Three Jon Brion shows at Largo in three months--four, if you include the cameo with Nels Cline. By all indications, it seems that Jon's performance schedule is ramping up again, and his return couldn't be more welcome. Todd Carlin, a.k.a. the Naked Trucker, in his hilarious opening slot said something to the effect that Jon is back, and Flanagan echoed that sentiment in his introduction. If you didn't know better, you'd think that everything was back to normal, but I'm not ready to back off orange alert yet.
Jon Brion, Largo, September 29, 2006: We noticed a definite electricity in the air, long before Jon took the stage and even before Fiona Apple found her seat two tables behind us. I can't explain it, only that it didn't feel the same as last month's fairly low-key show, though it was still no competition for July's highly anticipated return. As it turned out, we were right.
Jon started out on piano for a lengthy instrumental passage that probably referenced a thousand artists and influences--none of which I could name, but I loved it nonetheless. When he seemed satisfied by that exercise, he reached up for the harmonica and breathed out an extended measure, kicking off "Ruin My Day." The crowd roared its approval as Jon delivered as soulful a version of the song as I can remember.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, Jon stayed on the piano for a couple of instrumentals, delivering "two cheesy covers for the price of one." He kicked about the keys-based implements and the crotales for a little while longer, but when he picked up the hammer, there was no mistaking what was coming next. Jon seemed more meticulous than usual laying down the rhythm for "Same Thing," but that meant we got to see more of him manipulating and tapping the innards for the desired effects.
The song build came next, and all sounded fine on "Happy with You" until the guitar came into play. Finally, Jon relinquished it and sat at the piano to sing, arms crossed. He hit the keys with abandon for a spell before trying the hollow-body guitar, but this time, the mic didn't agree with him, and he knocked it over--not the first time either. Somehow, Samy fixed it in time for Jon to turn in a few verses of "Pop Life," and I couldn't help thinking that the last time I heard Jon do that song, Kanye West had joined in. And then before you knew it, Jon was back at the piano, channeling Gershwin.
An audience member requested "Over Our Heads," and Jon gave it the usual treatment. That is, he sampled and layered his own voice for the background vocals, then piled on the vocoder for the actual melody. I think it's supposed to encourage an ethereal feel to the song, but I always find the vocoder detracts from the loveliness of the song.
For "Why Do You Do This to Yourself," Jon asked Scott in the soundbooth for more and more slapback, enough to "make both Sam Phillips proud." Jon dished out about a bar of "Stand By Your Man" (a request) on piano, while "Girl I Knew" featured a rock guitar outro that sounded new to me.
We had already seen Fiona, but we didn't know who else was hiding in the back, which is why I gasped when e from the eels emerged onstage. As anyone who reads this blog knows, the eels are one of my favorite live bands, and e is inextricably linked to my earliest Jon Brion shows. For six years, I've been hoping to catch e at Largo again, but the shows have eluded me--until tonight.
On the surface, e and Jon are an odd couple, but to see them together, you instantly pick up on their rapport and shared history. They threw faces at each other, told stories about each other, made jokes at the other's expense, and jokingly accused the other of sabotaging the show. If the setlist below looks abbbreviated, it's only because I couldn't capture the conversation between Jon and e.
Though they asked for requests, they didn't take most of our suggestions. On the bright side, they assured us it wasn't personal. E said he happened to learn "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" earlier that week, so they granted the request with a very funny version of the song. The subsequent call for "American Girl" inspired a mash-up with the lyrics: "American girl, you'll be a woman soon/Don't move to Europe."
We also got a number of eels songs and more guests. Dan McCarroll, formerly of the Grays and the same Dan in Aimee Mann's song "I've Had It" ("Dan came in from Jersey") joined them from "My Beloved Monster" and on, while Jon personally invited Terry Adams from NRBQ to join them for (my no-brainer request) "Not Ready Yet." Terry, of course, had never played the song in his life, but Jon unashamedly assured him that it had only three chords, and to prove it, he dictated the chords to him. Before long, Terry was throwing in his own embellishments as well; on the other side of the stage, Jon played bass and watched on with a huge grin on his face. When Terry seemed to take it down a notch, Jon roared at him to keep it going. For e's final song, they conferred for a long time until Terry suggested and kicked off one of his own, "Want You to Feel Good Too." Jon carried on with just Terry and Dan for "My Baby Left Me," and then with only Dan, he paid tribute to NRBQ with "Riding in My Car."
After Dan left the stage, Fiona was next, and the two of them spent a few minutes in a long embrace. From all indications, they hadn't rehearsed either, as they took a while to figure out which songs to perform. They settled on a couple of Fiona's usual standards but none of her own songs.
Jon closed with a song build, and lucky for me, it started with my favorite drumbeat ever. Tonight's rendition of "Tomorrow Never Knows" also featured Jon's amazing re-creation--courtesy of the slide guitar--of those chirping sounds on the original record. Somewhere around the middle, Jon asked Terry to return "to make some noise," which is exactly what he did. This went on for at least 15 minutes, if not longer. Toward the end, I heard references to "Peter Gunn" and maybe some other songs.
By then, it was almost 1 a.m. Friday nights may not be exactly the same yet, but it looks like we're getting ever closer.
--Ruin My Day [piano + harmonica]
--Popcorn/Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies ("two cheesy covers for the price of one") [piano]
--Same Thing [piano, mellotron, celeste, keyboard]
--Happy with You/Pop Life/Rhapsody in Blue [song build]
--Over Our Heads [keyboard + vocoder]
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself [electric guitar]
--Stand By Your Man [piano]
--Girl I Knew [song build]
--Dirty Girl (with e)
--Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon (with e)
--My Beloved Monster (with e and Dan McCarroll)
--Not Ready Yet (with e, Dan McCarroll, and Terry Adams)
--Want You to Feel Good Too (with e, Dan McCarroll, and Terry Adams)
--My Baby Left Me (with Dan McCarroll and Terry Adams) [electric guitar]
--Riding in My Car (with Dan McCarroll) [electric guitar]
--On a Slow Boat to China (with Fiona Apple) [piano]
--Angel Eyes (with Fiona Apple) [piano]
--Tomorrow Never Knows (with Terry Adams) [song build]
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