Monday, August 29, 2005

unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour

The VMAs are on, and Eric Roberts is promising that the next chapter in R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" saga is about to be revealed. That's a sure sign I should stop watching TV and post my very longwinded Largo report (it's getting worse and worse, isn't it?):

Jon Brion, Largo, August 26, 2005: Brianne and Gina chose to wrap up their California tour with a night at Largo, so who am I to refuse? Or in this case, invite myself to join their reservation? Setlist first, report following:

set 1
--Jaws theme/disjointed piano music/ragtime stomp/delicate toy piano stuff
--I'm on a Roll with You (piano and harmonica)
--Walking Through Walls (song build; with Grant Lee Phillips)/Sunny Afternoon/Walking Through Walls
--Ruin My Day (piano)
--You're the Love of My Life So Far (acoustic guitar)
--Same Thing (acoustic guitar)
--Tusk (song build)
--The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get/One Step Ahead (song build)
--More Than a Feeling/Norwegian Wood/Let's Get It On/Harry Nilsson?/Stairway to Heaven/many others
--Ant Music/metal songs/I Want Candy

set 2
with Fiona Apple
--Extraordinary Machine
--After You've Gone
--Fast As You Can
--I'm Beginning to See the Light
with Robyn Hitchcock
--If I Only Had a Brain
--You Remind Me of You
--new song? ("Luckiness in love/Lucky as it strikes you/Lucky in your veins")
--new song? ("Walk into the room/And the music hits you/You live in a ballon")
--Nietzsche's Way
with Grant Lee Phillips
--"there's no easy come easy go"
--Wave of Mutilation
--Knock Yourself Out
waiting for Sarah and Sean Watkins
--White Lines/Another One Bites the Dust/Star Wars cantina theme
with Sarah and Sean
--She's Got You
--She Belongs to Me
just Jon
--Bugs Bunny chase theme/In the Mood/Peter Gunn/Godfather/The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly/Someone to Watch Over Me/Mission Impossible

Before the show even began, we saw Sam Jones at the bar, though sadly, no members of Wilco were with him this time. Shortly after, at 10:30, Flanagan took the mic and introduced the man of the night with some rambling about his new album coming out on Tuesday and how they were shipping only 2 million copies and how we should really buy it. Jon asked how it became his album, but we all knew he was referring to the new Kanye West record. Between Late Registration and the long-awaited official release of Extraordinary Machine, the Google alerts have been burning up my in-box. It's a good time to be a Jon Brion appreciator.

Jon started off with his usual piano noodling, opening with the Jaws theme but quickly moving into completely foreign and diverse territory. At most, I recognize half of what he does. This time, I truly had no idea, but that doesn't mean a whole lot, considering the huge holes in my musical knowledge. Sufficiently warmed up, he launched into a string of his own songs. Little did we know it would be pretty much the only original material he did that night. As a bonus, during "Walking Through Walls," we saw a mysterious figure quickly crawl (on his hands and knees, no less) to the stage. Our questions were soon answered when we saw the splendid Grant Lee Phillips pop up on piano and backing vocals. Hey, he's half responsible for the song and is certainly entitled to a cameo. He disappeared just as quickly as he had shown up, moving Jon to comment that it's a good night when Grant Lee appears out of the blue. (Of course, it helps that Grant's show was scheduled for Largo the following night.) The scene reminded me of my first shows at Largo, where I went to see him, but that Jon Brion guy would show up every time and do cool stuff.

After "Love of My Life So Far," he continued on acoustic guitar with a long intro that sounded vaguely out of tune to me. It turned out to be the old chestnut "Same Thing" instead, once again reinterpreted. It was notable in that I've never seen Jon on only acoustic guitar before. Instead, he usually tackles it as a song build or on piano, using the strings for the rhythm tracks.

