Sunday, November 11, 2007

play a song for me

We were eager to take in this show for all the usual reasons, as well as with one specific goal: to find, come hell or high water, an earworm to replace "Cruel to Be Kind" in our heads and on our tongues.

Jon Brion, Largo, November 2, 2007: In his intro, Flanagan informed tonight's audience of the situation with the sound man/shark victim, and like clockwork, Jon jumped in with the Jaws theme before easing into his typical improvisational warmup. "Ruin My Day" followed, but instead of plain old piano, Jon went to a clunky console his assistant had lugged onstage. We had a million guesses as to what it could do, but what we ultimately heard were blips and bleeps that, frankly, detracted from the otherwise gorgeous song.

It was back to analog for an obscure cover that Jon heartily recommended, but when it didn't get much of a reaction from the crowd, he played his own anti-industry diatribe, "Into the Atlantic." I hope he unearths it more often--it's always a bright spot in a show.

The built-up "Happy with You" featured some bluesy notes, but the song came to an abrupt end when Jon's guitar strap broke. This probably had nothing to do with Jon's subsequent call for requests, but that's exactly what we got next. Someone, perhaps a repeat customer, yelled out for "Every Little Thing," which we had heard the previous night. This time, it was all instrumental, and he ran it through a variety of styles. It struck me as something you'd hear at, for example, a soundcheck, though such a treatment is fairly de rigeur at Largo.

The next song kept me guessing for a while. Jon poured on the layers, and when he hammered out the song's percussion on the piano's backboard, I still wasn't sure where it was going. It turned out to be his own "Not Long for This World," from the Grays' album. The console got another workout during this song, and it fit this cacophony better than it did the plaintive "Ruin My Day." But Jon still didn't--literally--have a handle on it yet, as it slipped from the piano's mantle and threatened to crash to the floor. Jon held on to it long enough to place it safely atop the celeste, and maybe for good measure, he gave it a good shake to extend the instrument's sustain. Long story short: Maybe that thing had a purpose after all.

This technological terror once again inspired an earthier touch ("Trial and Error"), but it was time for more guitar anyway. He picked up a small acoustic and instructed Scott in the soundbooth (not gnawed by sharks, fortunately) to take him back in time. Scott obliged with a recording of pops and scratches, and Jon unveiled yet another original take on "More Than This." I geeked out accordingly.

We were now in a covers episode, and Jon breezed through Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, and a couple of Brian Eno songs. "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More" was more of an exercise, as Jon strummed a few bars and sang a few lines off mic, mostly to himself; it still made me want to squeal, though. "Here Come the Warm Jets," however, got the full treatment, bringing in the drums, guitar, piano, vocoder, celeste, and that damn console. In this case, the third time was the charm.

Yes, Jon next played "Knock Yourself Out" on piano and harmonica, but let's skip to the good part: the medley that closed out the first set. Much as he did Thursday night, Jon pieced together a massive song cycle based on the requests that came his way. Thus, we got the opening notes of "Don't Stop Believing," leading to "Hey Jude," leading to the Cheers theme (and the first bona fide singalong of the night), a ragtime-y "Back in Black" that channeled Tom Waits, and a bunch of other great songs (see below).

Jon eased into the second set by limbering up on the guitar. It sounded improvisational, but I wouldn't be surprised if some tunes were hidden in there. Once he was satisfied with what he heard, he wandered back to the drum kit and started laying down a slow, languid beat. I thought we were in for "You Made the Girl," but it turned out to be the jazz classic, "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)." It's been a while since I've heard him do that song, but I don't think I've witnessed such a torchy rendition before.

Jon then called Benmont Tench to the stage, and this is where it got more interesting. As Benmont made himself comfortable on the piano, Jon chose to be a true spectator. That is, he picked up his Guinness, retreated to one side of the stage, squeezed himself in behind the big speaker stack, and gazed appreciatively upon Benmont. In fact, just before Benmont's second number, Jon did something that was pretty unusual (as far as I've seen): He looked directly at the audience, even making eye contact, and beamed. There was no mistaking his pleasure in the moment.

