Jon Brion, Largo, March 3, 2006: Flanagan read off a list of the seven best things to come out of New Zealand (including Neil Finn, Tim Finn, and hobbits) and introduced what he considered to be the eighth: Flight of the Conchords, the opening act. We got two youngish guys on stools with guitars. One had sideburns the size of pork chops (albeit fluffy ones), the other looked like a sturdier Jeff Goldblum, and I realized they had been sitting at the table next to us the night before. Within seconds, we were laughing hysterically at their catchy, goofy folk-rockish tunes. I won't ruin their work by trying to retell their tales; check out their MySpace page and/or their special on HBO.
After that short set, Flanagan returned to the stage and reminded us why he loves LA, the only town where you can drive down Sunset and wait at a stoplight next to Sly Stone. On cue, Jon Brion stumbled onstage and
Evonne and I had to laugh aloud at the piano intro, which included the Little Rascals theme, a holdover from the gig with John Doe. Perhaps in another nod to Thursday night, "I'm on a Roll with You" stayed simple and true, though Jon appended to it a gorgeous solo piano outro. I apologize to everyone who's had to endure my endless rhapsodizing over "Here We Go," but as long as Jon keeps playing with it, I'll keep a-preachin'. Tonight, we got little changes in phrasing, an ad lib of "there you go," and from my vantage point, a view of Jon's subtle hand flourishes. I've always said the drums are my instrument of choice when I'm watching Jon because he plays the shit out of them, but I have a new favorite. If you ever snag a seat that affords you a view of Jon's expressions and gestures at the piano, guard that spot with your life. You won't unearth the secret of Jon's superhuman abilities, but you will witness, to a certain extent, genius manifested.
"Excuse to Cry" kept me guessing until the words came out, but Jon piled on a little more bass and a longer bridge than you'd hear on its sister song, "Why Do You Do This to Yourself." He fiddled at the piano for a bit, re-revisiting the Little Rascals and maybe some Duke Ellington, before settling on "Someone Else's Problem Now." Jon played a long celeste solo that may have been a song; I didn't recognize it until he hit "That's Just What You Are," complete with a divine tack piano treatment. He asked for requests, and despite pooh-poohing the call for "Morrissey produced by Eno," he jumped on it anyway. He cheesed it up with the vocoder and a quote from Flight of the Conchords, but to his credit, he also graced it with at least one gorgeous piano passage that I hope makes Johnny Marr proud. Clutching his half-full pint glass, he mused on the humor in the Smiths and proposed that Morrissey form a supergroup with Leonard Cohen--he'd see them. This might be a good time to mention that though Jon is no stranger to the Guinness, it seemed to me that he was imbibing a little more than usual this night. This wouldn't be the last diatribe of the show.
Still on the request tip, he played a long instrumental passage that took a while to register with me: It was "Lithium" run through a variety of styles, including classical, Latin, and ragtime. "Happy with You" resulted in a broken guitar string, but "The Way It Went" gave us brief, sublime respite. Jon went to town on the outro for "Walking through Walls," slipping in nods to the theme from Peter Gunn, "Sunshine of Your Love," and "Children of the Revolution," among many others foreign to my limited musical landscape. Once more, Jon closed the set with a tribute to Les Paul. He warned that it would take a little while, and for a spell, I thought we were listening to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly theme, but it finally dawned on me that he was playing Elton John.
Jon opened the second set with a long instrumental passage that featured a spare, sexy drum beat and, later, heavenly, languid slide guitar. I thought I heard "Blue Moon," but I've since learned that it's "Sleepwalk" by Santo and Johnny. When the words came in, Evonne nudged me in amazement--Jon took on Sam Cooke, a topic of conversation just the night before. From there, Jon segued into a song I don't know, except that the lyrics went "I spend another lonely day thinking of you/I spend another lonely night empty and blue/I keep crying for you." On the same theme, "I Cried for You" included heavier guitar than Billie Holiday had probably known, but the instrumental "Someone to Watch Over Me" was relatively traditional--if by "traditional," you mean varied time signatures and stylistic treatments. Jon picked up the ukulele for "It Could Happen to You," but his song was interrupted by interference from a cell phone (not his own this time). The crack team of Jon and Scott in the soundbooth made lemonade of the incident: Jon incorporated the interrupted transmission and buzzing in his singing, while Scott tweaked the settings to mimic a '20s-era recording à la Al Jolson.
Jon went back to the piano and the Guinness and asked for requests. He played a few bars of Arthur's Theme but reconsidered with an emphatic "No!" In fact, he chided us for our disappointing requests and made an example of a guy yelling out "Big Sky" all night. With tongue in cheek (I think), Jon delivered a spiel in therapy talk about how the requestor's tone of voice hurt him. But the wounded feelings gave way to indignation as Jon vowed to do every other song from that Kinks album. With that, he launched into an eight-song medley, topped off with "Waterloo Sunset." Jon gave it his utmost respect, but he added a couple of gorgeous touches: a slow, extended bridge and a shower of celeste at the end. Oh, there was also an incident with Jon flipping off the requestor, but I can't remember exactly when it happened.
I believe it was at this point that a tipsy Jon expounded on his admiration/jealousy of Ray Davies and the internal dialogue ("fuck that fucking Ray Davies") that continuously runs in his mind, even at his most externally polite. Scott sampled this and ran with it, playing the "fuck" over and over via the PA. Fortunately, the blue streak was interrupted by the arrival of Gabe Wicher. He graced "Sin City" with a fiddle solo, then suggested Billie Holiday for the last two numbers. Jon took a few seconds to work out the final song, and with that, they concluded the standards-riffic evening.
piano noodling, including Little Rascals theme
I'm on a Roll with You [piano, celeste, harmonica]
Punch-Drunk Love Theme/Here We Go [piano]
Girl I Knew [song build]
Excuse to Cry [electric guitar]
Someone Else's Problem Now [piano]
That's Just What You Are [piano + celeste]
Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now [piano + vocoder]
Lithium [piano, celeste, vocoder]
Happy with You [song build]
The Way It Went [piano]
Walking Through Walls [song build]
Paper Moon [guitar]
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road [electric guitar]
Sleepwalk/Bring It on Home/??? [song build]
I Cried for You [guitar]
Someone to Watch Over Me [piano]
It Could Happen to You [ukulele]
This Is Where I Belong/Starstruck/Do You Remember Walter?/Where Have All the Good Times Gone/Go to Sleep/Sunny Afternoon/Better Things/Waterloo Sunset [piano, celeste, vocoder]
with Gabe Wicher
Sin City [piano]
Fooling Myself [acoustic guitar]
Easy Living [acoustic guitar]
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