At this point, I can't remember if he explicitly asked for suggestions or if it came from an unsolicited heckler, but someone yelled out, "Drums!" That brought on what sounded like "Tusk" to me. He next asked for requests, which brought on "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer You Get." He launched into it with no hesitation, though he noted that he was playing it with the "One Step Ahead" rhythm. Together, the two songs represent, like, half of my teenage years, but I had never noticed the resemblance before. Anyway, he treated them as a medley, transitioning between them a couple of times. Hell, I happen to love that Morrissey album, but god knows I haven't listened to it in a while and can barely remember the lyrics. If Jon suffers the same amnesia, you wouldn't know it from the way he jumps into a tune, without abandon.

The requests continued, with shout-outs to Journey, for example, which prompted Jon to remind us to be careful what we ask for, as he would play Journey until the cows come home. Instead, we got a long medley, and my favorite was "Norwegian Wood" on what I believe is the celeste, though I've often referred to it as the toy piano (you would too if you've seen it), with a transition to "Let's Get It On." Thankfully, Jon didn't really attempt the vocal--you know there's no comparison to Marvin--but he did a bunch of the yelps, and there are few songs that instantly capture and move an audience better than that one. During the long version, wouldn't you know it, of "Stairway to Heaven," Jon joked about getting Brad Mehldau to cover it. There were many others, but I can't tell you what they were.

Still on the request tip, Jon stood patiently onstage and waited for the right song to jump out at him among the onslaught of voices so that he could conclude the first set. This went on for a while with no resolution--until a computerized voice over the PA requested Van Halen. Jon thanked Max Headroom for the request and honored it. I don't know anything about '80s metal, so I can't say if he did any actual Van Halen songs. All I know is that he commented that it would be Van Halen in the style of Adam Ant, as they both came from the '80s. I recognized "Ant Music" and "I Want Candy," as well as some Eddie-style licks in the guitar maelstrom, but my speculation ends there.

The second set started out with an appearance by Fiona Apple--I believe her fourth in as many weeks. Tons of speculation are flying around the long-delayed release of Extraordinary Machine and Jon's diminished or at least mediated contribution to the record, but onstage, they seemed to be as buddy-buddy as ever. Jon took the acoustic guitar and chipped in with backing vocals on a couple of songs, but on the whole, he stayed in the background and let Fiona sing her heart out.

Next up, Jon scrounged up all his psychokinetic powers to summon Robyn Hitchcock. (During the break, we had recognized him among the luminaries hanging out by the kitchen. It shouldn't have been a surprise, given that the Largo answering machine had confirmed that he would be Grant's special guest the next night.) Robyn was his usual surreal self, rambling about who knows what. He and Jon were reportedly working on Robyn's album last year, and Robyn referred to it a few times. Most notably, he requested that the two of them perform the song that Jon had played radiator on, but Jon demurred that he had played radiator on many songs. I think Robyn did at least two new songs, but again, I'm totally guessing.

Grant, my old favorite, returned to the stage for a song I didn't recognize, followed by the Pixies cover. Along the way, he also confessed his love of Rock Star INXS, complete with a great imitation of the dialogue from the show. He tried to get Jon to step in, but Jon kept saying that he was only following and that he had checked his brains at the door. Finally, Grant requested that Jon do one of his own songs, which brought "Knock Yourself Out" to light.

Just when we thought that we had already seen a full parade of stars, Jon invited up Sarah and Sean Watkins from Nickel Creek. Sarah wasn't prepared and had to run back to the car to get her violin--odd, considering she had been hanging out all night. Jon filled the interim with a request for "White Lines," seguing into "Another One Bites the Dust," and finally the cantina theme from Star Wars.

Sarah returned and after some negotiation, they all did a song called "She's Got You." Sean took the next, a Dylan cover, and that was it from them.

As a roar of requests flew at him, Jon closed the night with a song build of what sounded like (to these ignorant ears) the chase theme from Bugs Bunny cartoons, followed by a long medley of a million movie themes done in the style of Dick Dale. I noted as many as I could, but I can already tell you I missed a multitude. I wonder if it's an allusion to his work on the next Paul Thomas Anderson movie, but I may be thinking too linearly. Whatever the case, I got a huge kick of hearing the theme from The Godfather done as a surf anthem.

It was 2am, and another night at Largo had come to an end. I'll have to survive September without my fix, but October awaits. I can barely contain myself.