Benmont, meanwhile, turned out a couple of vintage tunes. His "Someone to Watch Over Me" enjoyed a jazzy, unhurried pace, and "Wouldn't It Be Lovely" sounded as natural as sunlight. Benmont, of all people, makes everything sound effortless and tasteful, even when it's a cheesy cover. Give him a couple of classic tracks, and there's no argument that you're in the company of a maestro.

Halfway into "Paper Moon," Jon returned to the mix, lending vocals and guitar to the irresistibly charming song. Perhaps finished with their warmup, Jon invited another player to the stage: Paul Bryan, who had been watching the show from the back of the room. More recently, Grant-Lee Phillips has recruited Paul for his backing band, but Paul has been a longtime sideman for Aimee Mann, even producing her Christmas album and the record that's set for release next year.

The latest hastily assembled power trio to grace Largo's stage debuted with a couple of tracks that you could reasonably expect to hear from Jon and his guests. The Joe Jackson song, however, was new for me, and I'm happy to say we kicked in very respectable backing vocals during the chorus. Yay us!

The group underwent its first personnel change when Jon asked if any drummers were in the audience. A young-ish guy, whom we had seen checking out the gear earlier, volunteered. They got off to an inauspicious start, as Jon stopped them shortly in the first song selection (not that he had informed anyone of the actual title) and advised, "Let's find the 1s." From there, though, they ripped into a set that any garage band would love (and that the new drummer could follow along).

I kind of lost it when Jon picked out the distinctive opening notes of "Mr. Tambourine Man"; it's an obvious choice, but we don't hear it enough at Largo, and quite honestly, how can you not love that jangly riff?! It soon became my "Cruel to Be Kind" substitute for the next 24 hours. Also, it was very cool to see Paul Bryan share the mic for the song's multipart harmonies, letting the audience in on what he brings to many other artists' touring and recording ensembles.

"You Really Got Me" was a little slower in starting; Jon asked for someone to sing it, and a table of guys confidently claimed they'd take on the task, but they just as quickly chickened out. Thankfully, Largo regular Gonzi saved the day; he snapped up the mic as if he owned it, and though he couldn't entirely recall the second verse, Jon was there to help, shouting lines in his ear. I especially loved the showman's flourish ("Jon Brion!") with which he left the stage. Jon and Paul finished out the song's vocals, crouching to reach the manhandled microphone stand.

We probably could've left the gig on that giddy note, but the four players sealed the set with a couple more rockers. Despite the brevity of their set, I suspect this group outlasted the vast majority of garage rockers tinkering away out there.

Set 1
--Jaws theme/piano noodling
--Ruin My Day
--Starry Eyes
--Into the Atlantic
--Every Little Thing
--Not Long for This World
--Trial and Error
--More Than This
--Any Major Dude
--Burning Airlines/Here Come the Warm Jets
--Knock Yourself Out
--Don't Stop Believing/Hey Jude/Cheers theme/Back in Black/Benny and the Jets/Rhapsody in Blue/But Not for Me/Our Love Is Here to Stay/Someone to Watch Over Me/Cheers theme

Set 2
--electric guitar noodling
--I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)
--Someone to Watch Over Me *
--Wouldn't It Be Lovely *
--Paper Moon *
--I Go to Pieces *
--My Baby Left Me **
--Is She Really Going Out with Him/Sherry **
--Revolution ***
--Mr. Tambourine Man ***
--You Really Got Me ****
--Dirty Water/Open My Eyes ***

* = w/Benmont Tench
** = w/Benmont Tench and Paul Bryan
*** = w/Benmont Tench, Paul Bryan, and Matt on drums
**** = w/Benmont Tench, Paul Bryan, Matt on drums, and Gonzi on vocals

See also:
» Night 1: i'm younger than that now
» Night 3: you're changing your heart
» hidden hand
» i'm the stuff of happy endings

1 comment:

T.J. said...

Wow, a Steely Dan cover. He really covers bands that no-one else covers. Does he play the lead on it too or does he only strum the melody?