Sunday, July 30, 2006

have you tasted the finest of trout

Over the years, Grant Lee Phillips--as a member of Grant Lee Buffalo and as a solo artist--has garnered an enviable list of patrons: Bob Mould, REM, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, the, er, Cranberries, various movie and TV types, and of course, the Largo cabal. Bob Mould's recommendation initially moved me to check out this talent, but Grant has more than proven that he can stand on his own, and I see his show every time he comes to town.

Grant Lee Phillips, Cafe du Nord, July 28, 2006: Grant has been the gateway drug, of sorts, for at least two major music-related epiphanies in my life. Back in 1994, I saw Grant Lee Buffalo at Slim's, for a scorching gig that not only stands as my favorite concert ever but also cemented my love of American indie rock.

Some time after the group disbanded, I heard of Grant's reemergence at a certain little club in Hollywood. A couple of bootleg recordings even made their way to me. In 1998, I finally got there, caught some shows, noticed a particular multitalented, multi-instrumentalist frequent guest--and, well, you know the rest.

It's hard to believe that it's been two years since Grant played San Francisco, but I can't complain, as I've had the pleasure of catching him elsewhere in the interim. For this stop, he was accompanied by only a drummer: Kevin Jarvis, who also played on the Virginia Creeper tour.

Grant was here ostensibly to promote his new CD, nineteeneighties, launching with "Under the Milky Way" and "Wave of Mutilation," a longtime staple of his solo shows. But just about immediately afterward, someone shouted out a request for "Jupiter and Teardrop," which Grant instantly, um, granted.

This would prove to be the pattern for much of the rest of the night. For the most part, Grant took up the requests quickly and cheerfully, interspersing his goofy, charming banter between songs. Fortunately, the audience seemed familiar with a fair amount of his catalog. I think the only album not represented was Mobilize, and Grant himself came up with the sole Copperopolis selection, "Even the Oxen."

I shouldn't have been surprised that the gloriously underrated Mighty Joe Moon got the best showing, but for some reason, I was surprised to find how much the songs from Fuzzy moved me, even if we didn't hear my favorite "Stars 'n' Stripes."

Later, Grant revisited nineteeneighties for at least a couple more songs, though he stopped himself early in on "So. Central Rain," claiming that playing it with Peter Buck (who knew the correct chords) earlier that week messed up his interpretation. The old school fans probably also recognized a Grant Lee Buffalo favorite, "For the Turnstiles," even if it was from the wrong decade.

Cafe du Nord can be notoriously cruel to the typical singer/songwriter, and the club's chatter can often drown out sensitive, delicate material. It was a testament to the audience's affection for Grant and a triumph for the man himself that he could call attention to the only sound beside his voice to be heard in the room at one point: the air conditioning whooshing through the pipes. This was especially sweet, as his parents, siblings, and cousins were present, and toward the end of the night, he dedicated "Everybody Needs a Little Sanctuary" to them.

The only thing I missed during the show was Grant's trusty 12-string. Combined with a certain combination of effects pedals, that guitar in Grant's hands could take on an army of axes.

Paul Durham, formerly of Black Lab, opened the show. I want to say I remember his band, but I soon realized I was mixing them up with other "black" bands from the last decade or so (Black 47, Black Heart Procession). He had a good voice and extremely earnest songs--the standard markings of a singer/songwriter--but his low-key and fairly solemn stage manner would later stand in marked contrast to Grant's high spirits and comedic tone.

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

Monday, July 24, 2006

it's business time

Last time we saw them, Evonne reminded me that our first sighting of the Conchords at Largo was not onstage. It's odd to think that we've become such fans in the last few months, but then again, Largo has a way of taking you by surprise.

Flight of the Conchords, Largo, July 21, 2006: Clearly, I'm a creature of habit, but this usually applies only to music. Although I can listen to certain songs and albums for hours, days, months at a time, I can't maintain my enthusiasm for repeated viewings of most movies or TV shows. Fortunately, Flight of the Conchords isn't just a comedy duo. Rather, Bret and Jemaine come armed with catchy songs and incredibly charming demeanors, which is why I've made it a point to catch their rare U.S. shows when I can.

