Tuesday, February 28, 2006

you won't have an atom left

I almost made it to a show not related to my twin musical obsessions. Instead, I ended up selling my Supergrass ticket, Cat Power cancelled, and I hadn't intended to go to the Robert Pollard show anyway. No big whoop on any of them--I've seen them all, in one form or another, a million times. However, I managed to hit the gigs that combine my two favorite fixations. I'm nothing if not consistent (ha!).

Robyn Hitchcock, Slim's, February 27, 2006Robyn Hitchcock and the Minus 5, Slim's, February 27, 2006: Robyn Hitchcock and the Minus 5 are, of course, very loose affairs at best; the latter consists of whichever musical pals Scott McCaughey can coerce into recording and/or going on the road with him, and the former is often a subset of the latter.

I finally saw the Minus 5 with and without Wilco a few years ago and was won over. Ahhh, that pajama-clad show at Cafe du Nord, my career-threatening injury at the Abbey Pub, and the ensuing 15 seconds of fame at the Bowery Ballroom--what's not to love? There's also the matter of their not coming around often, so you take what you can.

For this tour, they served as the openers and as Robyn's backing band. It's a seemingly unusual arrangement, but Scott and friends know the drill. On their tours with the Young Fresh Fellows and Tuatara, for example, the difference between the openers and the headliners amounted to a few swapped instruments and little else.

As openers, the Minus 5 played a longer set than the usual warm-up act, though they skipped a few songs on the setlist. Scott took lead guitar and vocal duties, John Ramberg and Peter Buck (on guitar and bass, respectively) re-inked their contracts, and Bill Rieflin manned the drums. Gone was Ken Stringfellow; Jim tells me he's with the reformed Big Star these days, but the band dedicated "A Thousand Years Away" to him anyway.

I gotta say: Peter Buck looked hot (sorry, Sooz!). His hair is shorter, he's lost some weight, and he sported some bling (two small gold hoop earrings). He seemed kinda louche on the bass, at times crouching on the floor, at other times contorting himself into Karate Kid-worthy shapes. Julie speculated that he's been doing yoga, but I detected hints of posturing.

Compared to the shambolic gigs I've seen previously, the Minus 5 managed to keep it together admirably. Scott didn't bear his usual fifth of Maker's Mark, though he had a glass of some doctored cocktail/elixir to treat his throat, and Peter drank mere tumblers of red wine, as opposed to taking swigs straight from the bottle; then again, they still had half a show to get through.

They played a lot of songs from the new album, as well as older tunes. I think all their songs should be hits and could listen to them delve deeper into the catalog, but that'll be another show. Scott namechecked Jeff Tweedy during the show for not being around to do his guitar solo on "With a Gun"; he also mentioned the Amoeba story. Personally, I missed Jeff's vocals on "The Town That Lost Its Groove Supply."

For someone who's not exactly a Robyn Hitchcock fan, I've seen him a lot, usually in association with someone that I really dig, such as the Flaming Lips, Grant Lee Phillips, and Jon Brion, to name three. In contrast, the crowd at Slim's was definitely there for Robyn. As usual, he wore an atrocious shirt (though it doesn't hold a candle to Jon Brion's jacket). He started off by himself on acoustic guitar, covering a Syd Barrett song. After a few more solo numbers, the Minus 5 (sans John Ramberg) joined him onstage. This time, Scott took the bass, and Peter grabbed the lead guitar.

Peter Buck, Slim's, February 27, 2006I can't compare Peter's performance to that other gig he's kinda known for, but to my ears, he sounded fantastic, churning out the jangly, melodic notes that made so many people fall in love with a certain band from Athens, Georgia, in the first place. My friend Joe mentioned what a treat it was to hear Peter cut loose, especially on the 12-string, and Jim said he was surprised that Robyn turned over so much of the lead guitar duties to Peter. My admittedly underinformed impression of Robyn's body of work is that he writes quirky, folksy songs, but with Peter on guitar, the tunes had a lot more teeth than I expected and could even pass for pop songs--in a perfect world.

They ended the set with the crowd pleasers: a cover of "Eight Miles High" and the Soft Boys' "I Wanna Destroy You." And when we thought that they had packed up, they invaded the stage once again for a final cover and a true Minus 5 moment. Scott took the lead guitar and vocals, Peter sat rather awkwardly on drums, Bill took bass guitar, John came back to the fold, and Robyn sang and flapped his arms around.

One down, one more to go. I can't wait.

