Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I'm offering this simple phrase

If, heaven forbid, I were able to see only one Jon Brion show each year, I'd cry a lot, and I'd probably try to figure out a way around the rules, but I wouldn't hesitate to save a very particular date. Without a doubt, I'd catch Jon's last Largo show of the calendar year. See below for details.

Jon Brion, Largo, December 22, 2006: Whimsy and compulsion in equal measures moved me to hit Jon Brion's last show of 2005. But by the time we picked our jaws off the floor and left the premises that night, I vowed to Annie we'd do it again every year. Fast-forward 365 days, and we were back at Largo's door.

Now more than ever, you can't predict the direction of any Jon Brion gig. Since returning from his tendonitis-incurred break, Jon's shows have had their ups and downs, though fangirl that I am, I always find something to take away from each. So despite the panoply of Largo regulars hanging out by the kitchen before the show started, we tried hard not to read too much into their presence.

One of these familiar faces opened the show: Paul F. Tompkins, who I've now seen four times this month. Fortunately, I think he's great, and he ranks up there with Patton Oswalt as one of my favorite comics. He did a couple of bits that were new to me, including a commentary on the Largo menu that could've been a verbatim conversation between me and anyone I've ever brought to the club. In addition to almost making me choke on my Midori sour, he introduced the second opener of the night: E, from the eels.

I won't bore you too much with another paean to the eels; besides, it's all there in my frequently (overly?) cited post on my first full-fledged Jon Brion show.

E's trademarks were in full bloom: his charming and slightly skewed observational songs, as well as his bone-dry humor. After a couple of tunes, he brought out a "kid" he'd known for a long time and who, he claimed, looked up to him to see what it meant to have made it. The youngster turned out to be Jon Brion, who played along with the premise (a squeaky-voiced "thanks mister") as he joined E on keyboards for a couple of tracks. "Climbing Up to the Moon" saw Jon adding a tiny touch of crotales, while "Everything's Going to Be Cool This Christmas" was graced with his backing vocals, and I believe we got a hint of "Jingle Bells" in the latter's outro. True to form, E groused about technical problems, but from our table, he sounded fine.

After a short break, Jon returned with a story about how he once pissed off the audience by doing Christmas songs in August. This turned out to be a bit of a warning; he started on the piano with what sounded like a deconstructed "Jingle Bells" but turned toward "Hot Fun in the Summertime" and "Surfer Girl" before returning to "Jingle Bells." Still at the piano, he churned out a very lovely piano opening that took a little while to coalesce into "Meaningless," complete with more Christmas cues.

Then it was over to the drums for a song build of "I Believe She's Lying" and, next, over to the harmonica, an electric guitar, and lots of slapback for--no, not "Why Do You Do This to Yourself." Rather, it was "Ruin My Day" in a treatment I hadn't heard before. Somewhere in there, Jon looked out at the room with a beatific grin--further assurance that we were in for a great night.

The drums got another workout with a song build of "Walking Through Walls," which featured a bluesy guitar breakdown toward the middle. "Hook Line and Sinker" came next on the electric guitar; I'm not sure if we owe the heavy metal touches around the end of the song to a musical misstep on Jon's part, but he proceeded without hesitation, a raised fist accompanying the power chords.

This unprecedented (for me) Meaningless streak continued with "Trouble" on piano, complete with a gorgeous extended jazzy instrumental passage. It brought to mind Brad Mehldau's turn on the song on the widely distributed Tonic bootleg, except less abstract, if that makes any sense. Regardless, it was gorgeous. After remaining on piano for "Same Mistakes," Jon shook it up with a song build of "Happy with You."

For the next selection, Jon tuned his guitar and asked us how our year went. He seemed surprised by our mostly positive reaction. When asked the same, he replied that his year had big ups and big downs, but they mostly cancelled themselves out. Somewhere during this lull, I blurted out a request to play the rest of Meaningless, and he sort of obliged with about one line from each of the remaining songs ("Her Ghost," "Voices," and "Gotta Start Somewhere," to be exact). Heh.

