatest American Hero, which would return in different forms for this portion of the set. He tackled "Play That Funky Music" next, eliciting the only sing-along of the night. He satisfied the "Fame" request by repeating the word about four times--and nothing more--through the vocoder. Up next was a very long song build/medley that encompassed "Nobody Does It Better," "Believe It or Not" (The Greatest American Hero theme), the old Stephen Bishop song "On and On," at least two songs that I didn't recognize, and some other lyrics about Flanagan and beer. He sort of apologized for it by admitting that he felt as if he were "torturing" us. Ah well, it's all part of the show.

R. Kelly came up in the banter but not in the setlist; instead, Jon went with a twangified "Same Thing," which ended up with a big drum build. Moving back to piano, he did Duke Ellington's "Solitude," then finished off the main set with a request for "Knock Yourself Out" on piano and harmonica.

The start of the second set felt jauntier, with a song build of "Happy with You," marked by a different guitar solo as well as Jon's switching between three different guitars. He stuck with the one that promised to stay in tune for a solo electric version of "Love of My Life So Far." Via the piano, we got "Trial and Error"--again, deceptively simple but made all the more gorgeous with a softer line here and there. He stayed on the piano for an instrumental version of "Everything Happens to Me" but turned it back up with a song build for "Before You Broke My Heart," which I believe to be a Jon Brion original (claims to the contrary are welcome, however).

He asked for requests again, but nothing grabbed him. Fortunately, he has his own catalog to choose from, which is exactly what followed. More solo electric for "I'm on a Roll with You," while "Here We Go" got a short synth opening before settling into the main song. It's hard for me to express how much I love that song; it's so perfect, and when I get to hear it with different phrasings, it sounds new. Sure, it's not a trademark Jon Brion reinvention every time à la "Same Thing," but it can be just as effective. "I Believe She's Lying" started out on piano, but for the ending coda freakout, Jon brought in the vocoder, the harmonica, and a hammer--with which he pummeled the piano strings to lay down a rhythm.

Coming close to the end of the set, he put on an old spoken word LP called Influencing Human Behavior, adding synth and celeste accompaniment, as well as some distortion. He capped off the "downtrodden" set by inviting the magical Benmont Tench to the stage for a riveting Hank Snow number called "Tangled Mind" and the ever welcome "Waterloo Sunset," both beautifully rendered. It was the most cheerful Jon looked throughout the night and made for a lovely end to the show.

Set 1
--Casio and piano noodling
--sampled grunts + jazzy piano + celeste
--more jazzy piano
--Over Our Heads [spacey piano, lots of reverb]
--Trouble [piano]
--So I Fell in Love with You [song build]
--I'm Further Along [song build]
--Strings that Tie to You [electric guitar]
--electric guitar noodling
--Greatest American Hero theme [instrumental; piano]
--Play That Funky Music/Greatest American Hero [celeste, vocoder, synth]
--Fame [vocoder, synth]
--???/Nobody Does It Better/American Hero/??? [song build]
--Same Thing [electric guitar]
--Solitude [piano]
--Knock Yourself Out [piano, harmonica]

Set 2
--Happy with You [song build]
--Love of My Life So Far [electric guitar]
--Trial and Error [piano]
--Everything Happens to Me [instrumental, piano]
--Before You Broke My Heart [song build]
--On a Roll with You [electric guitar]
--Here We Go [synth, piano]
--I Believe She's Lying [piano, vocoder, hammer, harmonica]
--Influencing Human Behavior LP + knobs/distortion + synths + celeste
--Tangled Mind *
--Waterloo Sunset *

* = with Benmont Tench

See also:
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 1)
» top 5 Largo memories
» let your heart be light

Saturday, November 05, 2005

i like jon brion. a lot. (part 1)

Or, Who Do You Have to Fuck to Show Up in Google's Search Results? Please forgive the search engine pandering.

Nels Cline and Jon Brion, Largo, November 3, 2005: This was a dream pairing for me, especially after hearing reports of one of their other gatherings at Largo where they did "Cortez the Killer." Swoon! As the date drew closer, we had no idea what to expect. Nels's site promised an "instrumental/improvised set," but I wondered if he'd be the opener, perhaps followed by a set from Jon. Regardless, it would've taken an act of god and deep mortal wounds to keep me away.