See also:
» unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon
» top 5 Largo memories

Monday, February 20, 2006

three-god night

I'm in the throes of some serious PCD (postconcert depression), though I have three shows scheduled for this week. I miss my minivan something awful, but perhaps a little blogging will take the blues away.

Nels Cline and Jon Brion, Largo, February 18, 2006: Three is the American ritual number; we tell jokes with three parts, and we order everything in three sizes. It's the smallest number to constitute a majority. Two points make up a line, but three points indicate a path or a trajectory--usually. But when you're talking about two improvisational geniuses, three is just another wild and woolly night.

Jon and Nels's first show together was a learning exercise for everyone in the room, perhaps most notably for the two men onstage, whereas the second show saw more of Jon's presence. Only a fool would try to call this one ahead of time.

Nels Cline and Jon Brion, Largo, February 18, 2006Once inside Largo, we noticed a small array of stuffed animals strewn across the pedals and amps at the front of the stage. This meant only one thing: Bobb Bruno would open the show! At 10pm, the man in the bunny outfit made his way to the stage and played a 15-minute set. Unlike at the first Nels and Jon gig, this set wasn't confined to electronic drum noises. He also played against backing guitar tracks, some of which were very beautiful. At the end of Bobb's set, we watched another adorable scene unfold as Sami cradled the menagerie in his arms to take them offstage.

Before either man picked up an instrument, Jon came clean with Nels's fears that they wouldn't be able to satisfy a roomful of people out on a Saturday night and warned of their intentions to "drain [their] subconscious." He offered refunds, but not a soul moved to the door. Frankly, if the crowd weren't already scared off by Jon's visual violation of a jacket, they had already navigated the biggest trial of the night. Fortunately, sporting a black long-sleeved knit shirt and vintage blue sharkskin pants, Nels held down the other side of the stage with his inimitable elegance.

Song 1: We expected a meandering warm-up session, but we had no idea that it would stretch out to an hour of free-form improv--though I doubt that Nels and Jon did either. There's no way to understand what happened onstage without seeing it yourself, but I'm just the dork to attempt an explanation.

Jon started on the piano, celeste, and Casio, while Nels grabbed his trusty Jazzmaster for an avante intro. The two echoed each other's notes for a spooky, spacey sound. My notes tell me it was reminiscent of the Twilight Zone theme. This became something prettier and more pensive until, still matching each other note for note, they sped up to an almost frenetic pace.

Changing up, Nels reached for a smaller black-and-white guitar while Jon stayed on the piano. Jon played sparer notes, and Nels added a psychedelic spin. Jon switched to the drum set, though he didn't go with the usual instrumentation. Instead, he grabbed a very large tambourine with one hand and beat directly on the skins with the other; the resulting beat reminded me of Led Zeppelin. Once Jon was satisfied with the loops, he went back to the piano and Casio, playing in a trancelike state.

Nels reintroduced the Jazzmaster for fast, reverb-inflected notes that he set up on a loop. Jon did the same on the piano, though at this point he favored sparser, simpler notes. While Nels ran a spring over his guitar strings, Jon picked up a guitar to contribute liquid, languid bass. By then, Nels had looped enough guitar to create a wall of white noise in the background, which freed up his hands for a touch of haunting, crystalline sounds, at points coming across almost like a siren.

Nels jumped over to the drums to carve out a steady, building beat while Jon remained on guitar and ran through a handful of styles. Most notable to me was the heavy, crunchy treatment that brought to mind the Stooges. With Nels still on drums, Jon turned back to the piano-based instruments as well as the crotales (his newest toys onstage) for a jazzy, spacey sound. Nels returned to the Fender and his pedals, and I could almost hear a theremin at points.

Nels turned it up for a fast, New Wave-like sound, to which Jon added drums. Jon quickly went back to guitar, and in perhaps my favorite sight of the night, the two of them stood at the front of the stage, playing off each other. Nels yelled encouragement at Jon, and Jon went to town with a heavy but melodic solo reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine. From there, Jon switched to bass, while Nels took his soloing turn, crafting finer notes than Jon. This section was very pretty and melodic and almost poppy, even with the distortion pedals at work. While Nels brought out the spring again, Jon squeezed the strings on his guitar--the members of Sonic Youth would've been proud. This gave way to Jon playing Mike Watt-worthy bass notes while Nels made his guitar squeal with delight.