See also:
» top 5 Largo memories
» let your heart be light
» get a load of the lengths I go to

Saturday, August 27, 2005

salvation holdout central

New Pornographers, Amoeba, August 24, 2005: So-called supergroups are always a crapshoot, aren't they? The commingling of talent is no guarantee that the resulting group will be any good; it could be some horribly indulgent affair of yes men, devoid of the tension that makes many great bands. On the other hand, it could be awesome, and you may grow really attached to them, with no guarantee that they'll ever surface again.

New Pornographers, Amoeba, August 24, 2005The New Pornographers are sometimes referred to as a supergroup, though you'd be hard-pressed to find many people who've heard of the various bands that comprise the group. But with their growing popularity, the NPs seem to be in the process of becoming a more regular gig, good news for us power-pop lovers. Even better, they came to town on their promo tour, coinciding with the release of Twin Cinema, the new album, and I made it over to Amoeba in time for the show.

Carl solicited requests for their public soundcheck, starting with "The Laws Have Changed." Unfortunately, I can't remember the second song they did. After leaving the stage for a short break, they were officially announced, then reemerged onstage.

I know a lot of people are complaining that Neko Case isn't on this tour, but as much as I dig her, this isn't her baby--it's Carl's vehicle, and his songs make up most of their albums. I have no problem with Carl's niece (?) stepping up to the plate. She doesn't have Neko's distinctive vocals, but she chips in on keyboard and tambourine. Her voice is sweet and clear. I suppose my ears have yet to really be able to judge her. Until I see them on the proper tour, I won't get to hear how she handles the more female-lead-heavy tracks, but for now, she filled in nicely.

True to form, the band had a goofy energy onstage, again asking for requests, then batting a few of them down, as well as admitting they were still trying to remember some of their songs. At some point, the band started debating where to find the best burrito in San Francisco (deja vu--didn't the Decemberists have similar banter?). They had some technical difficulties with a buzzing amp, and Carl broke a string on one of his guitars but maintained that he was rock enough to play a number of songs on only two strings. They took some catty pot shots at Green Day, but I like those kind of fighting words. Overall, I think they did about six songs, mostly from the new album, as well as a couple of older ones, including "Jackie" from the first album and "Slow Descent into Alcoholism," which would've been my request.

To tell you the truth, I can't say the sound was great; I was too close to the stage, and Amoeba isn't exactly set up for great shows, at least not while waves of humanity are shopping in the background. But based on the sight of the masses streaming out after the show, I'd say they drew an impressive crowd. I'm looking forward to their gigs here next month.

See also:
» listening for too long to one song

Sunday, August 21, 2005

worn-out wood and familiar songs

Although I should be up to my eyeballs in work right now, for whatever reason, I've been able to get away from the office at a decent time. I just hope my luck holds out until next Wednesday for the New Pornographers in-store at Amoeba. But at least I made it to the Jay Farrar gig, and the report follows.

Jay Farrar, Borders, August 19, 2005: For whatever reason, Jay did only three cities on his little acoustic tour, and San Francisco was one of them. The timing was perfect: it was after work, and Border's is a short stroll from the office, so I had no excuse.

Jim and I found seats, and his wife joined us not long after. She had brought some homemade chevre for Jay, along with some other stuff. As I had tried the same chevre the day before, I could testify that it was quite a treat.

Jay Farrar, Borders, August 19, 2005By the time Jay took the small stage, a good crowd had turned out--I would say maybe 100 people or so? Maybe less but it was a proud showing just the same. With two acoustic guitars and a few harmonicas, he did six songs, I believe, including two oldies, but most of them were from the new album. He was much more talkative than usual, and the love certainly flowed from the audience, who laughed at his jokes and applauded following the big hits. He told us to be safe, in reference to another appearance he had made at a bookstore when a whole shelf had fallen during his performance. The only bummer was that the sound kept dropping in and out. From where we were sitting, he sounded great, and I'd venture to say that he didn't need any amplification at all, but I guess maybe it wouldn't have been so fun for the people standing in the back.