Jon resumed with a tribute to Les Paul, a familiar point of reference. A few minutes into the song, he explained that he could never reproduce Mary Ford's parts, so he brought out a guest who could: the actress Zooey Deschanel, who turned out to be as adorable as you can imagine. She quickly proved that she had a set of jazzy, sassy, and playful pipes to match her demeanor. Though she claimed that they messed up "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," I have absolutely no complaints about their five-song set. Zooey even ventured to the ukulele on the last selection, though she warned us that she didn't usually do so in front of people. Meanwhile, Jon added harmonies and a couple of guitar solos, but he mostly stayed in the background.

Jon closed out the set with a grunge-like "Knock Yourself Out" that featured a slowed-down coda, but not before promising us we'd get a second set--the first since his arm injury--in the spirit of holiday cheer.

Largo was seriously hopping in a way I hadn't seen in a long time, and I almost didn't know what to do with myself during the between-set break. Thankfully, Jon returned with a song build of "Girl I Knew," a tune that always reminds me of driving down the PCH. And with Jon wielding a hollow-body Rickenbacker, that Byrdsian, sun-kissed feel was never more apparent than it was tonight.

Benmont Tench was the first friend called up for the second set, and together, the two of them tackled a couple of songs I hadn't heard at Largo before. Next, Jon invited Zach Gray (sp?) to join them for "double-keyboard madness." Perched on the piano bench with Benmont, Zach was entrusted with the celeste and Jon's advice to "hit the black keys and magic happens." Zach delivered nicely on "Stop the World," one of Jon's more celeste-appropriate tunes, though we could see him peering back at Benmont for musical cues throughout the night.

E was the third recruit, and he took the drums--which Jon said was the only way to get a singer/songwriter to stay for the whole set. Judging from Largo appearances by Neil Finn, Robyn Hitchcock, and Gillian Welch, to name a few, I'd have to agree with him. The group took a little while to figure out what to do next, and though they floated the idea of a holiday song, they took it in the other direction with "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." We even got a bit of an audience singalong ("bang bang shoot shoot") on the chorus. Upon completing the song, they joked about testing E with its different time signatures, and in return, he quipped that they had to do "the Beatles' only prog song."

Jon informed the audience that the band took requests, and that's exactly how they picked up "Raspberry Beret." Jon claimed to not know the words, but he launched into the first verse anyway. When he could proceed no further, E assumed vocal duties, down to Prince's every whoop and trill. The audience kicked in too!

(An aside: Though I can't claim any definitive word on Largo's history, I can say that "Raspberry Beret" is a very popular request at Jon's shows, but I, for one, have never heard him actually play it. Until now.)

I can't remember how "Billie Jean" came about, only that Jon asked Gus (?) to join them. It soon became apparent that he didn't know the lyrics at all, though he was willing to make them up as he went along. Jon threatened to bring Flanagan up to sing and peered expectantly back to the kitchen for a glimpse of the big guy, but he happened to go MIA for the duration of the song. Instead, we got Jon and Gus sharing the lead, and we'll have to wait another day to hear Flanagan's vocal stylings.

Sean Watkins was the next guest on the block, and after a short conference, they invited Zooey back for "Frosty the Snowman." It didn't take long for her to exhaust her knowledge of the words to the song, so she spent about half the time vamping and calmly leafing through the lyrics book before finding the entry. Her spirited, lively take was vastly different from Fiona's interpretation the night before, but she made it her own. At her suggestion, they went with "Silent Night," though I'm not sure who decided to make it rockabilly. Regardless, it turned out to be unutterably cool.

By this point, Flanagan had managed to return and push Paul F. Tompkins back onstage for his song about Hanukkah sung to the tune of "Ring of Fire." If you saw Aimee Mann's recent Christmas shows, you'll know this song. Jon watched on, smiling directly at Paul the whole time.

After a brief huddle, Sean Watkins finally got his time in the sun with "Write Myself a Letter," with Jon contributing harmonies. And though it felt like no time had gone by, it was that dreaded closing hour, and Jon bestowed upon us a double dose of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," first done in a power pop style, then à la Sonic Youth to an alarmingly accurate degree.

At this rate, I may camp out at Largo all week next year.