Taking a 180-degree turn, Nels introduced haunting, Western-style guitar. At the piano, Jon sampled his own background vocals, manipulated them beyond recognition, and added the vocoder. Meanwhile, Nels reached for his lap steel and the pink hockey puck he uses for sampling vocals. Squatting on the floor and bent over his guitar, he breathed a wordless chant into the sampler. (Later, we found out that Nels inflicted a 10-inch rip up his inseam while attempting this move.) What a tableau: the two of them flanking opposite sides of the stage but doing the exact same thing.

Jon took it a step further, turning the vocoder mic inside the piano to sample the sound of hammers hitting the backing. Nels did his part by playing a series of hard, single chords à la "Hard Day's Night," except abstract. With the addition of crotales, Jon made it almost a pop song. He also contributed bursts of harmonica, as well as the kazoo-like thing that resembles an egg timer (really). Nels brought out a new guitar: a shiny red 12-string. If I knew what I was talking about, I might propose it's a cross between Dylan and Aaron Copland (that must be the most pretentious thing I've ever typed).

When the two finally surfaced for air, they looked a little exhausted and rather surprised at the applause. Jon's promise of Grand Funk Railroad covers for the rest of the night aside, we were ready for more.

Song 2: There are few visions more enthralling than a phalanx of guitars and guitarists; lacking such numbers, a couple of deities will do nicely. Jon grabbed a weathered acoustic guitar, while Nels donned his Fender. They started with somber minor chords, and as the song progressed, Jon hummed in parts, and I heard hints of early Elliott Smith, especially "Between the Bars." Though the tempo of the song increased, its character remained the same. If these sessions ever see the light of day, I hope that song makes it to the final release.

Song 3: At Jon's beckoning, Matt Chamberlain joined the group. Jon made the briefest of introductions ("Matt, Nels. Nels, Matt."), called it a "rehearsal," then told us that the group would be breaking up in 15 minutes.

I believe Matt started off the song, while Nels took the electric guitar, and Jon manned the bass. Early on, it was clear that Nels would lead this number, which began with a heavy, sleazy, slow, epic feel--it was great. Jon seemed happy to sit on the piano bench, play bass, watch Nels, and grin contentedly. Nels eventually sped up the pace so that it was almost like an old punk song. Not long after, Jon literally threw away his guitar pick and turned to the piano and the Casio keyboard.

At this point, Nels tried another tack, and his guitar sang out with soaring, inspirational tones. Jon again added crotales and the celeste, further lightening the mood, and Nels matched the notes. In response, Jon came in with harmonica, and together, they nearly churned out a pop song. They took this song through a jazzier treatment, most notably in Matt's changing rhythm backing and Jon's piano work, though Nels didn't shirk his duties either. Jon briefly took out the hammer to bang a bit against the piano, but it was a short diversion, as he soon jumped back on guitar.

Together again, Jon and Nels brought the rawk. Between a few yells and grunts, Nels laid on the heavy distortion, and the two traded rounds of feedback before tempering the sonic attack and bringing it back to delicate, finer notes. Nels took the lead again, while Jon sprinkled in a few squeaky notes. By this point, they had firmly established a bossa nova beat. At the very end, Jon returned to the piano for a finishing of subtle notes. He dubbed it "Bossa Nova #47," but that in no way accounts for the other 46 parts.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2006

there was no way of knowing

The skies opened up over Los Angeles this weekend, and it was indeed beautiful, especially in the womblike environs of a table at Largo. For a change, I'm not going to try to justify being here two weekends in a row--the report follows.

Jon Brion, Largo, February 17, 2006: Jon started out at the piano and celeste for a piece that reminded me in part of the back-and-forth rhythm of "Drive In" from the Eternal Sunshine soundtrack. Jon called it "Muso Ramblings #1," and though it certainly wasn't a finished composition, it was very pretty. Adding a harmonica, he prefaced the next song by explaining it was about "anyone who's worn out their welcome with you," and we got "Someone Else's Problem Now."

For the first song build of the night, he gave us "The Girl I Knew," and from our prime vantage point, I could see Jon running his hand backward over the piano keys and the hammers bouncing up in accordance; witnessing the musical cue and the visual flourish together tickles me to the core. If I were more knowledgeable about how music is played, I could tell you what happened at the end of the song, but all I know is that Jon tacked on a guitar outro that was more melodic and less grandstanding than usual.

Staying on the electric guitar, Jon did "Why Do You Do This to Yourself," which I suspect is a warm-up song for him as he feels his way through the beginning of a show. Back at the piano and celeste and adding some spacey looping, he did "Strings That Tie to You," then asked for requests. He granted us "Stop in the Name of Love" because he liked the squeaky tone of the voice in the darkness, but his version of the tune was far from your average girl group ditty--unless you're from 25th century, perhaps. He started off simply with merely a piano and the vocoder, but at one point in the song, his arms were crisscrossed in fervent activity: his right hand handling a small keyboard in front of him, his left hand reaching over to the celeste. Toward the end, he added a beat and more keyboards, resulting in a sound that resembled Phil Spector à la Vangelis.