I have to admit that this was the first time I've ever seen Jay in any live setting. It took me a while to get into his voice, but I love it now, and I dig his songs too. Of course, it doesn't compare to my thing for that other guy's band, but that's beside the point; they share a history, but they are their own creatures. And on that count, Jay has his own muse, and he delivers beautifully. I'm still not sure if we're going to make it to the Son Volt show next month, but I'll try my hardest to check out the full band.

Oh, we got a cool lithograph with purchase of the album. I already own the new Son Volt, but I bought another one anyway so that I could give Trish the signed litho. I hope she likes it!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

you're my favorite faith healer

I'm like 99% done moving! And I have high-speed Internet at home! And I got a new laptop! Woot! More on that later, let's file the concert report first.

Aimee Mann, the Fillmore, August 12, 2005Aimee Mann, the Fillmore, August 12, 2005: Over the course of the last couple of years, I've come to love Aimee Mann. I think she's one of the best lyricists working today, and she consistently crafts great albums, not just individual songs. I'd be lying if I said that my Jon Brion thing hasn't contributed to my appreciation, but I look forward to Aimee's releases, regardless of whose name shows up in the liner notes. It also helps that she's playing the Fillmore again, after favoring venues such as the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. It's pretty much a no-brainer when she's in town.

Kathleen Edwards opened, and she was quite lovely. Her voice was really pretty, and she (like most people who play the Fillmore) seemed suitably honored to be gracing the stage of the hallowed hall. She was joined by a guy on an electric guitar, while she stuck with the acoustic; he also contributed harmonies. Unfortunately, I can't remember his name, but they seemed to be a good fit. She's very much a singer/songwriter, with the acoustic guitar, the sensitive songs, and the stories, but I've always enjoyed them more than, say, flash-in-the-pan ingenues.

Aimee used to say that she was horrible at stage banter, but the times I've seen her, she's always managed to keep us entertained. Granted, I've never followed her from show to show, so I don't know how her conversations with the audience vary, but for a one-shot deal, she conveyed great enthusiasm and enjoyment to the crowd.

Tonight, Aimee was in a great mood: chatting up the crowd, showing off her new tattoo, and raving about some kickboxing gym she found in the Mission. I thought the tattoo might be fake at first, but you could tell that her skin was raised from the needle injecting the ink. It was an image of an anchor, a tribute to her sailor father, she said.

She did the new album The Forgotten Arm pretty much in sequential order, narrating the story of the two lovers and their doomed relationship along the way. She sprinkled in a bunch of her oldies but goodies, such as numerous selections from the blockbuster Magnolia years, but she always returned to the story of the boxer and his girl and their highs and lows.

I thought she chose a fine selection from her back catalog, including "Save Me," "Sugarcoated," "One," "It's Not," and "Humpty Dumpty." I think the band did two encores in all. The first was noted on the setlist, but for the second, they took requests from the audience and, in the case of "Pavlov's Bell," Kathleen Edwards. Someone requested "The Scientist," but fortunately, no one in the band knew the song, and Aimee could barely remember it. Fortunately, she kept her promise to close with "Deathly," still my favorite of her songs.

Then there was the crowd. Fortunately, Trish joined me this evening, but not before two women who obviously did not see a lot of shows had "befriended" me and talked my ear off. They were nice enough, but they were getting progressively drunker and talking loudly through much of the opening and Aimee's set. They finally left about halfway through Aimee's set, though they claimed to be such a big fan of hers.

On the other side of the stage, there was some guy jumping up and down and waving frantically throughout the beginning of the show. Maybe a third of the way into her set, Aimee said something to him, and he calmed down a little. Neither of them took away from my enjoyment of the show--which was great, in so many ways--but they were somewhat distracting at first.

