Monday, January 23, 2006

that ain't working, that's the way you do it

I may have been hasty in determining my top 10 gigs of 2005; upon further consideration, my estimation of the last Jon Brion show of the year seems conservative. In the current light, it stands out as one of the more unpredictable performances of the last year. Damn my tidiness!

But I can say with conviction that the December precedent has irrevocably damaged my barometer for what may be considered an unreasonable measure to get to a Jon Brion show. It's been less than a month since my last visit to Largo, but it might as well have been 10 years. Of course, my anticipation may have everything to do with the fact that Heidi and Kande would be making the trip out. All I know is that January 20 couldn't come any sooner.

Jon Brion, Largo, January 20, 2006: Zach Galifiniakis did the intro, imitating "L.A.'s worst roommate." Combing his unkempt head of hair with a grill brush, he berated his pretend roomies for not treating pilot season with the necessary gravity, then exhorted them to drive him to Burbank for auditions for a Gilmore Girls spin-off. Did I lose you? Good, now you'll just have to hear him for yourself.

Jon bounded onstage in swell spirits. He took his usual place at the piano, but as soon as he picked up the small hammer, I knew we were in for the old treatment of "Same Thing"--the one where he crafts the rhythm by banging the piano's back panel. This song may have my favorite Jon Brion outro, and I love hearing him apply different techniques to those familiar chords.

For the next song, he picked up the black-and-white Gretsch and turned up the distortion for an instrumental that completely passed me by until Heidi informed me it was a very abstract "Mr. Tambourine Man." He stayed on guitar for "Why Do You Do This to Yourself" but built "I Was Happy with You" from all instruments. The harmonica graced "Someone Else's Problem" but not "Trial and Error." In lieu of Grant Lee Phillips's physical presence, Jon invoked him in spirit with "Walking Through Walls."

Jon then asked for requests and, after hearing a flurry of names and titles, refined his search by asking for a style of music. With his mind set, he promised us a "combination that's needed to happen for a while." It turned out to be Pink Floyd in the style of AC/DC, not unlike the version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" from last month. He kept up the screeching vocals for a good three verses or so but, perhaps for his own good, concluded the song in his normal register.

After the cavalcade of applause subsided, Jon doled out some more weird guitar noises and distortion, accompanied by keyboard improv and a touch of a couple of mouth instruments, only one of which was a harmonica. I'm not sure what the other was, except that it looked like an egg timer, and he twisted it for sound effects. This eventually sifted down to the piano, his own sampled ethereal backing vocals, and the celeste, all coalescing in the form of "Stop Your Sobbing."

On solo piano, Jon honored a request for "Meaningless," which I haven't heard in a while. It was over to the acoustic for "Love of My Life So Far" and, with the addition of a harmonica, "Knock Yourself Out." He built "The Girl I Knew" and followed up with a call for requests. Someone repeated their request for "Be My Baby" produced by Eno, but Jon shot that one down, claiming that in a way, he's been "produced by Eno--internally." But the Dylan request hit the spot, and after narrowing the field of possibilities, he settled on "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" done in the style of early '50s Les Paul; his finger-picking was especially divine.

The second set kicked off with a song build of "I'm Further On" that turned out to be more of a spectacle than normal. With the guitars not staying in tune, Jon seemed intent on punishing them for their disobedience. Following a scorching bridge, he broke all strings on one of his main guitars until it was relegated to a prop hanging off his body while he sang over the looped tracks and made imploring gestures with his hands. Even the black-and-white Gretsch did him no good, so he went back to the piano family for frenzied playing that saw him setting his head on the keyboard a couple of times as well as nearly careening off his seat while trying to pound out the notes. A harmonica and the black-and-white Gretsch showed up briefly again, to be followed by a distorted mandolin, and ending with the red hollow-body Gretsch. Whew!

The comparatively tamer "I'm on a Roll with You" and "Do Re Mi" came next on the piano, as well as a request for "Ruin My Day." For the last, he launched directly into the lyrics and skipped the divine intro. Instead, he switched the emphasis to the outro, unaccompanied by vocals or harmonies of any sort. The next song is a mystery to me, but it was a plaintive, somber number on solo piano, and it sounded like a cover. I jotted down some lyrics if anyone wants to take a stab at them:
I've been feeling out of joint--you get the point
You've been feeling out of sorts from most reports
There's a little bit of you in all I do
There's a little bit of me in all you see

Though Jon asked for requests, the audience's suggestions were superceded by a computerized voice on the PA calling and stretching out Jon's name. He commented that it was either Max Headroom or Fatboy Slim, but it didn't matter as its tastes were impeccable. The entity asked Jon to do XTC, a band I've long wanted to hear him tackle. Without a moment's hesitation, he jumped on the drums for a rollicking "Making Plans for Nigel."