He next built up a request for "Misty Mountain Hop," rocking out and attempting Robert Plant's vocals in parts. For a complete change of pace, he came back to the piano and celeste for "Over Our Heads." Though he wasn't asking for requests at this point, he did a few bars of "Revolving Door" (a favorite of mine too) for an audience member, and I also heard a bit of "Knock Yourself Out" on piano.

Jon was back on his feet for a song build of "Happy with You," and we saw some more variations in the guitar outro: first a bluesy version, as he sat down on the piano bench and turned off the piano loop to break it down to guitar and drums; then country/honky tonk; and finally a funk spin. Both Evonne and Paul heard hints of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," and I wouldn't argue with them.

At the end of the song, Jon mused about the wonders and delights of his job, and from my seat, I could see Flanagan holding open the stage's side door. Unbeknownst to Jon, Flanny ushered in Zach Galifianakis, who went to the piano and started noodling away, delivering his low-key zingers. Jon eventually took the drums to create a Beat-like atmosphere, and for this stretch, he was very much in the support role. At his most facetious, Zach even berated Jon to keep up with the beat, as he was falling behind. I won't repeat Zach's most dubious joke, which Jon couldn't bring himself to support either; with his brushes in midair, Jon simply dropped them theatrically to the floor, signifying to Zach that he was on his own.

Zach couldn't have been onstage for more than 10 minutes, and he left in a hail of applause. Smartly, Jon jumped right back into the music with the one-two punch of "The Way It Went" and "Here We Go," sans the Punch-Drunk intro. I have no indication of my melting during this sequence, though my hazy nondocumented recollection of the night tells me that "Here We Go" came across more aggressively than usual.

It was back to the guitar and harmonica for the real "Knock Yourself Out," then "Love of My Life So Far"; for the latter, he explained that the song might sound cynical but that it was actually optimistic. Going to the piano, he meandered through a jazzy instrumental that started out languidly and built up to a resounding crescendo. The piano break gave way to the guitar for a distorted "Everytime We Say Goodbye," then a song build of "I'm Further On." For a change, the song ended suddenly, without the drawn-out coda. And for the conclusion of the first set, he dedicated a song to Les Paul, but it wasn't a cover. Instead, we got Les's own "Lover."

Jon ran through approximately 300 years of music on the piano noodling that opened the second set. I heard snippets of "Someone to Watch Over Me," "California Dreaming," and some classical references, but that's all I can claim. He made Dance very happy when he picked up the ukulele for the old standard, "It Could Happen to You," even if interference from the cell phone in his pocket marred the ending. After his own "Same Mistakes," Jon offered "some Dylan for you," then took a request for "Amateur"--a.k.a. the greatest song ever written in my humble opinion for now. Tears sprung to my eyes as soon as I recognized the notes. But we got a very different version this time. Instead of the plaintive--though very moving--song we heard in December, Jon went for a jazzier, torchier rendition that channeled Billie Holiday's spirit without aping her style.

This would've been the highlight of the night if not for the round of requests that followed. Jon played a few bars of Dance's request for "All You Need Is Love," but nothing took hold--except for Evonne's call for Roxy Music. From the outset, he vowed only to do material up to and including Avalon, so we wouldn't get "Windswept," though "Slave to Love" was a possibility. After a few minutes of working out the logistics, Jon embarked on a seven-song sequence that included some hits as well as obscure album tracks. And as he's Jon Brion, he of course made it look like he'd been vacationing in the south of France with Bryan Ferry when the songs were written. He peeled the '80s-era production values from "More Than This" and substituted warm piano, celeste, harmonica, and a spare, primal beat for a heavenly makeover. He dedicated a discofied "Same Old Scene," with all its Brokeback-inspired implications, to Sami and made disparaging remarks about the movie along the way. Also, he batted down other requests, such as the one for Radiohead, which he called "an art rock band that came 20 years after Roxy Music."

