Saturday, May 14, 2005

owner of this corner and not much more

It's been a relatively quiet time for me after the Coachella-related string of shows, but I have one middling report to file and another that I'm practically dying to get to. Hopefully, I can do the former justice and perhaps show some restraint with the latter.

Trashcan Sinatras, Slim's, May 11, 2005: Last year, the Trashcan Sinatras toured the west coast for the first time in ages and finally gave me the chance to see them in concert, 10 years after Cuong and I glued our ears to my little Aiwa boombox and the Cake CD, trying to slice through the Scots brogue to transcribe the lyrics to "Only Tongue Can Tell." I got to see them last October in what turned out to be one of the biggest inadvertent concert/music buddies reunions I've ever attended. There they were: a number of people I knew through other music subcultures, and it turned out we all dug TCS as well. And I felt that we were representative of the crowd: older but still enthusiastic about music and more than willing to support the bands we love. It was a fun show, and I was really excited to hear the old tunes, as well as the new ones that were still unfamiliar to me.

Cuong saw them in December at their acoustic gig and loved it, and here it was, May 2005, and we were seeing them again. Again, I unexpectedly ran into old friends, and everything looked to be going along just as expected. But between the opener and the headliners, we noticed an argument breaking out near the front of the stage, in the middle of the floor. Two people were cussing at each other, and we didn't know why, though we learned it had something to do with some people trying to cut in at the front. Hmmmmm. Fortunately, we were just out of their periphery and weren't affected much.

We kept an eye on the spot, and it wasn't long before we noticed that more irregularities were transpiring. One of the latecomers was obviously drunk and swaying and flailing his arms to the tunes. I was worried because he had a pint glass in his hands, and I didn't want it to slip or spill too much. Hell, I don't mind an enthusiastic audience, but it was a little distracting. Later, we also heard the crash of glass in his area, and they were the culprits. (No one was hurt.) This pretty much kept up for the rest of the show, along with really graphic making out. By the encore, a pit had opened up around the couple, as no one wanted to be in touching distance. A security person came by to warn him, but I guess there weren't grounds to eject him or anything of the sort. In the meantime, Krista and I had been scooting farther left, while Cuong had taken off entirely. After the show, we found out he had left because the girl behind him had been grabbing his ass. Huh--the big guy had been intimidated by a little girl??? Yes, it was an odd night.

As for the music itself, I like TCS, and I'm happy to see them taking in decent crowds. Again, they didn't do "Only Tongue Can Tell," but "Obscurity Knocks" feels almost as good. I hope they can keep it up, and I'll most likely be back to see them.

Jon Brion, Largo, May 13, 2005: I don't even know why I bother trying to obscure my JB fixation. I guess it's called denial. But as it happened, my cousin Annie was graduating that day, and I figured we could squeeze in a Largo show after the myriad planned activities. And it was a very good day too. I got a little choked up during the big ceremony, Neil Armstrong was a cool speaker, I was so proud of Annie and of my aunt and uncle, and there were a lot of good vibes in the air. I couldn't believe that Annie, with all her claims of me being "hardcore," was still on her feet after 12 hours of activities, but she was willing to humor me and book it to Largo after our delicious celebratory dinner in Chinatown with the family. And I guess Luong had been properly warned because she wasn't flagging too much either.

I started taking Annie to Largo ever since her first year at USC, and she's been really great at humoring my visits. I know she says she likes Jon's music, but considering how many of my friends don't seem to have the stomach for Largo nights anymore, it's incredibly refreshing that she and her friends are willing to give it a try and to--gasp!--sometimes really dig it. It seemed appropriate that we'd be back on her last day as a student.

We had Derek Hughes for a very brief opening set that night. He was a magician and had a double bill scheduled with the Watkins family that coming Monday. He was a funny guy, though his magic was a little suspect. Long story short, he performed a trick with a deck of cards, and for the pay-off, he pulled the card in question out between his butt cheeks. I'd say that you have to see it for yourself, but depending on your predilections, maybe you want to take my word for it. Jon later made a comment about how Derek's trick was a metaphor for how artists often feel like they're pulling it out of their ass, but you know, Derek's trick, whatever it was, seemed too graphic to qualify as a metaphor of any sort, if you ask me.

Jon came out at 10:30, looking a bit shaggy and laid-back--not his often jaunty self. He immediately explained that he was in a slight food coma and needed to play some "food coma music" until the "caffeine overload" kicked in; we would know it when it happened. So he started out with a lovely piano interlude, and when that was out of his system, he greeted the crowd again and thanked us for coming that evening. Unsurprisingly, his first "real" song of the night was "Same Thing," this time on the piano and the toy piano, sans percussion. I love that song, and it's obvious that he does too, as I can't even tell you how many times I've seen him open with it.

Sometimes certain themes evolve from the night, and this time, he was heavily favoring his black-and-white Gretsch. For the next song, he built up "I Was Happy with You" and ended it with a generous helping of feedback. Next was "It Looks Like You" from the Evan Dando album, then "That's Just What You Are" from Aimee Mann's Whatever. The latter also featured tons of crunchy, heavy guitar and a feedback-drenced outro. From there, he switched to the piano for "Trouble" and "Same Mistakes." At this point, I was wondering if the emphasis on his own material and songs that he had cowritten indicated that he was polishing off his own oeuvre in preparation for his alleged tour or residency or whatever he wants to call it. A girl can dream and speculate and add 2 and 2 to get 5...