You can drive entire convoys through the gaps in my music knowledge, and at times, I've had to rely on half-learned terms and downright misinformation to put in words what happens onstage. But my previous dispatches will look like the 9-11 Commission Report compared to the generalities I'll need to employ for this one. Keep in mind that I was as in the dark (almost literally) as the next person, and it was challenging to try to take in the changing action onstage, much less document any of it, considering the players themselves probably had very vague notions of what was going on at any given moment. The songs could shift in character a number of times as Jon and Nels manned different instruments and approaches. Please use your imagination; I guarantee you that the show was even weirder than anyone who's seen either Nels or Jon live can dream up.

First off, the inestimable Bobb Bruno came out in a bunny outfit and played a short opening set on, errrr, electronic drums of some sort. If nothing, it helped confirm that I hadn't hallucinated that other time I saw him don the bunny costume in public.

As a Type A personality, I can think of no better way to present my memories of the evening than in a chronological list.

Song 1: Jon took various piano-related items (piano, celeste, synths), while Nels grabbed the guitar. My notes tell me that this exercise was a long spooky, ambient number, reminiscent of Tangerine Dream; this may have been the most unabashedly experimental song of the set, and it clearly set the tone of the night--Nels hadn't been lying in the description/warning on his Web site. Through various passages, Jon closed his eyes and swayed to the waves of sound; he dominated this number. For me, perhaps the most interesting moment was Jon's manipulation of something called the Sonic Wave knob, while Nels brandished a spring/coil against his guitar strings.

Song 2: Frenetic and hard on kickoff, this song was a major contrast to the first number. Jon went to the drums and laid down a staccato beat. After he looped the desired passages, Jon joined Nels on guitar. Nels took on more of a leadership role, and he was visibly amped, even roaring--encouragement? approval?--at Jon's guitar work. Jon is of course known as a pop guy, but if you've seen his show, he can freak out as much as anyone, and this was a fine example of that element let loose. This song was experimental in a different respect; it was probably 10 different songs in one, and we saw both musicians moving outside their comfort zones. Jon layered some gauzy vocals over the wall of sound, but Nels just about blew my mind when he moved to the drum kit! Paul reports that he's seen Nels take the drums for a soundcheck before, but this was an entirely different matter. Obviously, Nels's drumwork isn't as elegant or varied as his guitar skills (whose are, though?), but he was a steady, forceful presence, and in the true collaborative spirit of the night, he watched Jon like a hawk for musical cues. Somewhere over this, Jon played his guitar with heavy distortion, vaguely reminding me of the MC5. He somehow came back to a psychedelic approach, and by the end, the guitar was more of a percussive instrument. Nels eventually rejoined him, this time on the 12-string (the "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" guitar, for those who've studied Nels's role in Wilco).

Song 3: This song was a complete and utter treat. Both Jon and Nels sat down for this, Jon taking what looked like a nylon-string acoustic and Nels on an electric, with Jon adding some humming later. The song was mellow and simply gorgeous, and the two of them were in lock step throughout the number. It reminded me of a bolero--just incredibly sexy. It was hard to believe they could've improvised that number right on the spot, but when we asked Nels about it later, he laughed out loud at the idea that they had rehearsed any of it.

(At this point, I should apologize for not noting Nels's guitars. It's not my milieu, though I realize that I can tell you that Nels took a guitar only so many times. I'll try harder next time.)

Song 4: Jon returned to the piano, while Nels went back to the electric guitar. This song reminded me of the piano noodling with which Jon often opens his solo shows. Overall, it was a melancholy, understated, abstract number that wouldn't be out of place on Jon's soundtracks. Again, Jon dominated, but one of Nels's strengths is that he knows when to pour it on and when to hold back. For this one, he did the latter--to astonishing effect.

If you've seen Jon live, you know that he often hums or sings to himself to track the song, often while he's moving between instruments during a song build. He did much of this throughout the show with Nels, and it made me wonder if it's his way of thinking aloud, though it's probably a mere hint of what else he has cooking in his brain.

