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.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

smarty pants

I didn't get the call from Largo. But I'm going anyway.

Scott Amendola Band, Yoshi's, October 5, 2005: I'm in over my head, out of my element, whatever other cliche you want to throw at me. I'm a pop girl at heart touching upon other genres because of the presence and contributions of certain musicians.

I've seen Scott Amendola with the Nels Cline Singers, of course, as well as with Carla Bozulich's band for a striking version of "Masters of War" at the Fillmore last year. With the Singers, he's an amazing player, and I was curious to see how he and Nels might flip the frontman role in their eponymous bands. Lucky for me, Maudie and Trish wanted to investigate as well.

The Scott Amendola Band included John Shifflett on bass and Jenny Scheinman on violin, as well as the two aforementioned fellows. My only point of reference for Scott's music is his work with the Singers, and from the outset, this seemed to be a notably different affair. Sure, there were long, abstract passages marked by Nels's frenetic guitar licks, but overall, the music was much more melodic. Jenny matched Nels note for note on many sections, and they exchanged visual cues throughout the night. If there were an equivalent of a lead singer, it would've been the violin. Every time she played a longer passage, the violin seemed to control the stage; even Nels's guitar took a backseat to it. Also, Nels played a surprisingly prominent role in the group--not as much as he does with the Singers, but he counted off transitions within many of the songs. Scott himself got only one drum solo, though this is ostensibly his band. Highlights of the performance were a Mahalia Jackson song, as well as the penultimate tune, featuring Nels on lap steel, backed by a sexy, subtle beat.

In the last year, I've had many chances to see Nels in a variety of capacities: the Nels Cline Singers, Banyan, and now the Scott Amendola Band, not to mention Wilco. If I were a better music fan, I might have picked up some knowledge over the course, but in my singlemindedness, the biggest lesson I've learned is that Nels is the coolest cat ever. You really have to see how he handles the different levels of leadership and contribution, depending on the band. And in the process, he always retains his own style. I'm even more determined to make it to Largo on November 3, come hell or high water.

See also:
» i'll be back again
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 1)
» Nels night