Paul F. Tompkins (opener)

E (opener)
--Grace Kelly Blues
--It's a Motherfucker
--Climbing Up to the Moon [with Jon Brion]
--Everything's Going to Be Cool This Christmas [with Jon]

Jon Brion (set one)
--Hot Fun in the Summertime/Surfer Girl
--I Believe She's Lying
--Ruin My Day
--Walking Through Walls
--Hook Line and Sinker
--Same Mistakes
--Happy with You
--The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise [with Zooey Deschanel]
--I Really Don't Want to Know [with Zooey]
--Swing Low Sweet Chariot [with Zooey]
--On the Sunny Side of the Street [with Zooey]
--I Can't Give You Anything but Love [with Zooey]
--Knock Yourself Out

Jon Brion + friends (set two)
--Girl I Knew
--My Back Pages [with Benmont Tench]
--I Go to Pieces [with Benmont]
--Stop the World [with Benmont and Zach Gray (?)]
--Happiness Is a Warm Gun [with Benmont, Zach, and E]
--Raspberry Beret [with Benmont, Zach, and E]
--Billie Jean [with Benmont, Zach, E, and Gus (?)]
--Frosty the Snowman [with Benmont, Zach, E, Gus, Zooey, and Sean Watkins]
--Silent Night [with Benmont, Zach, E, Gus, Zooey, and Sean Watkins]
--Paul F. Tompkins's Hanukkah song sung to the tune of "Ring of Fire" [with Benmont, Zach, E, Sean, and Paul]
--Write Myself a Letter [with Benmont, Zach, E, and Sean]
--Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire (power pop version) [with Benmont, Zach, E, and Sean]
--Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire (Sonic Youth version) [with Benmont, Zach, E, and Sean]

See also:
» let your heart be light
» public service announcement
» wherever there is comfort, there is pain
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, and Greg
» been hoping that you'd drop in
» it's not going to stop

Monday, December 25, 2006

happy holidays

To celebrate the holidays, I'm rounding up the handful of MP3s littered about this site. I'll be back in a day or so with the exhaustive (and exhausting) rundown of the Jon Brion show from this Friday.

MP3s galore:
» public service non-announcement
» when you reach Kyoto, send a postcard if you can
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 3)
» get a load of the lengths I go to
» 'til I'm blue in the face

Saturday, December 23, 2006

been hoping that you'd drop in

I'm working my way through only-at-Largo events, and the Watkins Family Hour has come up. Finally, a real-world application of my former rules of rock tourism (rule number two: cram as many shows into a single trip as possible)!

The Watkins Family Hour, Largo, December 21, 2006: Somewhere during my slow sidle toward twang, Nickel Creek popped up, and to be perfectly honest, I was skeptical for no good reason other than my own idiosyncratic bias. But on the strength of other people's recommendations and their own sterling reputation, I caught them once, though it was from afar at a music festival while I waited for Wilco to come onstage. It helped that they did Jon Brion's "Trouble" that day as well.

But over the years, Sara and Sean Watkins have won me over with their appearances at Largo, and tonight was my opportunity to see them on their own merits. Sure, the message on Largo's answering machine promised surprise guests, but the tease hasn't been a motivating factor for me for a long time. Rather, I just wanted to hear some good music in a welcoming environment. Considering Sean and Sara's substantial catalog of titles, as well as their treasure trove of favorite covers, I knew that I wouldn't have to worry about the night's song selection.

Thanks to Evonne's tip, I knew that the Watkins Family Hour is an incredibly loose affair, with a lot of song decisions settled by audibles and impromptu consultations, à la what may be my favorite show of the year and nearly every multiple-artist congregation I've ever witnessed at Largo.

The show started off seemingly deliberately, with just Sean and Sara onstage, but almost immediately, they were joined by Benmont Tench on piano, then by Mike Witcher on dobro. In what I take to be the norm at Largo, the players traded off solo turns for each song. Benmont extended his streak as Largo's ultimate team player, turning out note after endless wonderful note, while somehow maintaining that unassuming, effortless air that only makes you want to hear more of his piano magic. Sean and Sara were both very laid-back leaders, happy to let others take the spotlight as the song required.