Song 5: Jon started off with the drums, then put down some harmonica, establishing what sounded like a simpler version of the "Tusk" beat. Nels contributed spacey sounds on one of his lap steels. My notes say "slide but not slide sounding"--I wish I knew what I meant by that. Later on, Nels once again took the drums, and Jon went to the keyboards, playing with the knobs to produce heavy distortion.

Throughout the night, I had been surprised by how little Jon and Nels watched each other's playing. I've seen them peering studiously for musical cues from their compatriots on other occasions and would've guessed that there'd be more visual communication, but that wasn't the case here. Paul pointed out that it may have been due to the improvisational nature of the night; there are simply no set cues to hit, after all. I mention this because it was a stark contrast to what happened when Nels took the drums; he barely took his eyes off Jon, even as Jon was lost in his newly hatched melodies.

turkish banjoSong 6: For this one, Nels brandished a Turkish banjo and a screwdriver, which he seemed to use almost like a reverse capo, sliding the screwdriver under the strings instead of on top of them. In contrast, Jon manned a relatively ho-hum 12-string acoustic. I have no notes on this one--I may have been too busy trying to figure out what the hell Nels was doing to pick up the pen. I have a feeling it was a fairly folksy outing, though.

Song 7: They closed the main set with a big, freaking, anthemic rocker. Jon took care of the drums, then strapped on the guitar; Again, Nels took the black-and-white 12-string that I love so much--its sounds have made me smile many times over the last year and a half. From early on, I got a Byrds-like vibe from this one and heard strains of "Eight Miles High." Along with the big hugs and mutual admiration doled out between Nels and Jon, it was a great way to end the main set.

Encore: Nels seemed surprised to come out for an encore, believing that they had already played so much. Even the Nels Cline Singers, for example, rarely play more than 60 minutes per set, and he and Jon had already given us a good 80 minutes or so. But they still had something in them, and we wanted to hear it.

bouzoukiJon took a beautifully detailed bouzouki, an oval-shaped guitar-like instrument with 8 strings, while Nels had a small acoustic. They both used slides for the opening passage but changed up as the song progressed. Jon moved to playing percussion on anything within reach: the bouzouki, the keyboard, the mics. Nels took out the spring/coil again, then brought a pink hockey-puck-like device to his mouth to record some sounds. He later told us what it was for, but I can't remember now, other than he usually used it for the guitar--but not so tonight. Nels was full of surprises on this song. Later in the number, he played his acoustic almost like a harp, plucking and sliding as he pleased. And in case the drums hadn't revealed enough of his musical scope, he took to chanting as well. Jon joined in, though in a lovely touch, he decided to do a complementary harmony to Nels's vocals. Somewhere in between, Jon grinned and nodded (in admiration? respect?) at Nels. And thus ended the set.

The show was recorded, as will be their December 8 set, for possible future release. I for one welcome such a document and can't wait for the next gathering of these two musical giants.

See also:
» i'll be back again
» it's been a while
» Nels nights
» top 5 Largo memories

Sunday, October 30, 2005

top 5 Largo memories

Believe it or not, I have a life apart from Largo, but it's not particularly blogworthy. Also, I'm trying to up my Google ranking. Thanks for checking back, folks.

Before this year, my Largo attendance record was somewhat spotty. Cut me some slack--San Francisco isn't that close to Los Angeles, especially when you work regular hours, Monday through Friday. I think my previous record for most Largo shows in a year was five. This year has blown that number out of the water, and I count my lucky stars that my friends are willing to put up with me just so that they can enjoy good music.

This recent run has inspired me to put together a small list. This is not meant to be inclusive; there are too many memories of silly singalongs, granted requests, star cameos, and inspired musicianship to include here. Also, in the grand scheme of things, I've barely been to Largo at all, but I like to think I've had some good times. Without further ado:

5. Jon Brion playing a Halloween set in a skeleton suit (October 31, 2003): It was around this time that Jon was doing his "songbook" Thursdays in addition to his regular Friday gigs in alleged preparation for his tour.


Wow, that felt good, but let's return to the story. Back then, I had different rules about rock tourism (most of which have now gone out the window), and I recognized the opportunity to see two Jon Brion shows in one trip to the southland. So I caught his Thursday night show with the Section and darkened Largo's doorstep the next night for Jon's regular set.