Jon seemed determined to stay on the Roxy trail, and he turned away all kinds of requests with the comment, "That's not on Avalon." Meanwhile, about two people besides Evonne and myself were trying to feed him more Roxy requests. Finally, he gave in to the restless audience for a quick Skynyrd piano instrumental. And then he ended the night with "But Beautiful," complete with one working music box.

set 1
"Muso Ramblings #1" [piano + celeste]
Someone Else's Problem Now [piano + harmonica]
Girl I Knew [song build]
Why Do You Do This to Yourself [electric guitar]
Strings That Tie to You [piano + celeste]
Stop in the Name of Love [piano, vocoder, celeste, keyboards]
Misty Mountain Hop [song build]
Over Our Heads [piano + keyboards]
Revolving Door [celeste]
Knock Yourself Out [piano]
I Was Happy with You [song build]
Zach Galifianakis section
The Way It Went [piano]
Here We Go [piano]
My Darling Clementine [harmonica]
Knock Yourself Out [acoustic guitar + harmonica]
Love of My Life So Far [acoustic guitar + harmonica]
jazzy piano interlude
Everytime We Say Goodbye [electric guitar]
I'm Further On [song build]
Lover [electric guitar]

set 2
piano interlude
It Could Happen to You [ukulele]
Same Mistakes [piano]
I'll Keep It with Mine [piano]
Amateur [piano]
Just Another High/More Than This/When She Walks in the Room/Do the Strand/Let's Stick Together [song build]
Same Old Scene [song build]
To Turn You On [piano]
"moment of Skynyrd" [piano]
But Beautiful [piano]

See also:
» the man some girls think of as handsome
» top 10 concerts of 2005

Thursday, February 16, 2006

i don't want to leave this walking dream

Pictures probably won't come until later this weekend, but here's the last dispatch from the southland adventure:

Jeff Tweedy, Spreckles Theater, February 11, 2006: San Diego is the second largest city in California, but it's basically a tertiary market. In certain ways, it's a far cry from Los Angeles, which is probably one of the reasons so many people love it. I'm not one of those people, but it's a decent place to see a show, especially if you're already hanging out in LA and have many hours to spare.

Glenn Kotche, Spreckles Theater, February 11, 2006We met up with the McCormicks, took a quick spin downtown for dinner, then settled in at Spreckles, one of those old-fashioned theaters with a flashing marquee on the outside and regal box seats on the inside. For all its style, gravitas, and stellar acoustics, this sort of room is a killer for the kind of shows I like to see. And though I tried to keep an open mind, that's pretty much what happened. The setlist was nothing extraordinary other than "Sugar Baby," and the show felt rushed. Also, there was a big commotion over a woman talking in the audience, and the incident cowed the audience. Worst of all, the "cock" story was resurrected. Argh! I don't need another five years of people yelling that at shows and feeling unaccountably proud for doing so.

Coincidentally, the Disney Music Hall had hosted a McSweeney's evening that features John Hodgman, Patton Oswalt, and--drumroll, please--Jon fucking Brion. Unfortunately, tickets were completely sold out. Should I have tried to go there? The question will eat at me for a while.

Jeff Tweedy, Henry Fonda Theater, February 12 and 13, 2006: The location for this show was perfect. Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles was half a block down, Ocean Way required a mere turn around the corner, and Amoeba couldn't have been more than a 10-minute walk to the west. Unfortunately, the staff wasn't as accommodating, and on neither night did we make it all the way to the front (well, I managed to squeeze in with my friends Dean, Adam, and Paul the first night).

Jeff and Spencer Tweedy, Henry Fonda Theater, February 12, 2006Sunday's show saw Jeff recovering nicely from the San Diego debacle, helped along, I'm sure, by the incredibly attentive crowd. Again, the setlist was mostly predictable, but the highlight was definitely Spencer Tweedy's turn onstage for "I'm the Man Who Loves You," dedicated to "mommy." Not living in Chicago, I've never seen Spencer play with Jeff before, so it was so cool to see how good he is! Wanting to give due credit to both sons, Jeff also told a cute joke by Sammy. LA isn't known for its charm, but it was in abundance that night.

The second night was even better, for lots of reasons. From the outset, Jeff made clear his intentions to play to Susan Miller, seated in the balcony, and his song selection shaped up to be a long valentine to his wife. He joked about it to mock the guys in the audience, but the tunes spoke louder than anything else in the room. Nels opened this show, and as in San Francisco, he and Glenn joined Jeff for the encore. No one seemed to want it to end, as Jeff coaxed song after song out of them. The highlights for me were "Dash 7" with Nels on the dobro and "Blasting Fonda," which may or may have not been triggered by my request. Even better, we didn't get "Heavy Metal Drummer." But best of all, both Paul and Brianne were namechecked from the stage, though for different reasons.