Way too late, I checked Aimee's Web site and saw that she played two more shows in the Bay Area: a free gig at Amoeba and something at the Robert Mondavi Center in Sonoma. You know, I was in Amoeba just last week and saw Aimee's album with an "in-store" sticker, but I didn't see any other notice of her appearance. As for Mondavi, I probably could've made it today, though it would've been a stretch to squeeze it in among today's activities. Grrrr, I gotta try harder.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

we get older every year

But you don't change
Or I don't notice you're changing

Teenage Fanclub, Bimbo's, August 5, 2005: For me, there are certain bands whose shows become mini reunions. Of course, Wilco is the ne plus ultra example, but in fact, I love plenty of other bands and even have a longer history, if you will, with them. Teenage Fanclub is one such group. I've loved them forever, and I look forward to seeing them at every opportunity I can. Even better, so many friends from over the years come out for the shows that it's a huge treat to catch up with them too.

I was kinda bummed that the band wasn't doing two nights, but considering it's been four years since they last came to San Francisco, I wasn't about to hold that against them. Bimbo's seemed pretty filled by the time the Fannies took the stage, and the crowd up at the front was incredibly enthusiastic--just the right mix. We were spared the drunken Scots countrymen trying to start a mosh pit, but at the same time, we got plenty of crowd interaction. I especially liked the spontaneous Gerald Love appreciation portion of the evening. Raymond had let his hair grow quite a bit, Francis looked exactly like Nick Arrojo from What Not to Wear, the new keyboardist could've come straight out of Grandaddy (or the Grandaddy audience), George was as lovely as ever, and Norman was his usual boyish, silly self.

I realize that the Fannies aren't exactly known for surprises, so I won't try to push that angle. At the same time, they're not playing, say, the winery circuit, nor have they taken any number of more nostalgia-ridden tracks that may be open to them. Instead, their set comprised about 20 songs, filling almost exactly two hours and two encores with a strong helping from the new album and most of the older tracks you'd want to hear. The many, many requests for "Alcoholiday" went unanswered, but hell, they did all the great ones from Grand Prix--enough said, really. We went nuts for just about every song, heralding them as the shoulda-been hits that they are, and I loved singing along to all of them. I live for all the little harmonies (the "wooo"s in "Speed of Light," for example), and you could hear the crowd singing along to "Everything Flows." I don't care how others define success; isn't this what music is really all about?

I haven't really been into the new one much, but I either read a review or heard someone say on the air that there are post-rock touches on the album, probably influenced by the Soma Studios recording environment. Again, I wouldn't say the band has taken a great leap forward, but for some reason, that helps me digest the understatedness of the tracks. I'll have to give it many more tries, though the Fannies are so deeply ensconced in my heart that I don't really care at this point. I'm just so freaking glad the Fannies have an American record label again. I hope Merge is a good fit and that they continue to come to the States for years down the road. God knows many of us will be happy to welcome them back to American shores.

The Rosebuds, also on Merge, opened, and they were quite good. A lot of their songs reminded me of college rock from when I first started listening to college rock (early to mid-1980s), showing signs of very early REM. Also, the singer's voice brought to mind Lloyd Cole, but that could be just me. Overall, it was a great night, and I left the gig with a huge smile on my face.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

'til I'm blue in the face

sad iPodMy iPod is back in the shop, except I think it's a real goner this time. It was showing some bad signs last week. I could hear the hard drive pushing itself to update, and in the end, it did the same thing as last time: go to the beginning of a song, then skip to it immediately to go to the next one, then skip it again, and so on. Finally, I got the sad Mac icon, and according to the Apple service report, a replacement has been ordered. Why me??? I know people who've had iPods for years without problems. Argh, I miss my uPod so. Its absence also means that I haven't been able to listen to the Jon Brion shows at Tonic on a daily basis during my commute to and from work every day.

To counter that, I'd like to post an MP3 of Jon doing "That's Just What You Are," from the only Bay Area appearance I've ever caught of him. It was back in 2001, opening for Evan Dando. That night, for the encore, they did a bunch of songs together that would eventually show up on Evan's Baby I'm Bored. To further show off my swot tendencies, I'd like to remind you all that Jon has cowriter credit for this song, which you can find on Aimee Mann's delicious I'm With Stupid. I'm not sure why I love this version so much, but I find myself rewinding at the line, "It would kill you just to try to be a nicer guy."

Have at it: "That's Just What You Are."