The opener was Kennedy doing a pretty funny imitation of Jon, followed by the man himself. When he hit the stage, he wore his usual clothes, but during the extended opener of Halloween-themed songs, he started stripping, finally revealing--no, not his birthday suit--but a full-length skeleton costume underneath. He proceeded to play the rest of the set with the costume, oversize skeleton hands and all. My cousin claims this remains one of her favorites of the shows she's seen.

That night was unusual, for a couple of reasons. First off, Jon did only one set. As I recall, he claimed that it was all this "bag of bones" could be expected to do. Also, it was the only time I've ever been seen Largo not full on a Friday night. Later, as we drove down Santa Monica Boulevard and saw the Halloween revelers, it became obvious why.

eels, Souljacker4. E and Mary Lynn Rajskub chasing an adorable dog through club.
This is where my memory gets fuzzy. In late 1999 and early 2000, Lina and I saw a couple of Jon Brion gigs where members of the eels showed up. I think at one, Butch was the opener, and for his "act," he read selections from the British edition of Penthouse Forum (or was it Penthouse Letters?). For both, E opened, previewing songs from the then-unreleased Daisies of the Galaxy.

It was at one of these shows that during Jon's set, a big, fluffy, white puppy ran through the audience, trailed closely by E and Mary Lynn. I'm pretty sure the same dog is one of the cover stars of the eels' Souljacker. In retrospect, I probably should've been disturbed that the dog was anywhere near the kitchen, but as I remind everyone, you don't come to Largo for the food.

3. Kanye West joins Jon Brion onstage (March 18, 2005). Largo owes part of its legendary status to the stories of luminaries showing up just for the hell of it, but let's face it--most of the people who hit the stage aren't exactly household names and are certainly not MTV regulars. Kanye West, however, doesn't fit the Largo mold. Even now, when I try to tell the uninitiated about Largo, most of them don't have any idea of how amazing the place is until I mention Kanye.

I wrote up a fuller account when this happened, but my appreciation of that night has only grown since the original date. I admit that Kanye's guest appearance in September was cooler (complete with Jon Brion throwing a Rocafella diamond!), but back in March, all we knew was that a certified Grammy-winning, platinum-selling artist was on the Largo stage. It took a little while to put the pieces together, but thankfully, Late Registration hints at the awesomeness of that night.

2. Neil Finn (February 20, 2004)! My previous blog pretty much says it all. I still pinch myself at the memory. Eeeeeeeee!!!

Drum roll, please....

1. Grant Lee Phillips, Jon Brion, and Robyn Hitchcock making up songs about pigeons (Summer 1999). You know it has to be a good night that keeps a Neil Finn surprise appearance off the top of the list! I'm pretty sure that at this point, I was going to Largo explicitly for Grant's shows and was not yet a Jon Brion acolyte, though I was already familiar with his talents and his knack for dropping in on friends. I also recall that I had just seen Robyn at the Fillmore on the combined tour with the Flaming Lips, Sebadoh, and Sonic Boom, among others earlier that week, and I guess that the tour was in LA that week, thus offering him a chance to join his musical friends.

I can't even begin to remember the full hijinks of the evening, but deeply ingrained in my temporal lobe is the vision of Grant, Jon, and Robyn crammed on the Largo stage, taking requests and making up songs about pigeons. My favorite title of the night: "Take Me Home, Country Pigeon." There was a tune about the dearly departed species, the passenger pigeon, as well.

I think this was my first true taste of the beauty and inspired lunacy of Largo. Even now, with about three dozen trips to Largo under my belt, I don't think I've seen such a musical spectacle. Sure, Grant's solo shows were great, and seeing him play with Jon opened my eyes to a certain extent, but with Robyn Hitchcock, they took it to at least two more new levels. Everyone always says Jon's shows are impossible to describe until you've seen one; on that note, there's simply no way I can try to capture the memories of that evening. I'm just going to have to leave it at that. And I haven't even touched on the Eyes Wide Shut parody that opened the evening.

So there you have it, folks. Here's to many more. Won't you join me?

