So many choices in Los Angeles tonight: Besides Jon Brion's third consecutive night at Largo, there was a free show by Sonic Youth in Santa Monica, Daft Punk playing the Sports Arena at USC, and--sweet lord a-mighty--David Beckham's debut for the Galaxy. Any guesses as to where I hitched my wagon?
Jon Brion, Largo, July 21, 2007: For all the to-do around Jon Brion's shows and their alleged exclusivity, the no-reservations line ebbs and flows a lot more than you'd think. By 9 tonight, for example, everyone without a reservation was in--a far cry from the waves of humanity that have to be admitted in shifts on a typical Friday night--and they enjoyed an unobstructed view of the show from the bar. Maybe it was due to the aforementioned bursting social calendar, but seriously, folks, don't let the hype scare you away.
Largo-ites know full well that bigger is not always better, which is why we come back again and again to Fairfax Village. But smaller isn't always super either; though you'd think that the relatively intimate crowd might be more discerning, the lame "Freebird" requests started immediately upon Jon's entrance. (Note to self: Ask Mike to add the "no Freebird" rule to his spiel at the door.) Jon took it up anyway as an abstract instrumental on the piano and with an off-hand swipe at the audience member.
Jon wasted no time in opening up the floor to other requests, which is how the next three songs came about. I asked for "Croatia," partly as an inside joke with my friends, but also to get us off the ballads. I gotta say, though, that it was probably the most languid take on the song I've heard, with a toned-down opening drum track. The song also betrayed the technical problems from the two previous nights, as you could hear some crackles from the amp. In the end, though, it rode out on some mighty impressive guitar licks.
The instrumental piano piece that followed leaned more toward modern jazz than the ragtime Jon's equally capable of, but both "This Will Be Our Year" and the built-up "Happy with You" were more traditional--if there is such a thing for the latter.
I thought I knew where he was going from there, though at first I wondered why he was doing the Eternal Sunshine theme again. Knock me over with a feather--it finally dawned on me that Jon was playing one of the songs I always want to hear and had, in fact, requested the night before. It was nowhere as agonizing as I've heard it--a good thing--and he took a wonderful turn in the final verse ("So I wasn't thinking clearly..."), when he switched from the upper register in which he had been singing to a lower, more deliberate tone as he delivered the denouement. Talk about a knockout punch.
I think tonight was also the first time I heard the charming "Into the Atlantic," even though Jon pooh-poohed its "outdated animosities." The next song took a little while to come together, as Jon picked at the little Korg and fiddled with the harmonica. We eventually got "Love of My Life So Far," featuring mostly piano.
The cheat sheets came out again as Jon tried out one of the new (?) songs once more. For the final song of the first set, Jon spurned the jillion requests ringing out and somewhat apologetically went with the song that had popped in to his head: "You Made the Girl," all 20-plus minutes of it. Oy.
The second set kicked off with a build of "I Believe She's Lying," along with a pinch of Cheap Trick, before Jon brought out Benmont Tench for the third night in a row. With Ben back on the organ, they hit what Evonne says was another Booker T number, though she couldn't quite decide if it was "Hip Hugger" or "More Green Onions." I defer to her, regardless. Along the way, Benmont snuck in snippets from a few other tunes, all of which are just on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn't name them to save my life.
I can, however, tell you most of the songs covered in the next adventure. I love "Tomorrow Never Knows," and I love Jon playing it, but I wasn't sure I wanted to hear this epic so early in the second set. Fortunately, he abbreviated it somewhat and sprinkled it with other Beatles selections. I would've liked to hear "Ticket to Ride" on its own, but obviously, it's not my call.
After fielding a bunch more requests, Jon asked for slapback and said something about wanting to be in Memphis in 1956, which could mean only one thing: Sun Studios, of course. I was slower on the uptake when it came to the song selection itself--my own request for "Raspberry Beret." I may have figured it out by the time both Evonne and Paul were jabbing me in recognition, but just barely. Had the pairing occurred to anyone else in a million years? Not bloody likely. Was it awesome? Hell yeah!
Benmont offered a candidate for the next song, but Jon replied that he'd forget the second verse and that he was a total "letdown" that night. I'm glad this deterrent proved less than daunting because they went into "All the Young Dudes" anyway. I also hope it made Jon feel a little better that apparently no one else in the room knew any of the words either, though we were happy to contribute to the chorus. I think that's officially the second-worst version of the song I've ever been witness to--and how lucky am I to be a part of both.
