I've had the great pleasure to act as a Largo sherpa, if you will, for many friends over the years, but these past few months have yielded a bumper crop of trusting souls. Tonight, Rob and Lauren were the latest to subject themselves to the debriefing that accompanies that initial step known as the First Largo Visit, Usually to See Jon Brion. Who's next?
Jon Brion, Largo, March 30, 2007: There's a saying: You're only as good as your last record/book/haircut/etc. I'm not sure I believe in the statement to begin with, but it definitely doesn't hold true when it comes to Jon Brion's shows. Though Jon's Chicago shows were--in a word--stunning, you'd be a fool to assume that they held any indications of what to expect when Jon brought the show back to Los Angeles. And as it turned out, your assumption would be right.
On the heels of Flanagan's intro, Jon stumbled onstage, already sporting an acoustic guitar. Despite his choice of accessories, he was far from ready and definitely didn't have set plans, as we soon discovered. He gave it a shot anyway, with a short interlude that was half a tuning exercise and half a joke. The piano piece that followed started out just as amorphously, but it coalesced into something more tangible, with a resonant chord progression and light loops. I whispered to Evonne that it reminded me of Magnolia, while she cited I Heart Huckabees as her main touchstone.
Jon continued the piano improv until something in the music reminded him of the Charlie's Angels theme, which turned out to be the spark for one of his patented multisong medleys--you know, that stream-of-consciousness progression of tunes both classical and contemporary, frivolous and serious, interrupted by only thunderous claps of piano as Jon transitioned between selections. The parade didn't stop, but it eventually led into "Trouble." I can't imagine that I'll ever hear Jon squeeze as much pathos out of the song as he did in January, but tonight's version bore similarly withering qualities.
Jon took a little while to decide on his next direction, and even after he situated himself behind the drum kit, the song didn't take hold right away. He took his sweet old time working out the beat before leaving it alone to take the guitar. I'm pretty sure it was Jon's own song, which may or may not be called "Croatia"--I recognize it only because it always reminds me of Fleetwood Mac, then turns out not to be.
"Moonage Daydream" came in as a request and went out in Sun Records style, with tons of slapback and maybe a touch of Les Paul. Jon next build up a song I've heard at Largo before, but I can't figure out what it is. Regardless, it's turbulent, towering anthem, and it's a lot of fun.
Jon sat back down at the piano and donned a harmonica; it quickly became apparent that "Knock Yourself Out" was next, but Jon let the celeste butter up the crowd before the vocals kicked in. Because Jon was turned toward the celeste, he sang indirectly into the mic, sort of out of the side of his mouth and almost off the PA. There's something about the combination of that melody and the sound of the celeste that just screams charm. If Largo didn't keep its lights so low, we might've seen smiles all around the room.
At this point, Jon may have confessed that he had no idea what he was doing, so the requests were getting lots of play. "Here We Go" got a nice reaction out of Rob and Lauren, who recognized it from the Largo Web site; of course, it always gets a reaction out of me, but we've been through that many times already.
Jon dropped in a dozen or more Beatles riffs into "Tomorrow Never Knows," sort of like what he did with Benmont Tench and Greg Leisz back in November. As he ended the song, he confessed to visions of Cirque du Soleil's "Love" playing in his mind. He had more (negative) words about the Las Vegas production and reflected on the last 10 years he's spent creating Beatles mashups live onstage (sound familiar?).
Jon gave "Pachelbel's Canon" its due, but the next few songs were only snippets as he tested out requests. "Up the Junction" gave us the most amusing exchange. The gentleman in the back had yelled out for it more than once, but Jon wouldn't do it since he didn't know the words. Still, he played the general tune and even threw in a line or two from memory. When the requester offered to supply the words and lead the crowd, Jon batted him down more than once. Clearly, we weren't hearing the song tonight, but at least we enjoyed a good laugh.
Jon basked in a long lull filled with both good and bad requests before he gave in to the lure of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" on bass guitar. Strangely, he couldn't remember the lyrics, though he trots out the song often these days. "Strings That Tie to You" came next, and it should be noted that though Jon did both songs in Chicago, neither got the same treatment they did in the Midwest.
The first guest called to the stage this night was Benmont Tench, Largo's greatest team player. For their inaugural tune, Benmont humored Jon's exercise in prog; from there on, they tackled more straightfoward titles, including a very weak audience singalong on "Femme Fatale."
Next was Sara Watkins, who kicked off her contribution to the night with an old Kinks song. As I recall, Benmont's playing was especially gorgeous here--not that it's ever less than stellar. She moved to leave the stage after this song, but Jon forced her to stay, and with Benmont, they set about calling the shots. I think it was on "In Tall Buildings" when it seemed that Jon might leave the entire show to Sara and Benmont as he drank down his Guinness, but he eventually graced the song with a touch of bass guitar.