See also:
» i won't be denied
» i can teach you, but i have to charge
» get a load of the lengths I go to
» unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon

Sunday, October 23, 2005

please share my umbrella

In a surprise move, Largo rang me three weeks after I had placed my original call to let me know that I had a table for four for October 21. Fortunately, Heidi's schedule is flexible enough to allow for these adventures, and that's how we found ourselves back in Hollywood, rejoined by Evonne and accompanied by Glen, a guy we met in line. They made for great company on a truly remarkable night. Find a warm, soft blanket and a hot toddy 'cos I have another epic.

Jon Brion, Largo, October 21, 2005: Jon came out about 10 minutes earlier than usual and explained that the traffic on Barham Boulevard had made him miss soundcheck, so we would have to endure the process with him. Anyone who's been to Largo enough times know that this is a common enough preface for his shows, but his actions bore out the veracity of his excuse. As always, he started on the piano, then the celeste before his first real song, "Same Mistakes." When he seemed satisfied with the piano, he moved to the guitar, which required a little more care. He instructed Scott in the soundbooth to take over while he tuned (or something), and Scott complied by turning on a somewhat cheesy beat, soon thereafter incorporated into "Lock My Heart." So with two instruments down, he moved to the drums to create his first song build of the night, the delightful "Girl I Knew." After "I'm on a Roll with You," he asked for requests, then chose "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall," which somehow morphed into "Moonlight Sonata," the Peanuts theme, "Smoke on the Water," and a ragtime stomp. Oh yeah, the celeste, the vocoder, and a spacey synth theme also popped up. By this time, there was no doubt that we were out of soundcheck mode.

Up next was "No Excuse to Cry," and I still haven't figured out if it's an original Jon Brion song or a cover. All clues welcome! "I Was Happy with You" is indisputably a Jon composition. After the smokey standard "Everything Happens to Me," he turned to his own "Stop the World." On other occasions, this song has been a straightforward piano ballad, but tonight, he turned it into haunting psychedelia, complete with "Strawberry Fields"-like tape shifts and doppler effects; it was easily the best version I've ever heard of the song.

Back to the requests, he played "Baby You're a Rich Man," asking for crowd participation, which we were happy to lend. Halfway through the song, I noticed a figure crouching next to Heidi and realized it was Grant Lee Phillips, who jumped right in to join the vocals shortly after we spotted him. He and Jon bantered in their usual goofy way that I miss sometimes, and Grant stayed for a few more songs at Jon's insistence. They even did my request for "Mockingbirds." I have a feeling I've heard them do that song together back when I went to Largo for Grant's shows, but it's certainly been a long enough break that it sounded new again.

Jon finished the first set without Grant but with a song that he and Grant have cowritten, "Trial and Error," followed by a request for the Stones, though he made the decision to do so in the manner of Les Paul. I'm Stones-illiterate and can't tell you what he played, and Heidi couldn't name any songs either; however, the Les Paul influence shone through.

The second set came to a low-key start. Jon and various other people had been hanging out onstage in the dim light, perusing the instruments for about 10 minutes or so before Jon called the crowd to attention. Tonight's supergroup consisted of the incomparable Benmont Tench on piano, Ethan Johns on drums, and Jerry Donahue--a hero of his, according to Jon--on guitar. Jon also explained that he had met Jerry about 10 minutes earlier, and it was obvious that Jerry wasn't used to the Largo environment. But especially on the second song, "You Win Again," he turned in a masterful solo, and the rest of the gang was more than happy to hand him the well-deserved spotlight.

Jon turned to Benmont for ideas on songs to do, and I could hear only a mention of Graham Gouldman. Jon settled on a nylon-string acoustic, and they did both "Bus Stop" and "For Your Love." Jon made a small request for us to sing along, and the crowd was happy to do so, with the mood holding for the rest of this part of the set. For various reasons, I'm not so thrilled by "Don't Fear the Reaper" these days, but Benmont turned the ending coda into a tour de force of piano styles. I love Jon on piano, but Benmont crafts it into something altogether different, knowing when to pile it on and when to hold back. His mastery is palpable. From that jumping-off point, Jon tried to think of other nylon-string classics, then hit a couple of Rod Argent originals. Though I doubt nylon strings have ever been associated with the song, "Won't Get Fooled Again" become a honky-tonk rave. Next, Jon turned to his big book of lyrics for the crowd- and band-pleasing "Tell Me Something Good," but no one needed it for "Ain't No Sunshine."

