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)
--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
--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]
» let your heart be light
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» 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