As it was the Christmas show, we got to hear a bunch of seasonal favorites, with the help of even more guests. Fiona Apple came out for a couple of songs, including a very different "Frosty the Snowman" than most of us are used to. It was sort of strange to see Fiona's wispy shadow of a figure in contrast to Sara Watkins's glowing health, but leave it to Largo to bring their talents together.

Paul F. Tompkins dropped in as well, and he threw himself into the festivities, including a shambolic but charming version of "Baby It's Cold Outside." He also treated us to his own hilarious material, including a joke about the hidden meaning of the greeting "happy holidays" (translation: "Happy Hanukkah, potential Jewish person").

Finally, toward the end of the show, while the band performed "Different Drum," a lanky figure slipped in through the side door and found a spot for himself and his celeste on the tiny stage. Hey, what do you know? It was Jon Brion, who went to town on the song, accommodations (or lack thereof) be damned.

Though Jon didn't seem to mind either way, Largo staff was able to throw together a couple of milk crates together for him during the between-song break, before Fiona returned for "White Christmas," the faux closer. The band took a short encore break before coming back for the real finale. True to form, they took a little while to decide on how to close the show. At first, it seemed like we'd lose Benmont and Jon, but Sara and Sean lured both of them back; in my book, Sean won brownie points by snaring Jon's participation in his insistence that no Hank Williams track is complete without a celeste.

As far as I'm concerned, Benmont and Jon have carte blanche to do as they please onstage, but I was especially tickled by their respective solos, followed by their dueling keyboards on "Hey Good Looking." In the meantime, Sara and Sean belted out the tune with just the right combination of verve and mischief.

See also:
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, and Greg

Saturday, December 16, 2006

top 5 albums of 2006

I'm not actually a huge album fan. I mean, I buy lots of them, and lord knows I've worn out more than a few favorites. Usually, though, they can't compare to the live performance, and I have to admit, I'm guilty of that cliche: I like the early albums, but the later stuff doesn't usually measure up (ha).

But there were five albums released this year that knocked my socks off and that I feel comfortable pimping. Even stranger, they came out of nowhere; you won't find any of my usual favorites on this list, despite some big-name releases (Flaming Lips, Loose Fur, Decemberists, Golden Smog, Aimee Mann). Otherwise, I can't give you much insight into them, but I offer my endorsement, for what it's worth.

Without further ado:

Brakes, The Beatific Visions1. Brakes, The Beatific Visions
Brakes' first album Give Blood didn't do much for me, despite my amour fou for British Sea Power. In fact, it was probably my BSP appreciation that convinced me to give Brakes another try. Good thing 'cos I would've missed out big time. The Beatific Visions even inspired me to go back to Give Blood, and wouldn't you know it? I can't get enough of that first one now either. The unhinged, scattershot, drug-addled quality that initially turned me off now sounds brilliantly manic and clever. Or maybe I finally got the jokes. (How did I miss the 10-second screed "Cheney" with exactly one lyric: "Don't be such a dick!"?)

I'm sad that British Sea Power will now need a new nutter percussionist/keyboard guy, but when the resulting band is this good, it's no loss at all. Now if only they would tour over here...

2. Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther
My most reliable method for discovering new music is to see who's opening for bands I love. There are no guarantees, of course, but sometimes you get lucky.

Midlake, The Trials of Van OccupantherI don't know if the Flaming Lips handpicked Midlake to open or if I have the Noise Pop booking team to thank (though the two bands ended up touring Europe together for a stretch). Regardless, I loved Midlake's sound, as well as their videos and their aesthetic. I mean, they had these artsy black-and-white films filled with both Civil War-looking figures (though not in a joking Decemberists way) along with Orwellian characters. And in the purely idiosyncratic file, I like that six people comprise the band and that two members remind me of people I know. Whew!

When their album was finally released many months later, I was surprised by how their sound translated to the studio. Mostly, I didn't expect the resemblance to Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac (the Lindsey Buckingham titles, anyway) on the opening volley of tracks. As you wend your way through the album, you pick up other influences too, but it's hard to shake that initial impression.

