We didn't have reservations for Jon Brion's show tonight, but bless Heidi for making the trip anyway. Even without a table, we found our favorite perch and a fantastic view. The only sacrifice may turn out to be my notes on the show, as I forgot my usual supplies, but here are the details, to the best of my knowledge.
Jon Brion, Largo, January 26, 2007: You know you're off to a fine start when Bobb Bruno opens any show at Largo. From where we sat, I couldn't tell if he brought his customary array of fuzzy friends, but I can report that the bunny suit was fully present. Bobb had his usual setup of the electronic drum kit and sampled backing tracks, and this time, he started out on a languid note before the cacophony came in. He brought it back down for the outro and left the stage no more than 10 minutes after he arrived. I totally apologize for the cursory description, but I lack the knowledge to report further.
Jon took the stage shortly after, looking rather dishevelled. He immediately confessed that he was "in a state" and compared the potential for night's performance to turn into a "trainwreck," though hopefully one at which we wouldn't mind "rubbernecking" (Zagat, don't sue me). I have to admire Jon's candor; for some reason, his frankness made the show's melancholy tone easier to accept.
Jon began with a big hollow-body Gretsch (I believe) and opened up with some improv that almost coalesced into a known song--or at least, we wanted to think it did, though we couldn't tell you at all what that tune might've been. He stayed on electric guitar for the next couple of covers by the Buzzcocks and Duke Ellington, then commented on the artists' writing talents, hoping that Pete Shelley was being mentioned alongside Duke in some music class somewhere.
For the Eternal Sunshine theme, Jon of course took to the piano, and he stayed there for a sublime "Trouble" that was torchy, naked, wrenching. "Trouble" already has some of my favorite Jon Brion-penned lyrics ever, but his phrasing this evening revealed another level of loss and devastation. I'd compare it to the first time I heard Jon do "Amateur," when I could hardly bear the desparation, it was so acute.
Jon concluded this session on the piano with "It Could Happen to You" before jumping over to the drums for a build of "Girl I Knew." He then proceeded with a languid instrumental punctuated by a spare, smokey beat and equally minimal, slinky guitar.
"I'll Never Forgive Myself" is an old song that you can hear on the Jon Brion demos that have been floating on the Internet for some time now. On a similar tip to the past, he followed up with a tune that came with two caveats: Jon claimed he wrote it with a friend when he was 8 or 9, and it was one of the few things that still had the power to amuse him.
Both Heidi and I noted the song's similarity to "Girl I Knew," at least in terms of the arrangement, and we speculated that certain elements may have been added to the tune in the 30-plus years since its inception. We tried to recall the lyrics and came up with something about "last night when I went out to play" and the couplet "will this love last until we're old/that's a mystery we cannot solve."
A spacey piano and celeste intro led into "Same Mistakes," but Jon switched to acoustic guitar for a slower, downbeat version of "Knock Yourself Out" and a sterling "Tangled Mind."
The requests finally started pummeling the stage, and Jon took them all in with a subtle smile. When it looked like he had made up his mind, he sat down at the piano and checked to see if Dan McCarroll or Benmont Tench were in the house. With neither present, he played snippets of a few requests, including a couple of lines of "Let's Stay Together." Ultimately, he had other intentions; thus, we were graced with "Jealous Guy." He invited us to whistle along but jokingly took back the offer upon hearing our tepid and strained (but earnest, I swear!) response.
There were indeed some Largo regulars among the crowd, and Jon called on them to join him: Fiona Apple and Dave Palmer. Together, the three of them tackled a couple of standards and some of Fiona's original tunes, with Fiona on vocals, Dave on piano, and Jon first on understated guitar, then switching to the harmonium. Dave left the stage so that Jon and Fiona could go to work on their final song: the guileless "Tonight You Belong to Me," featuring shared vocals and Jon on the ukulele.
The night drew to its conclusion with a build I actually recognized fairly quickly this time out: "Heroes," one of the greatest songs ever written. It's easy to be amazed by both the song's original incarnation and Jon's take, and on a purely visceral level, Jon delivered. I was jumping up and down by the time he layered on the piano, and the two false endings kept the anticipation coming. During the first seeming break, he trailed off a cappella before dashing over for another helping of piano, keyboards, and crotales. On this second build, the intensity returned in both the instrumentation and the vocals. Jon clutched and tugged at the big, old-fashioned microphone hanging over the piano and belted out the final cathartic lines, which eventually gave way to the true coda on mellotron.
Ordinarily, when I think of "Heroes," exactly two things come to mind: David Bowie's incredible lyrics and Robert Fripp's searing lead guitar. Jon stayed true to both, but he added an awesome keyboard fill that highlighted the majesty of the song. It reminded me of what he did with "More Than This" not so long ago, except to completely different effect. Where "More Than This" is sensual and smooth, "Heroes" is harrowing and beseeching, but somehow, the keyboards work in both. In the case of "Heroes," those uplifting notes were the perfect contrast and denouement to the song's--and the night's--overall forlorn feel.
--Bobb Bruno opener
--electric guitar noodling
--You Say You Don't Love Me [el. gtr]
--Solitude [el. gtr]
--Eternal Sunshine theme [piano]
--It Could Happen to You [piano]
--Girl I Knew [piano]
--guitar and drum instrumental
--I'll Never Forgive Myself [el. gtr]
--song Jon wrote when he was 8 or 9
--Same Mistakes [piano]
--Knock Yourself Out [acoustic gtr]
--Tangled Mind [acoustic gtr]
--Jealous Guy [song build]
--I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)*
--When I Get Low I Get High*
--Slow Like Honey*
--Fast As You Can*
--Tonight You Belong to Me**
--Heroes [song build]
* = with Fiona Apple and Dave Palmer
** = with Fiona Apple