Jon did return to a couple of songs with lyrics he had no problem recalling, then brought up Gabe Wicher, who looked like he had just come from a wedding where he was best man. C'est chic!
I'm ecstatic that my friends and I aren't alone in our Benmont appreciation. Friday night, someone had yelled out "we love Benmont!" This led Jon to snap, "Back off!" and reveal that he was the No. 1 member of the fan club. Tonight, an audience member requested a "Benmont original." I couldn't hear Benmont's reply, but it moved Jon to call bullshit on him and demand his singing services. With Gabe on drums, they burrowed into "I Wanna Be Sedated," albeit in the wrong key. Like it matters. I mean, do you think the Ramones ever discussed--much less knew--what key they were in?
They brought Gabe back to the mic for a batch of tunes, including the standard but apt "Sin City," which saw Jon adding gorgeous harmonies to complement Gabe's strong, heartfelt voice. When the lyrics to "The Wind Cries Mary" seemed to elude both Jon and Gabe, the audience kicked in with some help, but Gabe needed no guidance whatsoever for the Hank Williams number.
By virtue of knowing the words, Benmont assumed vocal duties at the start of the summer-themed medley, with Jon taking over for the Kinks tune, then the two of them trading off the "authority" voice on "Summertime Blues" (and cracking up while doing so).
This interlude moved Jon to joke about Benmont's heretofore hidden knowledge of lyrics and to command Benmont to recite "Tommy, side 3," which is how we got the extended Tommy medley, with Jon and Benmont switching off lead vocals. This is by no means a definitive statement, but Benmont seemed to jump on more of the dramatic readings, especially if the song required a falsetto. As if we needed the emphasis, someone in the control booth shined the spotlight on Benmont every time he drew on his drama club chops. In the meantime, the audience jumped in for the really obvious songs ("Pinball Wizard," of course).
For this entire sequence, Gabe had stood fiddle in hand to the side of the stage but had not tried to insert himself at all. It was only after Jon and Benmont had worn out their Tommy knowledge and an audience member urged Gabe to return that he moved back into the spotlight. Jon sort of apologized, explaining how he had spent most of 8th grade listening to the album. Gabe was having none of it and claimed he had a great time just watching. I hope Gabe's enjoyment was not curtailed when he was asked to resume singing duties--ours sure wasn't. His rendition of "Look at Miss Ohio" felt like a compliment of the highest order to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
The requests took a turn for the worse as we neared closing time, forcing Jon to bestow the honors to Flanagan, who also had a hard time making the executive decision. Benmont backed off from Flanny's first choice of "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometimes," citing its abundance of chords. By the time Flanny hit upon on his next suggestion ("Nothing Between Us"), Jon had already moved to the audience cry for "Communication Breakdown." They tried to draft a drummer, but Aaron in the soundbooth flatly said no when asked if he knew the song. Not reluctantly, Jon manned the kit, almost gleefully proclaiming his willingness to "fuck up publicly." They gave it a go, and Jon pounded away with a ferocity I hadn't seen all night, but Benmont called off the train wreck in waiting. Instead, he took the reins and the mic for "Do You Know What I Mean?" (thanks to Evonne for that tidbit!) to cap off Jon's--and Benmont's--three-night stand.
--"'Freebird' a la Copland"
--Over Our Heads
--Hook Line and Sinker
--This Will Be Our Year
--Happy with You
--Into the Atlantic
--Love of My Life So Far
--? [lyrics: "Another trying day when you don't get your way..."]
--You Made the Girl
--I Believe She's Lying/Everything Works Out if You Let It
--Booker T and the MG's number [Hip Hugger? More Green Onions?]
--Tomorrow Never Knows/I Want You (She's So Heavy)/Ticket to Ride/Dr. Robert
--Raspberry Beret [Sun Studios-style]
--All the Young Dudes
--I'm Not in Love
--I Don't Hurt Anymore
w/Benmont and Gabe
--I Wanna Be Sedated [vocals = Benmont]
--Sin City [vocals = Gabe]
--The Wind Cries Mary [vocals = Jon and Gabe]
--I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You) [vocals = Gabe]
--Summer in the City [vocals = Benmont]
--Summertime Blues [vocals = Jon and Benmont]
--Tommy medley [vocals = Jon and Benmont]
--Look at Miss Ohio [vocals = Gabe]
--You Win Again [vocals = Gabe]
--Do You Know What I Mean [vocals = Benmont]
» Night 2: wouldn't have it any other way
» Night 1: maybe i'm learning