You know you really dig a band when the main complaint about their gig is that they didn't have time for all the songs you love. Oh, what I would've given to hear "Bret, You Got It Going On" or the song for Suzanne, but on the bright side, they opened with my absolute favorite from their catalog, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room." They didn't forget their more familiar crowd pleasers, such as "The Humans Are Dead," "Issues," and "It's Business Time," and the dashes of improv within the songs made us laugh even harder. Far be it from me to desecrate their punchlines, but in that last tune, Jemaine's throwaway ad-lib about a korma stain hasn't left my brain all day.

In a sure sign of the Conchords' growing notoriety, the audience yelled out song titles all through the show. Bret and Jemaine granted one request, but it was probably the only tune that didn't work. However, they handled the hecklers beautifully; Jemaine's responses seemed especially sharp. To his credit, Bret was lovely, but more than once, he (good-naturedly) dropped hints of his jetlag and exhaustion.

According to reports, we're poised to see more Conchords action in the states this year; in addition to the Sub Pop signing, the band has shot a pilot for HBO. On a much less official note, however, some of us at Largo may have noted a few comedy names, such as Mitchell Hurwitz (creator of the brilliant Arrested Development) and Mary Lynn Raskjub (24) in the audience. Maybe it's the start of something, or maybe it's another LA moment--it's worth waiting to see.

As usual, I've already said too much--just go to YouTube and check 'em out yourself. I'm already sad I'll have to miss their next Largo gig.

The night's MC was a comic whose name I didn't catch. He used a persona for his entire act, and he was OK in parts. The other performer on the bill was Colin Hay; I suspect Flanagan is the brilliant party who thought to pair the young Kiwis and the veteran musician associated with a famous Australian band (though, as it turned out, originally hails from Scotland). He's been on the Largo roster for years, but this is the first time I've seen him. For his 15-minute set, Colin talked quite a bit, in true storyteller fashion. He also did two songs: the Men at Work hit "Overkill" and a newer tune for which he requested his wife's and the audience's participation. Evonne and I heartily agreed that his wife seemed like a true Lady of the Canyon, but I'm always a sucker for a good Largo singalong.

See also:
» Hiphopotamus Meets Rhymenocerous
» i am in paradise

Saturday, July 22, 2006

i remember when I lost my mind

Every now and then, a bona fide hit song blankets the airwaves, and you'd have to pull a double Van Gogh to miss it. This summer, there's no debate--it's "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, and it was no surprise when their two dates at the Fillmore sold out immediately.

Gnarls Barkley, The Fillmore, July 18, 2006: Let's face it, Gnarls Barkley's appeal lies almost as much with their ever changing wardrobe selections (my friends are still talking about the Star Wars outfits on the MTV Awards) as with their melding of musical styles. In that respect, we weren't disappointed when Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse hit the stage in chef's whites, accompanied by a backing band dressed as short-order cooks and '50s-style waitresses. Later, they introduced themselves as the Sam Cookes, and Cee-Lo even offered a box of donuts to the fans in the front row--though not without an ulterior motive.

You see, this was unlike many Fillmore gigs I've attended, and not necessarily in a good way. Granted, I have limited experience with overnight sensations these days. Also, it was the first night of the tour, which usually means the crew hasn't yet worked out the technical issues.

Though I suspect the majority of the Gnarls Barkley audience doesn't frequent club shows very often, they probably realized something was up when two hours after doors opened, we'd seen no action onstage. Instead, we listened to a live DJ for the duration, though there had been no announcement of such. A little before 10pm, the roadies started testing out equipment, and this went on for longer than expected. In fact, they lingered worryingly at one of the big keyboards for a while. Finally, half an hour later than scheduled and following a round of boos from the crowd, the band arrived, pastries and all.

It helped that they opened with Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf," which always guarantees entree to my heart, and we heard a few other covers through the night to pad their 37 minutes of recorded output. Independent of the hype, the show highlighted their eclectic influences, and Cee-Lo's rich voice and outsize personality was a great contrast with Danger Mouse's rockin' soundscapes and quiet support.

In the end, though, I'm not sure what to think of the gig. No, you don't hear Gnarls's brand of fearless, fluid fusion much on the radio these days, and nothing can take away from the shock and delight of those first airings of "Crazy." I guess I expect more from a Fillmore debut than an hour of music and fun outfits. If you have a ticket to any of the upcoming dates, by all means, check 'em out--but maybe keep in mind that you may be seeing more of a performance than a show.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"My name is Jon, I'm from Connecticut"

"It's just like riding a bike...only more pedals."--Jon Brion

Jon Brion, Largo, July 13, 2006: Jon traded in the sartorial savvy he exhibited at the Intonation Festival for a look that was, in parts, much more familiar (oversize madras shirt, postal worker-stripe pants, orange socks) but with an element (stubble) not usually seen on the Largo stage. The shoes, to our relief, remained the same. Oh, there was another public debut too, but that'll come out in due time.

