Funny place, that Largo. After you've finally made peace with the idea that Jon Brion is doing only one set these days and that you'll be out the door a little after midnight, he turns in (basically) two sets rolled into a single session. Go figure.
Jon Brion, Largo, November 17, 2006: After last month's supermoody show, I felt some trepidation, not least because we had three newbies (Trish, John, and Kyle), one near-newbie (Maudie), and one birthday girl (Brianne) among our eight seats. Though I filed all caveats ahead of time, they didn't cancel on us, and slight relief came when Mike at the door announced that the cover charge for the night would be $15, to accommodate the "special guests." I try not to overanticipate any particular show or potential guests, but Jon seems more likely to perk up when his friends join him onstage, which, in turn, translates to a peppier show.
We couldn't help guessing at who the mystery performers might be, and the question was partly answered when we took our seats and noticed a pedal steel guitar among the night's instruments. I figured Greg Leisz would be joining in, which thrilled those of us who had seen last month's cavalcade of stars. John, however, gave me a funny look and informed me that no one else considered that a star sighting. Bwahahahaha.
Soon enough, Jill Sobule took the stage for a short, charming set. Coincidentally, Jill opened the only other time Maudie has seen Jon Brion--we're guessing they must share a psychic bond. No, we didn't get "Hot in Herre" this time, but Jill pointedly dropped Paris Hilton's name during the opening song, "Bitter," about people getting by (or not) on their actual talents. Tonight, Greg Leisz added his distinctive touch to her basic tunes and sounded as if he had lived with them for the last 10 years, though the two had met only 10 minutes before.
Flanagan came back to the stage to introduce Jon, who apparently had just returned from England. Cutting a dapper figure in a pinstriped suit with western-style front pockets, Jon went to one of his hollow-body guitars for, I'm guessing, an instrumental medley. Evonne and I exchanged a couple of ideas for what we might've heard. My guess: "I'm in the Mood for Love," but I can't guarantee that he actually played it.
I think the pedal demo started as Jon trying to determine which guitar he wanted next, but instead, we got a short explanation of how certain switches add or subtract from the guitar's tones. He touched the keyboards for a bit, just to make sure they were working, but his real intentions resided elsewhere. Instead, he built up "Girl I Knew" with slightly different phrasing than I'm used to. It was a bit more languid--resigned, perhaps?--and not as crisp and syncopated as usual.
I still hadn't quite gauged the feel of the night, as Jon hadn't spoken much, and the next two songs on the piano didn't help either, as they were two of his more contemplative tunes. OK, I admit it, "The Way It Went" is an outright downer--there, I said it.
But accompanying Jon's relative reticence was the audience's silence. Most of the time, the audience doesn't wait for Jon to ask for requests before they yell out titles, but there was something about tonight's tone that seemed to keep us from imposing on Jon's mental state. We mostly stayed quiet, and Jon proceeded apace with what turned out to be mostly his own compositions.
Back on electric guitar, Jon turned in "That's Just What You Are," again with a little tweak in phrasing. He tried out a bunch of his harmonicas and found them unsatisfactory until Samy brought out a specific model. With the proper equipment, he launched into "Knock Yourself Out" on the celeste--just about the most charming version of the tune I've ever heard.
The rock returned with "I'm Further On," a song whose recent absence I'd been thinking of earlier that day. Happily, the drought was over, though it wasn't without its hurdles. While Jon switched instruments at the beginning of the song, his guitars became a bit entangled, and he ended up with one that didn't have a strap. We saw him contorting himself in various ways to get a handle on the guitar, including kneeling on the floor to support it and holding it up high on his body, à la George Harrison. The song itself seemed to bring out something in Jon, moving him to jump around the stage and grin happily through passages. He turned in a maniacal solo that required many of the pedals he had demonstrated to us earlier and brought it to a close on a big rock ending.
This song may have wrought unexpected side effects as well. I couldn't help but notice that after taking his seat at the piano, Jon was rubbing his right arm. The tendinitis question remains, of course, and it was the first time since July that I've seen him show any discomfort onstage. I, for one, don't assume that Jon's all better, but I can always use a reminder that this whole thing can go up in smoke yet again.
Nonetheless, Jon followed up with "Strings That Tie to You," embellished with ethereal piano loops. He remained on the piano for a jazzy instrumental that I recognized as a deconstructed "Someone to Watch Over Me." Expanding on this lead, he built it up to its anthemic glory, still bringing to (my) mind more Bowie than Gershwin.