Big hugs followed as Benmont and Ethan left the stage to make way for Jon's so-called crap. There were no bells and whistles for "Trouble," "Here We Go," or "Knock Yourself Out," but they don't need them. Jon ended the night with a bang-up version of "I Believe She's Lying," stretched out to incorporate more spacey synths, skronky guitar, mad-dash harmonica, and a shouty coda that reintroduced "The Girl I Knew."

I say this just about every time, but this show felt different to me. Maybe it was the company, but the energy levels never dipped, and the enjoyment on both sides of the stage couldn't be beat. I don't go to Largo for the potential of amazing guests, but I have to admit that when they show up--especially old regulars such as Grant, Benmont, and Ethan--the vibe changes completely. For a lot of us, it's the closest we'll come to being a fly on the wall during those landmark sessions that pass into lore years down the line. But best of all, both Evonne and Glen were bowled over by their first real Jon Brion experience. You can talk about history all you want, but in the end, it's about friends old and new, and I'll never get tired of being part of that sense of wonder and amazement. We'll be back in November.

Finally, the setlist (with help from Heidi):
--piano noodling
--Same Mistakes [piano]
--Lock My Heart [elecric guitar]
--Girl I Knew [song build]
--I'm on a Roll with You [piano + harmonica]
--99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall in the manner of (among others) Moonlight Sonata, the Linus and Lucy Peanuts theme, Joplinesque ragtime, Smoke on the Water, and I'm pretty sure Swan Lake [piano, celeste, synth, vocoder]
--Excuse to Cry [acoustic guitar]
--I Was Happy with You [song build]
--Everything Happens to Me [piano]
--Baby You're a Rich Man* [piano]
--Blue Jay Way*
--"You better run/You better run to the city of"*
--Bang a Gong*
--Trial and Error
--"Stones as Les Paul"

--My Baby Left Me**
--You Win Again**
--Bus Stop***
--For Your Love***
--Don't Fear the Reaper/piano segue extravaganza, including Carol of the Bells and Classical Gas***
--I'll Be Back***
--This Will Be Our Year***
--Whenever You're Ready***
--Won't Get Fooled Again***
--Tell Me Something Good***
--Ain't No Sunshine***
--Here We Go
--Knock Yourself Out
--I Believe She's Lying

* = with Grant Lee Phillips
** = with Jerry Donahue, Benmont Tench, and Ethan Johns
*** = with Benmont Tench and Ethan Johns

See also:
» let your heart be light
» can't really spell it out
» get a load of the lengths I go to

Saturday, October 22, 2005

sha sha

I'm back from Los Angeles to see you know who doing you know what at you know where. The report will follow as soon as I can translate the notes I scribbled by candlelight on cocktail napkins. In the meantime, here's a shortish one to glance over.

The Night Porter, The Hemlock Tavern, October 19, 2005: Maudie and I fetched Heidi from SFO and came right back into town to catch a benefit show by Carla Bozulich's band. The proceeds from this gig were earmarked for Quintron, Miss Pussycat, and their Spellcaster Lodge in New Orleans. We knew little of the artists but were glad to check out Carla's band again. I hadn't seen them since a weeklong Wilco run back in November 2004, so I was curious to check out their progress since then.

Obviously, a headlining slot is different from an opening slot. For one thing, there's the size of the venue and the audience. But in addition, the band had spent nearly another year with each other and with the songs. Tunes that sounded more like sketches last year seemed a lot more polished now, and the band also had a palpable chemistry. I recognized a few songs from the earlier shows, and this time, I could even hear the words. "Sha Sha" (if that's the correct name) was the highlight of the set: a dreamy, meditative piece with soft harmonies and subtle instrumentation. But the band was also capable of screeching, howling roof-raisers. While Carla was tuning for the nonencore encore, Shahzad tormented her with a couple of U2 songs, but he still seems like a cool guy. And alas, thus are the economics for a new band that they had to drive back to LA that night in a van with a broken CD player.