Not long after, they conscripted Sean Watkins for their merry band and a Gillian Welch cover. As they lingered over their next song selection, Flanagan took to the PA to command, "Benmont, play the shit out of that piano." Benmont picked up on the suggestion--and ran with it, slamming out "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." Stationed in the DJ booth, Flanagan commandeered the mic again, this time adding vocals to the song. The artists onstage sort of helped out with the chorus, though it sounded a lot like that Irish drinking song game from Whose Line Is It Anyway. Decorum vaguely returned with the next few songs; the first two featured Sara on vocals before she left the stage for the evening, and Jon resumed the reigns for "Only Love Will Break Your Heart" with Benmont and Sean.
Full disclosure: I spied Badly Drawn Boy across the street from Largo before the show, and we saw him get seated. But Damon being Damon, there was no guarantee he'd get off his ass and take to the stage. My vanity, however, wanted to believe that the short chat I had with him in Chicago might've jogged his memory or, at least, made him pick up the phone to talk to his old friend. Thus, my ego got a tiny massage when Jon convinced Damon to join them, but the feeling was nothing compared to the euphoria of watching one of my Largo fantasies play out.
I sort of feel like the girl who cried wolf; I've seen so many "dream" shows at Largo (with Neil Finn, Glenn Kotche, Nels Cline, Michel Gondry, Kanye West, to name a few) that it might seem like I'm far too easily impressed. I won't deny that charge, but in my defense, I'll say that the odds happen to work in my favor. Considering that many musicians I love have connections to Largo, it would be more puzzling if they didn't show up from time to time.
Anyway, enough rationalization, more Badly Drawn Boy: I thought I had a decent grasp on Damon's stage persona. I've seen him cocky, sweet, sentimental, insulted, bratty, and genuinely flattered. Tonight, though, he displayed another facet altogether. Granted, he was incredibly drunk, but he was also wickedly hilarious.
After he finally acquiesced to Jon's invitation, Damon strapped on the acoustic guitar and almost immediately managed to insult everyone onstage. For example, though he and Jon hugged warmly, Damon confessed to a lie. Damon had told someone outside that he had played with Jon 10 times or more, but in truth, it was more like 2 times--it just felt like 10 because Jon went on for so long. Later, when Damon started on a song that he hadn't revealed to anyone (though it was readily apparent he was building up to "Donna and Blitzen"), he ordered Benmont to keep up with him. The story behind "Donna and Blitzen" was hilarious as well; I can't do it justice, but I'll mention that it involved a conversation with Santa and Damon on the first Christmas Eve ever in 1969. On at least one occasion, Damon referred to Santa as the "fat fuck in the red suit," while Santa preferred to use Damon's nickname ("Damo") when they were together.
In the end, the song featured Damon and Sean on acoustic guitar, Benmont on piano, and Jon on drums, after which Damon left the stage--to have another drink, if Jon was to be believed. For the last song of the night, Jon made an executive decision and logged his own request: barrelhouse piano from Benmont.
The maestro went to town, and his energy proved hard to resist. After watching on, Jon had a change of heart. He sidled up next to Benmont, cleared some space for himself on the bench, and threw himself at the keys. The two of them pummeled the piano, taking to their feet and bobbing their heads when they couldn't sit still anymore. Benmont momentarily ducked out and ceded the bench to Jon, only to swoop back in on the other side. Not only had Jon and Benmont done it again--that is, completely confound and astound us--they had done so in a way I've never witnessed before.
Only at Largo. Only at Largo.
--Smoke on the Water
--piano megamedley (Charlie's Angels theme/Keystone Cops theme/Electric Avenue/Incense & Peppermint/Rhapsody in Blue/etc.)
--??? ["It's high time...with you/What I been through.../When you left me"]
--Knock Yourself Out
--Here We Go
--Tomorrow Never Knows [w/ numerous more Beatles riffs]
--lull [Love Will Keep Us Together, Up the Junction, Somewhere Over the Rainbow]
--Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
--Strings That Tie to You
--Chris Squire prog exercise*
--You Better Go Now* [title?]
--Walk On By*
--I Go to Sleep**
--In Tall Buildings**
--And Your Bird Can Sing**
--When Irish Eyes Are Smiling*** [Flanagan lead vocals]
--Tennessee Waltz*** [Sara lead vocals]
--Why Can't He Be You*** [Sara lead vocals]
--Only Love Can Break Your Heart*** [Jon lead vocals]
--Donna and Blitzen ****
--Benmont (and Jon) barrelhouse piano
* = with Benmont Tench
** = with Sara Watkins and Benmont
*** = with Sara and Sean Watkins and Benmont
**** = with Damon Gough, Sean, and Benmont
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