During the break, we had spied Matt Chamberlain in the room, along with Sarah Watkins from Nickel Creek, but that didn't take away our delight at hearing Jon invite Matt to the stage. As he made his way to the spotlight, Matt noodled with the guitar hanging on Jon's body. You can't really do that on a Friday night at Largo and not expect to be called out; essentially, Matt brought it on himself, as Jon left Matt with the guitar while he headed for the drums. Such was his enthusiasm that Jon promptly broke one of the drumsticks while pounding away. As for Matt--well, let's just say that Nels Cline is better on drums than Matt is on guitar, but for that same reason, Matt may win the award for Best Sport. He played with various pedals and took on Jon, beat for beat, for a stretch. They went from fast and rocking to a slower jam, and Jon eventually took up the keyboards, the piano, and the celeste, while Matt finally reached the drums, though he kept the guitar lead in hand and applied it to the cymbals. Jon sampled and looped his moaning vocals, and emerging from the musical wilderness, they hit upon a song: "Within You, Without You."

For their second song, they churned out a heavy, fuzz-drenched version of "You Don't Know What Love Is." But song three was the favorite of the night among our little group. A couple of voices (not ours) shouted out their requests, and against all odds, they killed both birds with one stone, in the form of "Money for Nothing"--as done by Tom fucking Waits. Yeah yeah, Jon's Tom Waits treatment is all over the Web these days, but Jon and Matt actually slowed down the song so that it barely resembled the original Dire Straits tune. The crawling, off-kilter beat was infinitely more Waits than Knopfler, I assure you.

Next, the two of them kicked off a Les Paul-like passage, which somehow became Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused." As they piled on the rawk, we saw Matt reaching for Jon's mandolin. We were unable to imagine what he could possibly do with that funny instrument, but there was no way we could've prepared for the denouement: a seamless merge into "Goody Two Shoes"--the second Adam Ant cover I've heard at Largo.

I think the audience was at least as tickled as the performers, but Jon didn't stop there. He invited Phil Hurley, late of the Gigolo Aunts, onstage. Phil took the guitar, then exchanged introductions with Matt. Jon also asked Gabe Wicher to join them, ostensibly for his "dulcet tones." After some conferencing, they started in on the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Sin City," though it took a couple of passes before they got the right key. Phil was certainly enjoying every minute, though Gabe looked a little timid. Matt has his game face on and didn't take his eyes off Jon for most of the number. In all, it was a sloppy and fun--just the way we like it.

Jon let Phil start the next song, instructing him to go forth in any style he pleased, be it rock, calypso, or a sound "until now, unknown to man." Phil kicked off with a heavy bluesy riff, while Jon added tons of key work on the synths, the piano, and the celeste. He also playfully admonished Phil for starting a song that no one knew the words to--though that's hardly been an obstacle in the past. From there, Jon turned it into a trademark medley/mash-up, encompassing "Fame," "Break on Through," and "Tequila," to name just three. Then on what turned out to be the final song of the night, Jon took on "Paper Moon." He even coaxed a fiddle solo from Gabe, who hadn't quite stepped up to the others' level so far that night, but he did himself proud on that last one.

Finally, Jon informed us that it was the end of the night, though no one could accuse them of going gently. Amid our groans, he challenged us to "call bullshit--on the law." He was right, of course. Besides, my face might've broken if I spent another second grinning.

set 1
Zach Galifianakis opener
piano warm-up
Same Thing [piano]
Hey Mr. Tambourine Man [gtr]
Why Do You Do This to Yourself [gtr]
I Was Happy with You [song build]
Someone Else's Problem [piano + harmonica]
Trial and Error [piano]
Walking Through Walls [song build]
Comfortably Numb * [song build]
Stop Your Sobbing [piano, keyboards, celeste]
Meaningless [piano]
Love of My Life So Far [acoustic gtr]
Knock Yourself Out [gtr + harmonica]
The Girl I Knew [song build]
Don't Think Twice It's Alright ** [gtr]

set 2
I'm Further On [song build]
I'm on a Roll With You [piano]
Do Re Mi [piano + celeste]
Ruin My Day [piano]
mystery song [piano]
Making Plans for Nigel [song build]
with Matt Chamberlain
Within You, Without You
You Don't Know What Love Is
Money for Nothing ***
Dazed and Confused/Goody Two Shoes
with Matt Chamberlain, Phil Hurley, and Gabe Wicher
Sin City
???/Fame/Break on Through/Tequila
Paper Moon

* = in the style of AC/DC
** = in the style of early '50s Les Paul
*** = in the style of Tom Waits

See also:
» top 5 Largo memories
» top 10 concerts of 2005
» the Book of Brion 2 has landed
» get a load of the lengths i go to

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