He went back into a song build for a tune with these lines: "I'm going to be fine/No thanks to you/I'm further along/No thanks to you." Google has been absolutely no help in sniffing out these lyrics, so I'm gonna guess it's a new song. The lyrics seem to be in line with his post-breakup tunes. If anyone has info to the contrary, I'd love to hear it.

At this point, Jon claimed to want to hear "pseudo-Croatian backwoods guitar film music" and went to the drums for a song build. The beat certainly seemed to support his words. He returned to the Gretsch to lay down the bass, then the lead guitar. I was lost at this point, but Annie figured out what he was doing: "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac. This is totally funny for a number of reasons. First off, we had heard "Tusk" at the USC commencement ceremony this morning, and it was a favorite at the school's football games. Also, at a show I had dragged Annie to a couple of years earlier, Jon had attempted the entirety of Tusk for his second set, and this had bored Annie immensely (OK, she was tired too). But hey, a couple of years later, and it was all coming back round. It was so apt. And it wasn't even the only weird coincidence of the night.

Next, he polished off the Everly Brothers' "Walk Right Back," his own "You're the Love of My Life So Far," Billie Holiday's "She Must Have That Man," and from Meaningless, "Dead to the World," which started off with Vangelis-style chords and ended on the toy piano. He concluded the first set with "Walking Through Walls" with a touch of "For Your Love" thrown in but brought back to the original song. It was about midnight at that point, and he promised to be back for another set.

Set 2 started around 12:30, and Jon immediately asked for requests. I wanted to hear Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" and yelled it out at the first opportunity, though to no avail. However, I had a huge grin on my face when he started off with "Me and the Bean," though he apologized for stringing together "2.5 verses from four different points in the song." Again, this brought me back to the aforementioned Tusk night, as I had dragged Annie to Largo after we caught the Spoon show at the El Rey, two years ago. That night, Jon had said something about how it was too bad that everyone there was missing Spoon and I shouted back that it was OK, the show had just ended. D'oh! And yes, I realize that Jon Brion fans probably have somewhat similar tastes in music, but I got a little frisson of recognition that he was into one of my favorite bands who, though they may be "breaking out" with the new album, aren't exactly household names right now.

"Running Up That Hill" came up second, then an instrumental version of "Four Seasons in One Day." He honored the Cheap Trick request with "Auf Wiedersehen" and took Zach Galafianakis's suggestion of "Stay" by the Blue Nile. (I only know it was Zach because he sat right behind us.) The requests rolled in, and Jon commented that he was going to have to call off the experiment when he heard "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "My Way" among the shouts. But he did both. OK, he did only one line of the former, but he did the Chairman with the vocoder.

Jon said he had a "devilish" idea, and after Sammy pulled off his own brand of magic, Jon launched into a Dylanesque treatment of what eventually became "We Are the Champions," with "My Way" tacked on to the end. Not one to ignore the current cultural landmarks, he tried on the Star Wars cantina theme, then went into a jazzy tour de force. Annie claimed to have played it before, but she didn't know what it was. I overheard someone at the table next to us attributing the song to Duke Ellington, and that makes sense to me. For the last song, Jon went back to the Gretsch, on which he broke a string but continued to play for a while. As he had earlier that evening, he coaxed tons of distortion, this time by scraping the instrument against the ceiling beam above the Largo stage. He was so into it that his pants were literally falling down, revealing a good two inches of his red and white-striped boxer shorts. Then again, anyone who's seen him at Largo has most likely witnessed his trancelike states. What's with some (decent) exposure when you're getting those kind of tones? ;)

The setlist, as best as I can tell:

--piano interlude ("food coma music")
--Same Thing (toy piano)
--I Was Happy with You (song build)
--It Looks Like You (from the Evan Dando's Baby I'm Bored)
--That's Just What You Are (from Aimee Mann's Whatever)
--Trouble (piano)
--Same Mistakes (piano)
--new song? (song build; sample lyrics: "I'm going to be fine/No thanks to you/I'm further along/No thanks to you")
--Tusk (Fleetwood Mac)
--Walk Right Back (Everly Brothers)
--You're the Love of My Life So Far (acoustic guitar)
--She Must Have That Man (Billie Holiday; piano)
--Dead to the World (Vangelis chords + toy piano ending)
--Walking Through Walls/For Your Love/Walking Through Walls (song build; lots of vocoder and synthesized percussion)

--Me and the Bean (Spoon!)
--Running Up that Hill (Kate Bush)
--Four Seasons in One Day (Crowded House; piano instrumental)
--Auf Wiedersehen (Cheap Trick)
--Stay (Blue Nile)
--Total Eclipse of the Heart/My Way
--We Are the Champions/My Way (done in the style of Dylan)
--Star Wars cantina theme
--jazzy tour de force (someone near us said it was Duke Ellington)
--Porpoise Song? (Monkees)

See also:
» top 5 Largo memories
» get a load of the lengths I go to

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