The openers certainly deserve noting. The first was Anni Rossi, who had a beautiful voice that reminded me a bit of Emiliana Torrini. She played the violin, though defintely not in the typical classical fashion, and her songs had an off-kilter though ultimately melodic feel to them. She had come from LA with the Night Porter and accompanied the band on one song that I believe they referred to as "Nuevo Depresso."

The middle act was a one-man band called the Militant Children's Hour. He used a small drum kit and an electric guitar and dressed in a woman's jumper, '80s-style plastic sunglasses with a grid pattern on them, and plastic wrap encasing his head. His vocals were distorted so that he sounded like an evil Transformers robot. Every single song pretty much sounded the same--like a much more primitive Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, say--but we've felt compelled to talk about him to everyone we know, so he's definitely succeeded on that level.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

i want something that's warm and honest

Bob Mould Band, The Fillmore, October 14, 2005: Ahhh, just what I needed this week--a show from one of my favorite musicians ever. Bob played here earlier this year during the Noise Pop festival, but I couldn't make it that night--the first of his local shows I've missed in maybe 10 years. I wasn't exactly happy with my decision at the time, but when I heard that he had a new rock album in the works, my regret doubled. As it happens, I love Bob's new one, Body of Song, but regardless, there was no way I was going to miss him when he came back.

Bob Mould Band, The Fillmore, October 14, 2005I got to the Fillmore a little after doors opened, and on the way in, I noticed the little stickers the staff wore said "Bob rocks," along with the usual info--perhaps a faithful Bob fan had gotten access to the printer. Inside, it was very empty. There were a couple of diehards at the front of the stage and a decent amount of people wandering around, but the Fillmore staff had set up tables on the floor, a sure sign that it would not be a capacity show. I don't recall a sold-out or even near-capacity Bob show in town for a long time, but I thought for sure there'd be a better turnout this time.

Bob solo vs. Bob in a band are two very different things, but both are incredibly intense. We got Bob in full throttle, starting off with three Sugar songs before touching anything from the new record. As the media has reported, Bob has been playing songs from throughout his career, including--as everyone wants to hear--Husker Du. Bob didn't say much, but he poured all his energy into the songs and even did his trademark heavy-footed pacing of the stage. I somehow ended up directly in front of Bob, so I got to watch all his guitar moves (if only I knew what they meant).

"Hardly Getting Over It" was positively epic, thanks in no small part to Brendan Canty, though the song itself is pretty much a scorcher to begin with. The electric, balls-out version of "See a Little Light" was a huge treat, and of the new songs, "Circles" and "High Fidelity" are probably my favorites for vastly different reasons. Richard Morel was a very cool presence on keyboard, and Jason Narducy was way cute (tee hee). It was great to hear all those harmonies again, which Bob obviously can't do when he's on his own. They did the usual three short encores, and I started to head out after I saw the roadie unplugging various instruments, but I guess the crowd managed to convince them to come out for the true finale, "Man on the Moon." I have vivid memories of a very happy crowd at Bob's last show with a band at the Fillmore (1999?) when "Man on the Moon" closed the night. It wasn't quite the collective scene this time, but it was still a delight. Most importantly, Bob looked so happy and so appreciative.

Bob Mould Band, The Fillmore, October 14, 2005I can't conclude this review without touching on two subjects: the crowd and the opening band. Firstly, the crowd: unsuprisingly, there were a lot of older people and a lot of guys at the show. The drunk 40something dude behind us was a one-man mosh pit for a while, which was horribly annoying on its own. He managed to get others to join him, but the spectacle still looked very silly to me, especially when I noticed that the same guy was using the opportunity to cop a feel off the women nearby. Hmph. I noticed another dude but for a different reason. He was much younger, and--shocker of shockers!--he could dance, and I wondered if he was an old-school Bob fan or if he had discovered Bob in this later phase of his career.

Finally: the opening band, Shiny Toy Guns. They turned out to have taken a huge page from '80s bands, even going so far as to cover Depeche Mode's "Stripped" as the penultimate song. From the get go, they reminded me a lot of Information Society, and they definitely aped the hair and the clothes of the time. They were fun to watch and had huge stores of energy, but the music was definitely not my bag. It was funny to watch Bob's more predictable audience--the somber men--looking on without interest. I think there were a lot of confused Bob fans for that hour.