Though we didn't realize it at the time, this effectively ended the first half of the show, as Jon brought on his old friends Benmont Tench and Greg Leisz--a.k.a. 3/7 of the astounding supergroup that had recently graced Largo. Personally, these three were my favorite members, though I wouldn't have minded David Rawlings showing up and chipping in.
Whatever verbal communication goes on between these guys has to be pretty subtle, as even in the front row of tables, we can barely hear any words exchanged. Still, they seem to follow, lead, prod, support, encourage, and inspire each other with little more than a glance, a nod, or a grin. Early in their set, Jon joked about doing all Dylan covers; as it turned out, a preferred artist emerged, but it wasn't Bob.
I remember thinking that "Isn't It a Pity" sounded fairly traditional, but "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" had a palpable poignancy that had me holding my breath. Something about the spare instrumentation, Jon's purposeful stance and gaze, the musicians' soloing turns, and the beauty of the song itself added up to a powerful, moving performance.
During the slight lull that followed, I took advantage of the silence to request "I'll Be Back" since I knew that it could be done with an acoustic guitar and a lap steel. Besides, I wanted to hear what Benmont could do with it; he didn't disappoint.
Jon professed his love of "I Don't Hurt Anymore," and my Beatlemania hardly minded "Day After Day." As usual, Jon requested "egregious" slapback for "Why Do You Do This to Yourself," and Scott obliged with "the kind you can't get over the counter." To my delight, Jon added touches of falsetto and cooing passages, and the tune took on a wistful, high lonesome sound. It wasn't what I expected, but it was an awesome twist on a familiar selection.
Just when I thought that we had settled into our groove for the night, Jon threw a curveball in the form of a Pixies song that briefly morphed into "Jessie's Girl," before giving way to "Taxman" and finally an overlay of "Within You, Without You."
The group loosely convened to decide on the last song of the night, though Jon didn't explicitly inform either Benmont or Greg of his decision. Instead, he asked them for eight bars, which made us laugh and Benmont sort of gape. But Jon plowed on, and within three beats, I knew exactly--well, sort of--what was coming next: "Tomorrow Never Knows." True to form, it went on for at least 20 minutes, as the three of them played their fingers off. I loved that Jon re-created the cut-up tape sequences live on guitar, while Greg's lap steel found a home on this most unlikely of Beatles songs.
But somewhere in this musical maelstrom, I noticed familiar chords coming from the piano--Benmont was dropping "Day Tripper" into the mix, and Jon picked up on it as well. Between the two of them, they visited at least a dozen Beatles songs that I recognized and probably twice as many that went right past me.
By the end, "She's So Heavy" had fully taken hold. While Benmont picked out a beautiful passage, Jon set down his guitar and fell to his hands and knees, slapping the pedals off before moving to the drum set for the ending coda.
By then, it was about 1:30, and Jon was still hanging around and chatting with fans as we left the club. But the night wasn't exactly over yet. On our way to the car, we noticed an improbably dressed figure sidling into the Dime, as well as a video camera following her moves from afar. Holy shit, it was Paris Hilton, the recording artist herself. Her driver even backed his SUV into our spot after we left. Is there such a thing as coincidence in Los Angeles? I don't think so!
Jill Sobule setlist
--Now That I Don't Have You*
--Ring Them Bells*
* = with Greg Leisz
Jon Brion setlist
--Girl I Knew [song build]
--The Way It Went [piano]
--Eternal Sunshine theme [piano]
--That's Just What You Are [electric guitar]
--Knock Yourself Out [celeste + harmonica]
--I'm Further On [song build]
--Strings That Tie to You [piano]
--Someone to Watch Over Me (jazzy instrumental version) [piano]
--Someone to Watch Over Me (rock version) [song build]
--Isn't It a Pity**
--It's All Over Now, Baby Blue**
--I'll Be Back**
--I Don't Hurt Anymore**
--Day After Day**
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself**
--Gigantic/Jesse's Girl/Taxman/Within You, Without You**
--Tomorrow Never Knows/Day Tripper/She Said, She Said/I Want You/Ob La Di, Ob La Da/Dear Prudence/Baby You're a Rich Man/a thousand other Beatles riffs**
--She's So Heavy**
** = with Benmont Tench and Greg Leisz
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