December 2005 was a month of milestones and, perhaps, the moment I lost the plot in all matters Largo and Jon Brion. I not only capped off my first Year of Largo with an incredible Christmas show, thus kicking off what I hope will become a new tradition, I also started off the month with another first for me: a triumvirate of Jon Brion (and friends) shows. More than a year and a half later, I grabbed the opportunity to do it again--the trio, that is, not the Christmas show (yet).
Jon Brion, Largo, July 19, 2007: Whenever we hit Largo, we like to check out what new instruments or accessories may be adorning the stage. We didn't have to try too hard tonight; both the Hammond B3 organ abutting the front edge of the stage and its accompanying Leslie cabinet wedged between the piano and the drum kit were impossible to miss. What we couldn't guess: how these enticing additions would be used.
This question would have to wait while Jon manned his usual station at the piano for the initial flurry of tunes: two separate instrumental piano exercises, followed by "Someone Else's Problem Now," then his own compositions. In fact, I think he said something about doing his own songs first so that he could bring out his friends later. "Girl I Knew" was the gem of this early portion; with nothing but piano accompaniment, some humming, and the beat of his feet, Jon injected a tone of pity into this song, a far cry from the defiance and bombast conveyed by the built-up version of this tune.
Switching to the other side of the stage at first proved less fruitful, and no amount of switching cables, slapping pedals, or wiggling cords could sustain the action, though Jon gave it the ol' college try, regardless. It didn't last long, however; after the "distorted Ellington" number, Jon went into "Same Thing," even though the amp went out and he had to hold the guitar up to the mics for it to be heard.
While his new assistant attempted to work out the kinks, Jon kicked out a drum solo, then perhaps earlier than planned, pulled out his trump card for the night: Benmont Tench, who immediately sat down at the Hammond. Together, the two launched into Booker T and the MG's and perhaps the most famous organ song in the rock 'n' roll era.
Jon moved back toward the guitars for the next song (while Benmont played a baseball-themed interlude) and picked up--well, I'm not sure what. It had eight strings and a round, flat body, but I don't think it was a lute or a bouzuki. Additionally, the sound it produced was less resonant than what you'd hear from a conventional guitar. Anyway, he kept it for a trio of songs, including Benmont's first turn for the night (and the weekend) on vocals ("96 Tears"), a song I hope is becoming a staple of his set ("More Than This"), and his own composition. The amp died again during "Why Do You Do This to Yourself," moving Jon to twist his body over to the organ to finish out the tune.
This would prove to be the last we'd hear from the guitar--any guitar--for the night. Instead, Jon and Benmont made room for each other on the organ bench and asked for requests. I immediately blurted out "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," inspired by one of my favorite Simpsons episodes. Jon replied that Benmont had just requested that himself, but alas, they weren't doing it. Rather, they went with a couple of beloved singalongs that drew us all in.
Jon asked for our cooperation, then inquired to see if a drummer was available. Up popped Chris, who many of us had seen play with the Neil Finn and co. back in December. After Chris took his place at the kit, Jon instructed him to play a specific beat, a mark Chris soon hit. Chris had already proved himself a worthy addition, and he showed no weaknesses tonight, whether ratcheting it up or paring back as needed. In fact, he stayed with them through the rest of the show.
I had been thinking very literally with my requests, suggesting songs where the organ played a significant role, but leave it to the artists to opt, instead, for less cliched selections they could reinterpret with the Hammond. For example, "Tainted Love" sounded less campy than usual, and the lack of guitar didn't hurt "Isn't It a Pity" or "Happiness" at all.
Benmont proved, as ever, a worthy foil. Though he didn't seem to really know "Lithium" (he certainly wasn't alone), he managed to append to it a lovely ragtime ending. On the other hand, he was in the driver's seat when they segued from "Time of the Season" to "She's Not There," as well as when he took up the vocals for the Band's "Chest Fever," which in turn led to Jon's attempt at "Tears of Rage." I believe the hushed conferences between the two brought us the Todd Rundgren rock block, before they concluded with an instrumental that, on the organ, resembled a dreamy merry-go-round tune.
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--Eternal Sunshine theme
--Girl I Knew
--The Way It Went
--I Want You to Want Me
--96 Tears [vocals = Benmont]
--More Than This
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--I'm a Believer
--You Won't See Me
w/Chris on drums
--Isn't It a Pity
--Time of the Season/She's Not There
--Positively 4th Street
--Chest Fever [vocals = Benmont]
--Tears of Rage
--Be Nice to Me
--Bicycle Built for Two
» let your heart be light
» i'll be back again
» wherever there is comfort, there is pain
» Night 2: wouldn't have it any other way
» Night 3: i can come to my senses