Jon made the introductions for Greg Proops, who opened with a typically far-ranging and hilarious 30-minute set that encompassed, among other topics, the World Cup, Syd Barrett, and Angelenos vs. the rest of the country. He also pimped his upcoming Largo show on Tuesday and mentioned that his special guests would be Wayne Brady and Jon Brion. Though I have all the time in the world these days, I'm still sane enough to realize that I can't attend every Largo show. I just hope Annie and Dance make it and report back.

Flanagan handled the intro for Jon, and he kept it to a minimum. I agree with him--life is short, and I can think of few better options than to fill it with as many (Jon Brion) shows as possible.

If you've had the chance to see a Jon Brion show in the last few years, you should thank your lucky stars for Sami, Jon's ever attentive assistant. So it was with great pleasure that we jumped on Jon's request for us to sing "Happy Birthday," and it was a brilliant excuse to kick off the show proper.

From there, Jon went into a "live soundcheck," and as he pounced on the drums, I thought I heard a distinctive beat. I whispered my suspicions to Heidi, and for once, my instincts were correct, as it turned out to be a song build of the Beatles' "The End"--to begin the show.

Jon fooled around with the guitar for a bit but landed on the piano for as deliciously delicate a version of Steely Dan's "Any Major Dude" (with a little help from a lyric book he carried onstage) that you could hope to hear. I know that the piano most sorely tests Jon's arm these days, but man, it was good to have him back at the keys. As it turned out, he stayed there for a stretch, first with "Take the A Train," complete with stomping rhythm accompaniment courtesy of those snazzy shoes, then "Here We Go" (insert gale-force sigh here).

We recognized "Girl I Knew" just about right away, but Jon kicked around every other part of it, with a slightly different melody in the middle and heavy guitar licks toward the outro. At the end, he sang a bit of Cheap Trick over the cacophony.

"I Don't Know How to Love Him" wasn't sung and served more as a (failed) tuning exercise, but it was a lovely excursion all the same. Jon launched into an off-kilter "Knock Yourself Out" anyway, finishing with a slowed-down outro.

Jon puttered about for a bit and pulled out a gorgeous old guitar that had the name "Pat" tastefully emblazoned in sequins across the front. As bedazzled as we were by those three letters, it was no match for the brilliance to follow onstage, in the form of Benmont Tench. In my opinion, Benmont was a major factor in Jon's acclaimed Intonation appearance, but Largo is a much better venue for his subtle, sparkling touch, and he took center stage a number of times, encouraged in no small part by Jon himself.

I love it when the two of them play whatever song they happen to be feeling, but Benmont's most notable contributions come when he turns an old chestnut on its ear. That's what we got with both "Why Do You Do This to Yourself" and "Waterloo Sunset." You can expect to hear Jon do either song on any given night, but when Benmont joins in, there is nowhere else I'd rather be. Our table was shrouded in awed silence for both songs, as we strained to hear every little note Benmont imparted, and in neither case were we disappointed.

Best of all, we got a robust singalong for "Time of the Season." Yay!

Benmont left the stage after a warm embrace, then Jon sat down by himself at the piano for "Ruin My Day," followed by the closer, a song build that he said would take a while to get to. I was completely in the dark, but both Evonne and her friend Eric recognized it in record time: "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond," a little poke at one of Greg's jokes from earlier in the night.

On a typical Friday, we would've taken a breather before the second set, but tonight's circumstances dictated otherwise. Instead, we got an encore that would still put most other performers to shame. Jon seemed happy to begin with a couple of downers (which he also recently played on Sound Opinions), but the last tune was all for Sami, who parked himself at the floor right by our table to take in his birthday present.

I'm proud to say that I was there for what may have been the beginnings of Jon's Roxy Music resurgence, so I had no problems recognizing "Same Old Scene" this time. Tonight, the song sounded like less of a joke--which is not to say it wasn't without humor. In the end, Jon delivered on the promised Eurodisco elements, but I could hear touches that wouldn't have been out of place at a modern dance club--completely in the spirit of Bryan Ferry's history of radically reworking tunes by Cole Porter, Billie Holiday, and Bob Dylan.