3. Scritti Politti, White Bread Black Beer
Scritti Politti, White Bread Black BeerI don't blame anyone for thinking they know what Scritti Politti sounds like based on their '80s output, but this is a case where no good will come of your preconceptions. Apart from Green's distinctive voice (admittedly, an acquired taste), the album sounds unlike anything Scritti Politti has recorded before. If you had previously thought of Scritti Politti as a dance pop machine, you'll be surprised to discover Green's emergence as a singer/songwriter only slightly removed from the folksy types I gravitate toward these days.

If you didn't grow up with British music in the '80s, I can't come right out and tell you to buy this record. And even if you did grow up in the Reagan years, Green Gartside's long-awaited return might not be reason enough to pick up this disc. But if you're at all intrigued by the critical adulation and/or my less than rigorous reasoning, I hope you'll give it a try.

4. Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3, Olé Tarantula
Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3, Ole TarantulaThere are no new faces in this grouping, and in fact, I saw the main players under another guise earlier this year.

But what I thought I knew about the band didn't prepare me for this record's pure pop love. The bubbly, catchy tunes surpassed anything I've heard from Robyn, Scott, Peter, Bill, and any combination thereof in the past several years. The opening track, "Adventure Rocket Ship" is completely irresistible and makes me want to pogo like a maniac. No Robyn Hitchcock record would be complete without references to insects and other less than savory creatures, but I hardly mind when they're bathed in such endless harmonies. Bottom line: This is a fun record. Isn't that reason enough?

5. Flight of the Conchords, The Complete First Radio 2 Series
Flight of the Conchords, The Complete First Radio 2 SeriesIt feels a little like cheating to include this album, but Flight of the Conchords is a band, I swear!

So yeah, it's a comedy album, but it has a number of their original tunes, including many of the hits (?) performed on their HBO special. Even better, Neil Finn and Greg Proops turn in brilliant cameos. But really, it comes down to Bret and Jemaine and their charming demeanors, wordplay, and songcraft. I can't wait for the Conchords' American invasion.

See also:
» from the books you don't read anyway
» in fact, you're fanatical
» there's nothing I wouldn't do, including doing nothing
» you won't have an atom left
» Hiphopotamus Meets Rhymenocerous
» top 10 concerts of 2006

Saturday, December 09, 2006

wherever there is comfort, there is pain

If you read this at all, feel free to skip straight to the end. Thanks.

Neil Finn, Largo, December 6, 2006: A year-plus of regular Largo attendance has reaped me at least one benefit: an early shot at a table for this surprise show by Neil Finn, one of my longtime favorites. Though it should be clear by now that it doesn't take a whole lot to convince me to jump on a Southwest flight, this was beyond a no-brainer. It's on a par with breathing--pure instinct.

It's been a while since Neil has enjoyed the kind of popularity in the States that puts him in huge venues, and he tends to hit clubs or smaller theaters here. That is, fans still get a relatively intimate experience when they see him. But of course, Largo takes up-close and personal to another level, and the fact that talented friends are likely to drop in cements the gig's must-see factor. Thus, lines for previous Neil shows are legendary, even by Largo's standards, but tonight saw a thinnish crowd. I believe everyone got in, with plenty of room to spare--score one for the fans.

Among the pre-show sights: a spare, uncluttered stage that did not resemble a fire hazard--that is, a customary non-Jon Brion setup. But the presence of the celeste told us not only that Neil was expecting at least one guest tonight but who that guest might be (no stretch of the imagination).

In case you need proof that Neil Finn is Largo royalty, here are two items to consider: Flanagan not only helped Bobb Bruno with guitar tech duties, he also hand-delivered Neil's Guinness to the stage, complete with a napkin. (Jon never gets one!) We also spied the Flight of the Conchords (with dates!) at the door and got our hopes up for an Antipodean extravaganza of a night. Alas, events didn't pan out quite as expected, though there was tons of Southern Hemisphere representation.

The opener was Missy Higgins, a young, lovely Australian singer/songwriter who's apparently quite popular and acclaimed in her native country. Her producer Mitchell Froom played piano on a couple of songs, and she paid tribute to Neil with a story about how she has a recording of herself singing "Better Be Home Soon" when she was a little kid--which probably wasn't that long ago. Even if that didn't make Neil feel old, it certainly put the years in perspective for me.

