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


hodie said...

1) It was Himmler!

2) I adore Why Do You Do This to Yourself almost as much, or even exactly as much, as Excuse to Cry, so it's never a disappointment.

3) Just to be quite clear, I have always loved the hook of "The Way that It Went", I'm just not enamoured of the verses. At all.

4) Just to be quite crystal sparkling clear, I LOVE YOUR JON REVIEWS!

breaphene said...

Damn, Heidi beat me to Himmler. (That's probably the first time that sentence has ever been typed, or uttered.) Excellent review.

pneyu said...

I always sucked at history. :(