Jon dragged the song every which way but continually returned to the driving disco rhythm. In fact, it became "White Lines" for a little while, then Scott in the soundbooth brought out Greg's rendition of "Through the Fire" back to the fore. From all indications, the song could've gone on for a while longer, and Jon seemed to be breaking out in another direction entirely--when he appeared to hit the wrong knob and turned off all the loops when he meant to switch off only one. With a sheepish grin, he backed away from the keyboards and called it a night.

There's still no official word on when the Friday gigs will resume, but at a few points during the show, Jon could be seen stretching, rubbing, and massaging his hand. Heidi noted that he altered his piano playing to accomodate his injury--for example, for "Here We Go," he played the notes closer together, with fewer arpeggios (thanks Heidi!)--so the question continues to loom. I'm the last person who should be saying this, but don't wait around for that next fix. Enjoy life--see live music more often!

The setlist:
Happy Birthday
The End [song build]
Sweet Georgia Brown [guitar]
Any Major Dude [piano]
How Much Is That Doggie in the Window/Take the A Train/another song [piano]
Here We Go [piano]
Girl I Knew/Everything Works if You Let It [song build]
I Don't Know How to Love Him [acoustic guitar]
Knock Yourself Out [acoustic guitar + harmonica]
Why Do You Do This to Yourself *
You Didn't Have to Be So Nice *
boogie-woogie vamping *
Time of the Season *
This Will Be Our Year *
Roundabout *
Waterloo Sunset *
Ruin My Day [piano + harmonica]
Shine On You Crazy Diamond [song build]

The Way It Went [piano]
Eternal Sunshine theme [piano]
Same Old Scene/White Lines/Through the Fire [song build]

* = with Benmont Tench

As if we weren't lucky enough to catch this show, a kindly soul even taped the gig and made it available to share. Download the MP3s, and let me know what you think.
» Jon Brion, Largo, 7-13-06

See also:
» the power of suggestion, the element of chance
» public service announcement
» there was no way of knowing
» top 5 Largo memories

Sunday, July 09, 2006

nothing left to bring me back today

Big thanks to Maudie (the award-winning photog), Trish, Denise, and the compound for helping me commemorate my emancipation. It's a good thing cupcakes are accepted as legal tender in their fiefdom.

The Plimsouls, Cafe du Nord, July 7, 2006: I truly love the '80s, but I sometimes question my own recollections of the decade. Sequestered in a little corner of the 'burbs--way before the Internet existed--I can't swear if my take on popular or, conversely, obscure pop culture jibes with others'.

But I'm pretty sure that in the early '80s, we were a ways off from the full commoditization of "alternative" music. For some of us, the jangly guitar opened the door to a whole different world of music, away from the oversize production values and the synthesizers more prevalent in the songs of the time. REM, of course, was one of the most noted purveyors of this sound, but there were other awesome bands in that vein, including the Plimsouls.

It was many years later that I learned the Plimsouls were part of a groundswell of LA bands, but even now (for better or for worse), they'll forever be associated with that pivotal scene in Valley Girl. For all our reminiscing, however, the crowd turned out to be a lot more male dominated than we expected. Then again, Peter Case has established a decent solo career over the years and has earned his following the old-fashioned way, regardless of demographics.

I can't tell you much about the songs, except that, of course, they did The Hit, which they wisely rolled into a medley to sustain that energy. They even did a couple of new songs off their upcoming album. I was more familiar with the covers, three of which I recognized. A couple were not surprising: the Creation's "Making Time," and "Dizzy Miss Lizzie," which revealed their proto power-pop influences. But when they hit up Television's "Glory," I was taken by surprise. Television's meandering rhythms and, especially, Tom Verlaine's crooked vocals would seem diametrically opposed to the Plimsouls' straightforward rock, but it was a nice touch.

The openers were called Magic Christian, a four-piece out of San Francisco, comprising Cyril Jordan (the original guitarist from the Flaming Groovies) and other San Francisco-area veterans, though Prairie Prince wasn't present tonight. They looked like they had taken a page out of the Rodney Bingenheimer school of aging (disgracefully) and wouldn't have been out of place playing the Whiskey A-Go-Go 30 years ago. Nonetheless, they churned out perfect little, errrr, nuggets of pop music.