We had a few theories on what could possibly bring Neil to town, and he answered that question soon enough when he talked about finishing his new album in Los Angeles. And in light of that information, it came as no surprise that the early part of Neil's set featured new songs. They were pretty evenly divided between piano and guitar tunes, with the piano songs inhabiting the more downbeat end of the spectrum. Of the new songs, my favorite was one whose name I didn't catch but that Neil said was written with the Dixie Chicks. For that one, he also asked us to imagine a big psychedelic ending in place of his acoustic treatment.

To no one's surprise, Neil called on Jon Brion to join him for a couple of new songs that Jon hadn't heard before. Jon picked up a big hollow-body Rickenbacker to contribute crisp, clear notes and shades of expression to these unfamiliar tunes. Soon after, Sebastian Steinberg from Soul Coughing and the last version of Neil's touring band rounded out the trio on bass, and not long after that, they picked up a drummer from the audience--a guy named Chris who turned out to be fantastic!

Chris's first trial came from Jon, who mentioned that they used to test out new drummers by making them play "Wipeout." Chris obliged, accompanied by Jon and Sebastian, and he totally owned it. He had pretty much passed the audition by that point, but the next phase came in the form of a Ventures romp while Neil tuned.

Neil sounded a tiny bit apologetic when he said that they actually knew the next song, but it was "Distant Sun," for which he never needs to excuse himself. With Neil's encouragement, Jon unleashed a gorgeous guitar solo that I don't recall in the original.

Jon jumped to the piano and celeste for the next few songs, and on "Sinner," he did this neat tickling thing on the piano keys--I can't really say anything else about it except that it was really cool. "The In Crowd" came during one of Neil's many tuning breaks, when the band asked for requests--and got one from Mitchell Froom. Mitchell's outburst prompted Neil to share a story about hearing Mitchell sing one of Neil's songs back to him. Imagine the chorus from "Don't Dream It's Over" in a flat, clipped tone, if you can; according to Neil, that's how Mitchell heard the song.

Neil explained that they had recorded two versions of "All God's Children," and he started out with the one not commonly heard: the acoustic version. But somewhere in the middle of the tune (coincidentally, when Jon had finished tuning the electric guitar), they kicked it up for the electric version.

This big boost was a nice introduction for Missy and Mitchell's return to the stage for a couple of tunes. Mitchell took the piano, Missy added backing vocals, and even Jon stepped up to the mic for the next two Crowded House standards. I thought Missy's vocals were especially gorgeous on "Fall at Your Feet," and I couldn't help but notice that Jon contributed very subtle low harmonies, a nice contrast to Neil and Missy.

At that point, Chris left the stage (to be replaced by Jon), but not before Neil and everyone in the room showed their appreciation for Chris's great rhythm work. Jon had set the bar earlier when Chris joined them, so it was only natural that we subjected him to the "Wipeout" test as well--he passed. Missy also took a short break while the quartet hit "Pineapple Head," but she returned for "Driving Me Mad" and her own suggestion, "Better Be Home Soon." Mitchell's piano solo on the latter was especially gorgeous, and it made me recall my mixed emotions about "Better Be Home Soon" when it was first released. Though I loved the song, it tested my sensibilities and self-image because it sounded almost--God forbid--country. If only all identity issues were so easily resolved!

The musical chairs proceeded apace, with Mitchell and Missy leaving the stage, Jon taking the electric guitar, and Neil moving to the drum kit. Neil said something about how Largo is the only place where he lasts on drums for a whole song, but despite his harsh assessment of his own skills, he seems to insist on hitting the skins whenever he's at Largo. He too had to undergo the "Wipeout" exam, and I'm afraid to say he was well below the other two drummers, though you can't really begrudge him the effort. He passed muster, however, so we let him advance to the song he intended to play: "One Step Ahead."

Both songs in the encore came from audience requests, and for the final tune, Neil asked all the night's artists to feel free to join him onstage. Only Jon returned to play a shaker during "Throw Your Arms Around Me."

