Sign No. 4,877 You've Found Your People: After (originally) two friends agree to fly across the country to hang out for a weekend, see a free festival, and generally have fun, they easily acquiesce to a less-than-24-hour detour that takes them to another city, where another traveling pal is waiting. No sweat.
Jon Brion, Largo, October 6, 2007: For the past few months, my Wilco and Jon Brion schedules have complemented each other beautifully, allowing me to scurry away to see one party at a time. Jon took July, while Wilco gave me lots to look forward to in June and August. Technically, they both crowded May and September, but I wasn't exactly complaining. The October surprise threw me for a small loop, but I think we hit a happy medium.
Opening tonight was Todd Carlin, sometimes known as the Naked Trucker or even as David "Gruber" Allen, his real name. Calling himself a "warm-up artist," he expounded on some of the same topics he covered the last time I saw him, but he added a hilarious new section of haikus. I won't try to get across any of them, except to say that "jump on the 405" became our catchphrase for the next 24 hours.
Jon launched with "Take Five," which I believe was inspired by a reference to Dave Brubeck in Todd Carlin's act. Jon, however, sort of threw everything but the kitchen sink at it, a motif that carried through to his next number, "Same Thing." Oddly, this normally resilient song sounded a bit discordant, and not in a good way. I think there were one too many elements at play during this outing; when Jon subtracted one of the numerous rhythm tracks he had piled on, the tune finally sounded right again.
He stayed at the piano for the Eternal Sunshine theme, then switched to electric guitar for "Meaningless," a request from an audience member who turned out to be quite persistent, though highly predictable. I believe this same audience member supplied the call for "Didn't Think It Would Turn Out Bad." Jon built it through layers and was applying a variety of guitar styles (starting with big power chords, then wending his way to fuzzy distortion) when his strap broke before he could finish out the song.
Switching gears, he went into one of his most straightforward numbers, "Excuse to Cry." "Oh Susanna" served as a prelude to "Knock Yourself Out," thus satisfying yet another title thrown out by the loud requester (who had now grown annoying). Then again, some people also believe that given an infinite number of monkeys typing away, one is bound to produce Hamlet.
At this point, Jon definitely started asking for requests. Of all the improbable numbers thrown at him, he took up one of the least likely: the Star Trek theme, complete with lyrics (who knew there were any?!?). Armed with only the tiny Korg and his vocoder, he launched right into that familiar theme, and though the vocoder obscured most of the lyrics, he clearly knew the lines, even if we couldn't tell exactly what they were.
The next trio of songs were (I think) all unreleased tracks from Jon's catalog. "The Way It Went" might be the only one with a confirmed title, but the first song was one he's done several times now, and it's an epic, with an amazing build. It's hard to characterize, except to say it might take a cue from Bowie's late-'70s output. The last song made its debut only a few months ago, I believe. At the time, I thought it might be a Todd Rungren number, as it bore some resemblance to the spate of Todd's tunes Jon had done the night before. At this point, though, I'd be surprised if it turned out to be anything other than his own.
When Jon introduced the night's guest appearance, he actually managed to answer the other question running through our minds: What was John Krasinski doing at Largo? He was accompanying his good friend Ben Gibbard, of course, who hopped to the stage to join Jon.
I've never been a fan of Death Cab for Cutie, but I found Ben to be a charming addition to the Largo stable. Oddly, though I don't particularly care for his band, I have to admit that Ben has some great tastes in music, an idea that first occurred to me when I heard the band cover Julian Cope. The streak continued with Jon and Ben's first cover of the evening, a song that I always associate with Tracey Ullman (remember how Paul McCartney was in the video?!) but that Ben rightfully credited to its writer: the late, great Kirsty MacColl. For the Everly Brothers tune, Jon turned the piano mic to the front of the stage, picked up the celeste, planted it on his lap, and facing the audience, served up harmonies to Ben's lead. Finally, they went with one of Ben's own, which he was supposed to record to Jon at some point, though those plans fell far by the wayside.
With Ben gone, Jon asked for more requests and tore into one of my favorite covers, "Heroes." The reemergence of this tune in Jon's shows has been one of my favorite developments of the last year or so. I didn't bother trying to clock it, but even if that instrumental build had gone on for an hour, I don't think I'd mind. I recall that in previous performances, Jon's been playing out the song on piano on keyboard, but he let the guitar do the talking tonight, all the way to the very end.
For the last song of the first set, Jon asked for covers once again and readied his guitar for the Les Paul-style treatment. As he started playing and working through the foundation of the song, my mind latched on to something about the tune that sounded intensely familiar, though I couldn't quite place it. Heidi, however, was grinning uncontrollably. By the time Mike cruised by to fill us in on the title of the mystery tune, Heidi had already spilled the beans, and I was singing along to the chorus. It turned out to be "Nowhere Man"--my request, which Jon had greeted with a slight guffaw when I had shouted it out. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I would've figured it out without my friends, so I'm glad I was able to enjoy in full something I always wanted, even if not in exactly the style I've always envisioned.
The second set started off with two discrete piano pieces: one in the ragtime style, the other a cooler, more abstract treatment. (This is where a youth misspent on British haircut bands really bites me on the ass.) Jon credited Ellington for the latter, but beats me exactly what song it might've been.
"Flight of the Bumblebee" popped up as a request, and since it seemed to go over so well earlier, Jon used nothing more than the vocoder to--literally--sing the tune. I think he threw in part of the Lone Ranger theme, as well.
Jon treated the next sequence of songs in a fairly traditional manner, except for "After the Gold Rush," which he didn't do quite in full, though he tried out the couple of passages he remembered, in a Neil Young-worthy pitch, no less. He bestowed a particularly lengthy instrumental intro to "Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key," so much so that I thought he was just vamping, but nope, it eventually found a lovely form.
When our requests failed to inspire him, Jon asked for some assistance from Scott in the soundbooth, who pumped out a hard, cold beat, eventually leading Jon to "Wild Thing," but sounding more like Tone Loc than anyone else. Jon followed this muse down a couple of avenues, at times reminding me of old-school favorites such as "Planet Rock" and "Egyptian Lover." Then again, there was definitely a quote from Scott Joplin in there, so I could be miles off base. At the end, Jon called it a "Duke Ellington soundtrack from Ishtar"--odd bedfellows.
I'm pretty sure someone asked for "Star Spangled Banner," which Jon broke down into different time signatures on the guitar, though there was no mistaking the tune itself. "That's Just What You Are," which I always love, required piano and harmonica this night. And for the final number, he stripped "Same Old Scene" of the Eurodisco elements in which he had previously draped the song and went with only piano and celeste, showing off, once again, Bryan Ferry's songwriting chops.
See you in November.
--Todd Carlin opener
--Eternal Sunshine theme
--Didn't Think It Would Turn Out Bad
--Excuse to Cry
--Knock Yourself Out
--Star Trek theme
--Better You Than Me [new song]
--The Way It Went
--Please Stay Away from Me [new song]
--They Don't Know *
--All I Have to Do Is Dream *
--One Fast Move or I'm Gone *
--Nowhere Man [Les Paul style]
--Duke Ellington piano instrumental
--Flight of the Bumblebee
--This Is Where I Belong
--After the Gold Rush
--Hook Line and Sinker
--Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key
--Wild Thing [sort of]
--Star Spangled Banner
--That's Just What You Are
--Same Old Scene
* = with Ben Gibbard
» her little heart it could explode