Sunday, February 25, 2007

nothing lasts forever

Of that I'm sure.

There was some doubt as to how our reservation for the evening's Jon Brion show would shake out. Would Evonne leave work at a decent hour? Would LA's byzantine public transport system squire Dance all the way from Santa Monica before Largo's doors opened? Would Selene's flight from Boston come in on time? Would I get off the couch and drive over from Los Feliz? As it turned out, yes, yes, yes, and yes! But seriously, it was tough going for a bit.

Jon Brion, Largo, February 23, 2007: We cut to the chase this month: no openers, just Jon hitting the stage after Flanagan's intro. The music was a little slower in following, as Jon explained that they were having sound problems and warned us to expect a "soupy" consistency to the acoustics. He also took some time out to joke about his non-hipster, fully bearded appearance, comparing himself to Michael MacDonald (?!#&).

So it was over to the piano and assorted key-based instruments for what may have been a warmup exercise or maybe some unrecognizable songs or perhaps even just a good, old-fashioned jam. Jon stayed on the bench and added the harmonica for "Ruin My Day," adorned with tiny differences in phrasing--the kind that suck me in every time--and an extended, vocal-less piano outro.

Jon took to his feet and picked up the big, hollow-body Gretsch that he favored so heavily last month. He didn't seem too pleased by the sound, but he ran it through its paces, hitting a wide swath of song selections and styles along the way.

The technical issues surfaced again with a song build of "Happy with You," when some of the backing loops dropped out during one of the verses. Jon took out his frustrations on the next tune, sampling himself screaming "fuck" into a keyboard, then layering ethereal backing vocals on top. To sustain this wall of sound, he jammed the keys in place with a couple of well-positioned guitar picks, freeing him to flit about the piano, synths, and keyboards as he pleased. The effect reminded me of the famous riff from the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now," but it actually became "Meaningless." Once more, he treated us to the kind of subtle vocal variances that probably only the most rabid of Brionites (who could that be?) would notice. "Same Mistakes," however, errrrr, staked out more familiar territory with a simple tack piano treatment.

Though Jon somewhat disavowed the night's first song build as a "clusterfuck," he granted the request for "Walking Through Walls," again employing his typical looping techniques. Somewhere toward the middle of the tune, he started playing a guitar riff that reminded me of Radiohead's "No Surprises." I couldn't have been more wrong, though, as Jon instead dropped Cheap Trick as a low, rumbling vocal over the musical onslaught, then took a left turn with a Bacharach/David classic. OK, I'm most familiar with Naked Eyes' version of "Always Something There to Remind Me," but give me some credit--I eventually discovered its true roots.

After "The Way It Went," Jon picked up what appeared to be a lute, eliciting a request from an audience member to do "anything but Sting." Maybe he had no real intention to use the instrument because his next move was to request the glorious presence of Benmont Tench.

While Benmont stationed himself at the piano, Jon switched to bass guitar, picked up a harmonica, requested some slapback, and---eeee!!!--launched into "More Than This." I had two spontaneous reactions: I jumped out of my chair by about four inches, and Evonne and I shot each other wide-eyed glances. Though it wasn't the first time I've heard this song at Largo, it was the first time I heard Benmont play on it. Together, he and Jon took the original's airy, otherwordly feel and made it into something intimate, understated, and almost folksy. I could've melted away on the strength of the celeste alone.

As a matter of fact, it was about a year ago that Jon unleashed the Roxy Music mega-medley upon Evonne's suggestion, and in that time, Evonne and I have come up with a few ideas for other Roxy songs to tackle. I have my heart set on two: "Dance Away" and "Both Ends Burning." Alas, there's been no luck with either, but I haven't given up yet.

Jon and Benmont followed up with Hank Snow, as even more requests came flying in. It was no surprise that they next went with the Beatles, first requesting our harmonies on "You Can't Do That" (we were abysmal, to tell you the truth), then on their own for "Sexy Sadie."

Jon had to cut off their attempt at the Band because he didn't know the words to the song, and it was "too good to massacre." He also put the kibosh on "Let's Get It On," though for a slightly different reason; Jon claimed that he felt like he was doing Jack Black's version of the song (down to the gesticulations), but at least we all got a good laugh while it lasted.

"Safety Dance," however, was ripe for a massacre, so we got a couple of verses before Jon declared that he and Benmont were now "officially a Vegas side show." The cheese wagon rolled on, with an audience request for the Steve Miller Band. Leave it to Benmont, though, to bestow the song with a much more beautiful piano treatment than it deserved.