Overall, it was the same Neil I've been listening to for the last (gulp) 20-plus years: charming, generous, laid-back, and playful. Of course, his cool friends don't hurt the case either. Heh. I haven't formed an opinion of the new songs yet; one (maybe "People Are Like Suns") sounded like less of a pop song than you'd associate with Neil, though I know a few of them included those bridges I love so much. This, the third time I've seen Neil at Largo, was as special as ever. I'm just glad he's back.

--Private Universe
--Pour le Monde
--People Are Like Suns
--title unknown
--Only Talking Sense
--Silent House [with Jon Brion]
--Nobody Wants To [with Jon Brion]
--Heaven That I'm Making [with Jon Brion and Sebastian Steinberg]
--Wipeout [with Jon Brion, Sebastian Steinberg, and Chris from the audience]
--something by the Ventures [with Jon, Sebastian, and Chris]
--Distant Sun [with Jon, Sebastian, and Chris]
--Sinner [with Jon, Sebastian, and Chris]
--Anytime [with Jon, Sebastian, and Chris]
--The In-Crowd [with Jon, Sebastian, and Chris]
--All God's Children (slow version) [with Jon, Sebastian, and Chris]
--All God's Children (rock version) [with Jon, Sebastian, and Chris]
--Four Seasons in One Day [with Jon, Sebastian, Mitchell, Missy, and Chris]
--Fall at Your Feet [with Jon, Sebastian, Mitchell, Missy, and Chris]
--Wipeout [with Jon, Sebastian, and Mitchell]
--Pineapple Head [with Jon, Sebastian, and Mitchell]
--Driving Me Mad [with Jon, Sebastian, Mitchell, and Missy]
--Better Be Home Soon [with Jon, Sebastian, Mitchell, and Missy]
--Wipeout [Neil version] [with Jon and Sebastian]
--One Step Ahead [with Jon and Sebastian]

--Message to My Girl
--Throw Your Arms Around Me [with Jon]

More Neil Finn at Largo
» i can teach you, but i have to charge (February 20, 2004)
» i've got it bad (August 14, 2009)
» above you and beyond me too (August 16-18, 2009)


I can't imagine that there's any appropriate way to rationalize tragedy and our reaction to it, but remembering former colleague, fine friend, and all-around great guy James Kim amid an intimate Neil Finn show felt right to me, even if nothing else from the news reports clicked. This wonderful man will be sorely missed and dearly remembered.

See also:
» i can teach you but i have to charge

Thursday, December 07, 2006

it's not going to stop

Regular readers almost got a reprieve. I'd vaguely planned to catch a Cat Power show over Thanksgiving weekend, despite my earlier claims of having hit the Chan Marshall wall. Alas, it didn't happen (I blame the tryptophan), so you're stuck with the usual objects of my obsession.

While we're on the subject, a warning: Barring extenuating circumstances, it's gonna be nearly all Largo, all the time until the end of 2006, including the following Largo-away-from-Largo scenario. You're on notice.

Aimee Mann's 1st Annual Christmas Show, Bimbo's 365 Club, December 4 and 5, 2006Aimee Mann's 1st Annual Christmas Show, Bimbo's 365 Club, December 4 and 5, 2006: I've squandered a lot of opportunities to see Aimee Mann, perhaps most foolishly during her (arguably) best years, following the success of Magnolia and her masterpiece Bachelor No. 2. It took that long for me to realize how much I love her. But I got a lucky break when I caught the Acoustic Vaudeville tour, featuring Aimee, Michael Penn, and Patton Oswalt at Bimbo's in 2000. I'm pretty sure nostalgia originally moved me to buy tickets to that show, but ultimately, the gig is less a testament to a longing for the past than a peek at my future life as a Largo nerd.

Only time will tell if the gigs' "1st annual" appellation will hold up, but at least the "Christmas" billing was well represented onstage. In addition to the usual array of instruments, more symbols of the season dotted the setup: a pair of reindeer, a Christmas tree, several stockings, strings of lights. Despite these details and the addition of some of Largo's favorite names, I don't think we really knew what to expect from the show.