Our last night in town was just about perfect. As we said good-bye to the guys, we simultaneously celebrated Heidi's birthday. Many hugs, desserts, and hours later, we were in the hotel lobby, trying desparately to head upstairs and get some sleep but barely succeeding.

Each of these adventures is different, but I always hold the West Coast dates close to my heart, as they're my chance to show off my favorite places. I think we did OK this time? ;)

See also:
» it's still beyond me
» top 10 concerts of 2005

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

the way it went, the way it's gone

First off, for Heidi: It's a Starck piano.

On Judy's first night in LA, there was no time to lose, even if the freeways didn't want to cooperate. Fortunately, a little detour was all it took to get us and Paul to our respective locations in due time.

Jon Brion, Largo, February 10, 2006: Jon didn't win a Grammy for his work on Late Registration. I believe the two categories in which he was nominated (along with Kanye, et al, of course) were won by U2 and Green Day instead. The selfish part of me is thankful that the competition for Largo spots isn't about to become more intense, but it might've been fun to see what a post-Grammy-winning set might have entailed or, rather, if it would've been any different from the typical Largo madness.

In his intro, Flanagan referred to Kanye's now infamous victory speech, where he had placed Jon after God but before his own mother. Flanagan also gave a shout-out to the "sexy Aquarians" in the house--one of whom was seated at our table. The night was already off to a grand start.

Jon seemed to be in a fine mood, poking fun at Flanagan's hair before taking his usual place at the piano. First off was "Ruin My Day," which saw a tiny alteration in phrasing that sent me and Heidi into muffled whimpers of recognition and delight. A short instrumental passage followed, but as soon as Jon reached for the hammer, I knew we were in for "Same Thing." He pounded a well-worn patch on the piano face to sample the rhythm, then ran it under the piano's hammers to create the song's familiar trill. Throughout the tune, he introduced variations on the melody and fiddled with sound effects, at one point creating what seemed like an underwater filter. The resounding outro--perhaps my favorite by him--meant that the show was officially on.

Jon built "The Girl I Knew" and tacked on a different guitar outro that sounded crunchy and distorted. The opening chords of the next song indicated it could go one of two ways. I was hopeful for Heidi, but it turned out to be "Why Do You Do This to Yourself"--still a lovely song.

Jon asked for requests, but I'm not sure any of the suggestions inspired him, as he chose to go with "Someone to Watch Over Me." I suspect that the song is going to end up on a soundtrack at some point, considering the frequency with which he's been playing it. "Trial and Error" came next, as simple as ever, and in a contrary move, Jon chose to build "I Believe She's Lying" in a different style than I've heard. For example, he created the percussive elements by sampling his own staccato whispers, as well as by beating two drumsticks together close to the microphone. He constructed a tsunami of an ending, incorporating piano, keyboards, guitar, even more drums, and different vocals ("staring into space/things are different now").

Ever mobile, Jon switched to the piano and harmonica to throw us a curveball: "I'm Further On," more often heard as a song build. Wow--what a treat to hear it at nearly its most basic. Still on the piano, Jon played a long ragtimey lilt that confirmed his affinity for the instrument and generally made us all feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. Back on the more customary track, he built up "I Was Happy with You." At one point, I saw a wave of piano hammers rise and descend like a surfer's dream. Finally, back on guitar and harmonica, Jon delivered "Knock Yourself Out."

He asked for requests again and listened to the barrage of titles. After he had taken them in, he asked Scott in the sound booth to do his magic for the desired style: 1920s recordings. On a small acoustic guitar, Jon started off with "Girlfriend in a Coma," interspersed with "Don't Fear the Reaper" and his own "Love of My Life So Far." In between verses of "Love of My Life," he added snippets of "Don't Fear the Reaper." Though short, the passages were instantly recognizable. And staying with the style, he even added a couple of Bing Crosby-worthy vocal embellishments.

Remaining on the request theme, he vehemently declared, "No!" at the Boston shout-out but played it anyway, with the vocoder and a mostly instrumental treatment. Still on the piano, he ran into "Let's Spend the Night Together." I'm always surprised when he does the Stones, though I know I shouldn't be. He next built an instrumental I didn't recognize, and for the final song of the first set, he once again went to the audience for ideas to interpret in the style of Les Paul. He glommed onto the suggestion for "Ring of Fire," and as he worked out the different layers, he commented that it was amazing the two '50s classics had never come together before. Before he left the stage, Jon urged us to think good thoughts for Les Paul, who at the time had just been hospitalized.

