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.

Setlist
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

2 comments:

El Famous said...

I didn't even know you had one of these things going...thank you for allowing me to vicariously go to 5 bazillion shows via one half hour of reading. Hope all is well. Peace!

bbop said...

Ah, memories. Ah, life.

Seriously, I can't stop listening to Amateur right now.