At the side of the stage, Bobb Bruno peeked in to deliver a message to Jon, who passed it on to us by calling up Fiona Apple. For once, I was thankful for her intervention, and as it turned out, her song selection reflected the night's fun and whimsy, especially her choice of Buddy Holly's "Everyday." In fact, I think it was the most unrehearsed I've ever seen her at Largo.

The night had already seen a lot of interaction between Jon and the audience, and the setlist below doesn't reflect at all the breaks and lulls he took as he considered and addressed all our requests. With Benmont and Fiona, these lulls stretched out even further as they figured out what songs to do. At one point, someone requested "Hot for Teacher," and Jon responded with a line of dialog from the video ("I don't feel tardy"). This must've inspired some detour among the performers. Evonne heard something from her seat and turned to me, asking if Jon and Benmont had just made plans to catch Van Halen's upcoming tour together. Perhaps reading our minds, Fiona tattled on them and confirmed Evonne's suspicions.

After Benmont and Fiona wrapped up their contributions to the night, Jon was left alone onstage--and with our apparently unsatisfactory requests. As he explained it, none of the titles bandied about felt like a good closer, and he joked about it, casting us (the audience) and himself as two parties in a bad relationship, unable to communicate effectively. Finally, a voice (that of Paul F. Tompkins, I believe) over the PA asked for "My Baby Left Me," which Jon took on easily. But he ultimately succumbed to the Roxy groundswell for "Same Old Scene," or the birth of Eurodisco, as he calls it. The relentless beat and the breezy synths are a given, but Jon threw in some aggressive guitar licks that saved the song from being a purely Junior Vasquez-style remix. Further veering from a purely disco formula, Jon took to the mellotron to draw the song (and the show) to its conclusion.

--opening piano improv
--Ruin My Day
--"guitar soundcheck #1" (Star Spangled Banner/Stairway to Heaven/7 Nation Army/Peter Gunn/Lithium/Smoke on the Water)
--Happy with You
--Same Mistakes
--Walking through Walls/I Want You to Want Me/Always Something There to Remind Me/Walking through Walls
--The Way It Went
--More Than This *
--I Don't Hurt Anymore *
--You Can't Do That *
--Sexy Sadie *
--Tears of Rage [recused] *
--Let's Get It On [recused] *
--Safety Dance *
--Rock 'N Me *
--Crazy [Patsy Cline] **
--Everyday **
--Don't Get Around Much Anymore **
--Paper Moon **
--My Baby Left Me
--Same Old Scene

* = with Benmont Tench
** = with Benmont Tench and Fiona Apple

See also:
» we could steal time, just for one day
» there was no way of knowing

Monday, February 19, 2007

turn our prayers to outrageous dares

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. And how do you make a perfect private show with Jeff Tweedy? You don't because there's no such thing, but you can work out the kinks over time. Fortunately, we've now had three shots at this wonderful opportunity, and I think we've come closer to the ideal than before.

Jeff Tweedy, Hotel S'n'S, February 17, 2007: The weekend officially started on Friday, with Sam's "I Hate the '90s" party. I love the '80s, but I gotta admit the '90s were fantastic as well. My Anglophilia was at record levels, and as such, I represented with a full Pulp-centric outfit. As a group, we managed to reflect many of the decade's trends: Hypercolor, listprocs, kinderwhore, X-Files, Cross Colours, Pulp Fiction, slackers, the macarena. Throw in flying toasters and a dancing baby, and it was almost like a VH1 special had exploded at the S'n'S.

chocolate chai cupcakes, Hotel S'n'S, February 17, 2007The next day, all flights had landed, all troops had reported in, and we reconvened for the main event: the potluck. We've grossly overcompensated in the past, but this year, we approached something resembling a happy medium between sweet and savory. There was way too much good stuff to note, but I know I got in a bite or five of Alison's mac and cheese, Sooz's lasagna, Jeff's pierogies, and Laura's guacamole, while nibbling at Brianne's baklava, someone's oatmeal cookies, and the limoncello cheesecake, then washing them down with Paul's killer cocktails.

Back in the basement, Dave Mirabella treated us to an opening acoustic set of originals. Besides getting us in the mood for even more singer/songwriter action, Dave's guidance and expertise would come in handy later in the night too.