The second set opened with a moody piano piece and Jon's remark that "there's nothing like Monk in the morning." He immediately asked for requests and chose "Maybe I'm Amazed" done in a style that I'd never heard before and probably will never hear again. By the time he was done looping his backing vocals, you couldn't tell they started as yelps and other odd noises. He went with his own instincts for the song build of "Walking Through Walls," then took it back to the bare minimum with a song we heard last month, which I now realize is an original. Heidi and I disagree on this one, but I love it, perhaps for its simplicity and its Aimee Mann-like qualities.

Jon took on an electric guitar and warmed up with a few riffs of "20th Century Boy," leading us away from his eventual pick: "Waterloo Sunset." A request for "Tiny Bubbles" was channeled through the electric guitar and metal licks, as well as touches of Les Paul. Jon acknowledged that it was probably the first Don Ho selection he's ever done.

I live for the mischevious moments of a Largo show, such as reinterprations of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and BeeGees classics, but you never know when or if they'll happen. We got them tonight. Still asking for requests, Jon jumped on Heart's "Barracuda"--but only the outro. He did the same for the next three songs, and you could see that devilish glint in his eye. "Cinammon Girl" especially couldn't have come on a better night, and I felt a huge sense of relief in the knowledge that Judy was having a good time (whew!).

Jon asked Matt Chamberlain to join in; together, they granted a request for "more John Lennon." Jon can sing any Beatles-related song, and I'll be a happy girl. And for something completely different, Jon asked Matt to start a beat. He kicked off with an emphatic, primal beat, to which Jon added basslike keyboards. After a little while, this became "Once in a Lifetime" with piano and harmonica. In the meantime, Jon started up a '50s-era sex ed album, over which he played acoustic guitar, keyboards, and piano. Jon also invited Jeremy Stacey (whom I had seen on the Finn Brothers tour) up to the stage, and he took over for Matt. The former drummer, meanwhile, urged a "Mr. DeMarco" to come on up, and a younger, skinny guy sat down at the piano. They jammed for a while, and I vividly recall "Mr. DeMarco" playing simply gorgeous jazzy piano, but I couldn't place it. Maybe just for the hell of it, Jon added vocals for the Stones' "Miss You" to the mix.

The night wasn't quite over. As the sex ed album's preposterous contents sunk in, Jon looked around quizzically and was eventually driven to grip his forehead in disbelief. But not one to squander inspiration, he came up with a jaunty ditty speculating on the sex organs of Hitler, Goebbels, and a third Nazi I can't recall--though I suspect the general gist comes through.

Set 1
piano noodling
Ruin My Day [piano]
celeste + piano instrumental
Same Thing [piano + celeste]
Girl I Knew [song build]
Why Do You Do This to Yourself [electric guitar]
Someone to Watch Over Me [song build]
Trial and Error [piano]
I Believe She's Lying [song build]
I'm Further On [piano + harmonica]
ragtime piano
I Was Happy with You [song build]
Knock Yourself Out [guitar + harmonica]
Girlfriend in a Coma/Don't Fear the Reaper/Love of My Life So Far/Reaper/Love/Reaper ['20s style acoustic guitar]
More than a Feeling [piano + keyboards + vocoder]
Let's Spend the Night Together [piano]
unknown song [song build]
Ring of Fire [Les Paul style]

Set 2
Thelonius Monk piece [piano]
Maybe I'm Amazed [piano + keyboards + vocoder + celeste]
Walking Through Walls [song build]
new piano song [chorus: "The way it went/The way it's gone/Time was spent/Now time goes on"]
20th Century Boy [electric guitar]
Waterloo Sunset [electric guitar]
Tiny Bubbles [electric guitar]
Barracuda [outro]
Layla [outro]
Cinammon Girl [outro]
I Want You/She's So Heavy [outro]
Isolation* [piano]
Once in a Lifetime*/Miss You**
song about Nazis and testicles**

* = with Matt Chamberlain
** = with Jeremy Stacey and "Mr. DeMarco"

See also:
» top 10 concerts of 2005
» that ain't working, that's the way you do it
» let your heart be light

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

in the beginning, we closed our eyes

I'm not here too long this week, folks, but before I run off again...

Jeff Tweedy, the Fillmore, February 8 and 9, 2006: A couple of years ago, when there were some whispers of a solo tour by Jeff Tweedy, I guaranteed everyone that his next San Francisco stop would be the Fillmore now that he had far outgrown the Great American Music Hall. Then again, with Wilco's phenomenal success over the course of the last few albums, Jeff could've moved on to at least the Warfield by now, so I was grateful to see him at the relatively smaller venue.

