Not that anyone asked (or suspected), but I haven't, in fact, spent the last week passed out in an LA motel room with a party hat affixed to my head, an empty bottle of Midori lodged in one hand, and my little book of setlists in the other. I would've certainly filed these Jon Brion concert reports earlier if I could, but unfortunately, real life interfered. Hopefully, they're worth the wait.
Jon Brion, Largo, November 1, 2007: I'm not sure what it says about me that I spent my birthday this year standing on the sidewalk, eating a Largo salad, and trying to be heard over the PA's ever escalating volume (not simultaneously): that is, doing exactly what I do, oh, two or three dozen other times during the year. Being in the company of very dear friends, as well as snagging a table despite our lack of reservations, however, kicked the day up several notches. And oh yeah, the promise of the first of three performances by Jon Brion didn't hurt either.
Flanagan handled the introductions, per usual, and mentioned that one of the Largo sound men had been bitten by a shark while on vacation in Hawaii (I think). This led to Jon's first selection, an instrumental "Mack the Knife" on piano, which in turn moved Evonne and myself to mouth "Shark Week," a highlight of another Largo show just a couple of months before. The shark theme was not yet over, however, as Jon threw in a nod to Jaws as well.
Music superseded lyrics, as Jon unfurled a couple more piano instrumentals, the first of which may have been improvisational, while the second was the theme from Eternal Sunshine. The piano remained in the spotlight for "Someone Else's Problem Now," what I believe was an instrumental version of "Over Our Heads" (or, at least, something from the Huckabees soundtrack), and "Same Thing."
The last song, of course, is a staple of Jon's sets, but tonight, it was all piano, without the distinctive percussion that's so often its calling card. Jon's voice, too, took on a more wistful and confessional tone; the song, so often delivered as a defiant comeback to an ex, sounded more like capitulation or at least some sort of admission. I gotta say, though, that it worked.
A song build of "Girl I Knew" followed, finally moving Jon to the other instruments, and I noted less melody and choppier, more forceful bursts of guitar. None of this carried over to the next song, "Why Do You Do This to Yourself," though Jon decided to append his faithful rendition with distorted guitar that touched briefly on "Jesse's Girl" before settling on "Gigantic," featuring his fingerpicking style for the bridge.
Back to the piano, he went with "Trouble," and we noted an angrier tone to the song than we're used to. But even as Jon slammed down the notes, he also offered a change in tack with a soft, retreating bridge (my favorite part of the song).
At this point, Jon asked specifically for requests, and the first option on the table was his own "That's Just What You Are." Ordinarily, he doesn't do much to this song, playing it fairly straight on either the piano or the guitar, though he sometimes adds a bit of harmonica. For this show, however, he decided to pull out all stops and build it up, starting with huge, resounding drum fills, then sprinkling in a bass-like undertone from that goofy little Korg. Through the course of the song, he also wrung out some notes from the harmonica and threw in some ragtime piano. Toward the end, he picked up the main melody on the Yamaha synthesizer, but the song was already changing once again. He stuck some picks between the Yamaha's keys to sustain the drone, layered some classical piano over the reverberations, then presented "Moon River"--as you do.
The next call for requests was less than satisfying, but Jon made hay with the suggestions. Taking up the vocoder, he strung together snippets of a bunch of silly songs. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I suppose, as Jon threw caution to the wind and asked us to bring it on. Starting with my request for "Don't You Want Me" (I had just seen the music video the other day), he managed to hit most of the songs called out by the crowd, for one of those mega-medleys that he makes look so easy. Sigh.
Back on the traditional tip, Jon built up one of his new songs. I've heard it once or twice before now, but tonight's arrangement was heavier and sludgier, with a more psychedelic spin. The song is still young, though, so I imagine we'll hear more permutations as the song matures.
As Jon casually tried out some notes on the guitar, a knowing voice yelled out, "Oh ho, 'Purple Rain'," but Jon was having none of that. Instead, he stepped up to the mic and informed us that it was, rather, a song from Tommy Keene's first EP, and he proceeded to play it out for us. But the seed had been planted, and "Purple Rain"--à la Les Paul--joined the night's song list.
The second set started out once again at the piano, where Jon rolled out a couple of Nilsson numbers, a couple of his own compositions, and a Cole Porter title before bringing out Benmont Tench. At first, they let the music do the talking, perfectly happy to bask in their wordless communication and soulful instrumentals. I might've liked to hear "Girl" with vocals, if only so that we could contribute those deep inhalations as needed, but the opportunity will surely arise again.
I swore I heard Benmont playing, for a moment, while Jon was tuning, a fragment of the Cure's "Friday I'm in Love," but the two settled in more familiar territory. They substituted "Tequila" for "Juanita" when the lyrics wouldn't come to either of them, but the words eventually returned.
This extremely casual second set featured some more instrumentals between the two of them until Benmont decided to sing a couple of songs himself. It's been a real pleasure to watch Benmont branch out and take advantage of Largo's open invitation to do whatever the hell he wants; tonight was just another example of how much he adds to each show, and I, for one, love it whenever he shows up.
For the very last number, Jon asked for that show-closing request, and the one that finally perked up his ears was Nick Lowe. After some give and take, and our rather mixed vocal contributions, Jon finally figured out a way to harness our voices to the best advantage. Thus, "Cruel to Be Kind" turned out to be a huge hit, as we were able to get in a respectable singalong that our table, at least, couldn't put a stop to for another 24 hours.
--Mack the Knife
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--Over Our Heads (?) instrumental
--Girl I Knew
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--That's Just What You Are
--Mr. Blue Sky/Styx song/Kraftwerk song/Funkytown/Cars/Fame
--Don't You Want Me Baby/This Will Be Our Year/ Sweet Home Alabama/Born to Run/Walk Away Renee/Same Old Scene/Her Ghost
--new song (Get Over Yourself?)
--Back to Zero Now
--Purple Rain [Les Paul style]
--Good Old Desk
--new song (Please Get Away from Me?)
--Here We Go
--Every Time We Say Goodbye
--You Win Again
--Every Little Thing
--My Back Pages
--You Can Leave Your Hat On
--Can't Say No
--They Can't Take That Away from Me
--You Like Me Too Much
--Cruel to Be Kind
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