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

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