Jeff Tweedy, the Fillmore, February 8 and 9, 2006It may sound like an oxymoron, but there are rules when it comes to going to gigs, and one of the foremost is that the last night is always the best, though there are some exceptions. The first night was certainly good, especially during the encore, when both Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche joined in, but the song selection was more customary. Yes, I realize a night where Jeff plays "Pieholden Suite," "Summerteeth," and "In a Future Age" can hardly be called ordinary, but the majority of songs wasn't too surprising. As usual, Jeff told stories and faced down hecklers. In San Francisco, the hecklers tend to be affectionate, if sometimes clueless. We can be a reverent lot, and for the most part, we stayed silent during all the important parts.

The second night saw a handful of repeats but, more notably, a ton of older songs that justified our goofy undertaking. I kept turning to my cousin Annie in amazement and telling her that she was witnessing a hell of a gig for her first solo Tweedy experience. Judy got "Lost Love" (one of my favorites as well), we were far from the only people singing along to "Someday Soon," and "Gun" is always rousing. Capping off the two-night stand with a truly unplugged "New Madrid" to a rapt crowd--and without the camera crew in the room--was the perfect ending. Our group was in wholesale agreement that we had seen one of the best shows of the tour so far. It was going to take a lot to top this one, but if it was possible, we'd find out in the next few days.

For these shows, Nels Cline opened the first night and Glenn Kotche the second. On the first night, they both joined Jeff on the encore, but it was just Glenn on the second night (Nels was on tour with Banyan, I believe). I hadn't seen Nels entirely solo before, so I was excited to hear him for myself. As usual, he surprised me yet again. As I suspected, there was some crossover in Nels's solo set and the improv nights with Jon Brion, but Nels took it a step further by singing into the hockey puck-like device, which in turn distorted and projected his voice into an eerie, airy drone. There were jagged, discordant passages, along with soaring, melodic lines, but I'm the wrong person to try to characterize them.

The affection between Jeff, Nels, and Glenn flowed freely, and the interaction between Jeff and Glenn tickles me to no end. Toward the end of the night, Jeff came over and kissed Glenn on the head. It would be presumptuous to give all the credit to this fair city, but we'll take them any day.

See also:
» it's still beyond me
» top 10 concerts of 2005
» i'll be back again
» the other side of the mountain

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

i'm beginning to see the light

One down, far too many to go, but you can read about those as they come in. May I present the first dispatch for the time being.

Jeff Tweedy, Van Duzer Theater, February 6, 2006Jeff Tweedy, Van Duzer Theater, February 6, 2006: I made a speedy drive up on Super Bowl Sunday to meet Judy, Evonne, and Paul on the northern coast. Such a city girl am I that I've never been this far north in the state. Granted, it's ridiculously beautiful, and the terrain is breathtaking but when you don't tend toward nature-oriented activities, there's only so much time you can spend in the great outdoors. We explored the small town square and even took a wonderful hike out at the ocean cliffs. See, we know how to make the most of our day when we get the chance!

The show wasn't sold out, and the balcony was only half full. Our seats in the first row were shockingly close, and we had no problem settling in. I can't lie--I do this a lot, and it's not always easy to get excited, except for the prospect of seeing my friends and exploring new places. And as the show started, I wasn't sure I'd be thrilled. But when Jeff did "In a Future Age" and, a few songs later, "I'm Beginning to See the Light," I knew I wasn't going to forget this one soon. If Jeff ever drops by Largo, I think we know which song he can do. No one minded our singing along, and the crowd was wonderfully respectful. Even the 11-month-old baby, the inspiration for the Duke Ellington number, merely cooed throughout the set.

By the first encore, Jeff seemed suitably relaxed and got a lot of laughs, though at the expense of Glenn Kotche, perhaps one of the best sports I've ever seen onstage. At the very end, we saw something I've never seen Jeff do before: turn off the PA, come to the edge of the stage, and sing "Acuff Rose." If I were more jaded, I might suggest that the presence of the documentary cameras helped bring about that moment, but at that point, I was completely renewed for the upcoming string of shows.

Glenn opened the show with mostly the same set he did on the East Coast run last fall. He didn't bring the vibes this time, but he substituted a cool Steve Reich number that shows off a lot of his influences. He didn't sing on the João Gilberto song, but the other elements shone through.

For a supposedly low-key show, this gig was a great way to kick off this week's activities. Fillmore (and home), here we come!

See also:
» it's still beyond me
» top 10 concerts of 2005
» unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour