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


breaphene said...

I just spent at least ten seconds imagining Jon and Benmont rocking out to Van Halen together.

hodie said...

"(who could that be?)"

(hand raised, shyly, and yet rabidly)


Thanks again for another lovely review. The description of More than This did an especially great job of mentally putting me at a Largo table. Nice.

jk said...

when i said to stop going to jon brion w/o inviting me, i meant it!