Grant-Lee Phillips, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aimee Mann at at Aimee Mann's 1st Annual Christmas Show, Bimbo's 365 Club, December 4 and 5, 2006Even after Aimee and the band had worked their way through a couple of songs, their intentions weren't clear until Paul F. Tompkins joined them onstage. As Aimee and Paul chatted back and forth (with Aimee getting in as many zingers as Paul), they revealed that they were going for a Bob Hope/Andy Williams/Donnie & Marie vibe. Aimee and Paul also proved that their friendship is not just an affectation for the tour. They bantered effortlessly and giddily, though it also felt like they were sharing a big private joke that we couldn't guess at.

In the spirit of those '70s holiday specials, Aimee eventually duetted with each of her big-name guests: Paul, Grant-Lee Phillips, and John C. Reilly. Paul, especially, sounded better than expected. Each also got his time in the spotlight: Paul with his MC responsibilities, Grant as his usual troubador self, and John turning in spoken word duties.

I've never caught Paul's standup, so I'm not familiar with his style apart from what I've seen on VH1's Best Week Ever. I think I like his banter more than his routine, but I loved what he added to the mix. As I've stated again and again, Grant-Lee is one of my longtime favorites, and his voice is always a beautiful thing. I was just happy to hear him with an electric backing band for the first time in a while! I adored hearing Aimee on backing vocals for "Truly Truly," and you had to smile at his duet with Paul on "Little Drummer Boy" (with a heavy tip of the hat to Bing Crosby and David Bowie). John C. Reilly's singing chops are well known, but watching him act out some of the lines from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, I realized that may be the closest I ever get to seeing him in a play.

Morgan Murphy as the Hanukkah Fairy at Aimee Mann's 1st Annual Christmas Show, Bimbo's 365 Club, December 4 and 5, 2006Rounding out the cast were cameos by Scott Miller (the Loud Family); on the first night, he treated us to an old hymn and a Peanuts classic, but when he did his own songs the second night (complete with an Aimee duet), I understood the connection Aimee must feel with his detailed and maudlin songcraft. Last but not least was Morgan Murphy playing the Hanukkah Fairy--in a white body suit and a pink tutu. Morgan was pretty funny when I saw her with Aimee at Largo back in April, but at Bimbo's, she stole the show. Her mention of the Trader Joe's on Masonic alone was worth the cost of admission.

What about the hostess? In addition to her razor-sharp wit, Aimee treated us to a set heavy on selections from her new Christmas album and a handful of her own songs, including the always popular Magnolia-era hits. The last few times I've seen Aimee, she's turned on her inner Joni Mitchell, and she did so again both nights. It worked nicely on "Red Vines," but "Deathly" didn't fare so well. Though I liked what she did with the vocals, I wasn't a fan of the overall arrangement. One of my favorite aspects of the song is the build toward the bridge, and this new version sort of erased that wonderful, suspenseful effect. That might be my only complaint, especially since she gave us what she claimed was her first-ever performance of "Way Back When."

Morgan Murphy as the Hanukkah Fairy and John C. Reilly as Santa Claus at Aimee Mann's 1st Annual Christmas Show, Bimbo's 365 Club, December 4 and 5, 2006The ensemble closed out the show in the only way that made sense: with a big singalong visited by both Santa Claus (John C. Reilly) and the Hanukkah Fairy. I was gonna let you guess which one brought the confetti, but I couldn't resist posting the picture.

It's an odd affliction, the need to see an artist repeatedly for fear of missing some nuance that could cast a brand-new light on the performer in question. I know that most bands' performances don't change much, but I'm willing to stick it out for those nuggets of originality, especially if they're sandwiched between songs I love so much.

At this point, you don't have to ask me of all people if it was worth going to both nights. The two shows shared more elements than differences, but we got a slightly different setlist over the two nights, and the participants even mixed up their stage banter. If I had to choose, I guess I liked the first night better, if only because the group seemed less sure of themselves and, thus, more open to goofiness. In fact, Aimee later mentioned that the show felt more like a dress rehearsal than a real gig, but I think this loose take really energized the festivities. The second night, the crowd felt more responsive, and I enjoyed seeing what the performers did to keep the material fresh for themselves.

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