During Dave's set, word on the street was that the poster artist Jay Ryan had arrived with his guests: his girlfriend Diane (who had designed our poster the first year) and their good friend Andrew Bird. I was also told that Andrew Bird later ate one of my cupcakes, but I have no photographic proof of such--not that it'll stop me from spreading the story.

Jeff Tweedy, Hotel S'n'S, February 17, 2007Not long after, Jeff and Susan made their way through the door, giving us enough time to settle in, chat, and even sit back and listen to some new tunes before the playing began. When it was time for Jeff to pick up the guitar, he started with "Blasting Fonda," followed by Paul's request for "If That's Alright." Jeff didn't quite make it through the lyrics and promised to come back to it later in the evening; unsurprisingly, it got lost in the ensuing four-hour shuffle.

We had submitted a list of songs for the show, following the precedent set in previous years, but Jeff went off script this year. In a brilliant move, he suggested we go around the room, have each person request a song, then select the next person. Thus, Paul kicked it off by choosing Susan, who picked Dick, who picked Sandy, and so on. Jeff was game for most of the requests, though a few flummoxed him. Still, we got a bunch of great covers, including the long-awaited "Pink Moon" and "I Wish I Was Your Mother," with help from the Internet.

Devin Davis and Jeff Tweedy, Hotel S'n'S, February 17, 2007It's nearly impossible to pick a single highlight from the evening's gloriously meandering, unhurried performance, but if I had to choose, it would probably be the five-man acoustical jam (thanks for the coinage, Paul!) toward the end. By this point, everyone had got in their picks, and we were supposed to do only the holdovers from the original requests--that is, the songs that Jeff saved for the singalongs (i.e., didn't really know).

Instead, Jeff called up the guitar players in the room--maybe we pushed a few of them up--and together, they (Jeff, Dave, Martin Rivas, Adam Fitz, and Devin Davis) tackled almost everything we threw at them or, at least, politely demurred. So that's how we got a soaring "Stand By Me" and "Airline to Heaven," as well as Jeff following the others' leads for "Try a Little Tenderness," "I Shall Be Released," and "Out on the Weekend." The capper to this evening was a small tribute to Susan Miller Tweedy, who was serenaded with a couple of Herman's Hermits songs and enjoyed a dance with Sam and Sock Jeff.

But wait, there's more! Mart saw us off with the Campfire, betraying his current Police fixation but never far from his soulful roots. It's kinda amazing how many Police lyrics I remember, but I guess I did listen to them a whole lot back in the '80s. In fact, Heidi and I may have been a little too "strong" again on that Nabokov line, but I swear we were just caught up in the spirit of the show.

group shot, Hotel S'n'S, February 17, 2007On paper, this shouldn't work: 30 people coming together through a band and a performer, nurtured by a message board. When we first did this two years ago, it was the culmination of our fantastic adventure, more than many of us ever expected from this so-called hobby. But a couple of years down the line, you have to believe it's a whole lot more than that.

The full history
» i wish that i knew what I know now
» people say i'm crazy doing what i'm doing
» the message
» all the ladies and gentlemen
» that year
» springtime comes
» every day is dreamlike
» it's been a while

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Clapper Keeper

Don't expect any gig reports here for a couple of weeks, but you can always try back in late February/early March, when the concert calendar will likely yield much blog fodder.

In the meantime, to keep this blog from going completely stagnant, I've uploaded a mix I made a while ago, inspired by a friend who loves songs with handclaps. As the only mix I've ever compiled not entirely populated by introspective, midtempo tunes (though I can never altogether give them up), Clapper Keeper has accompanied me--and a few of you--on many a roadtrip. The sequel is percolating, but my guess is that it won't hatch for some time.

Download and clap along!

Clapper Keeper: a handclap mix
1. Space Oddity - David Bowie
2. Stars and Sons - Broken Social Scene
3. Phantasies - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
4. Silver Lining - Beulah
5. Monday - Wilco
6. Take the Fifth - Spoon
7. The Boy with the Arab Strap - Belle & Sebastian
8. Here Comes the Sun - the Beatles
9. Me Just Purely - Brendan Benson
10. On Your Own - the Verve
11. Mellow Doubt - Teenage Fanclub
12. The Way We Get By - Spoon
13. I'm Looking through You - the Beatles
14. Nothing'severgonnastandinmywayagain - Wilco
15. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man - Prince
16. What's Going On - Marvin Gaye
17. The Cedar Room - Doves
18. Emma Blowgun's Last Stand - Beulah