"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 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 *
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.
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