Several years ago, I saw a show at Largo where Jon Brion closed the night with Flanagan's request for Prefab Sprout's "When Love Breaks Down," one of those songs I used to put on repeat for days on end. Of course, it's a natural fit at Largo, and it's no shock that Jon and Flanagan would appreciate such a composition, but the song has never exactly enjoyed heavy rotation anywhere, even during the band's heyday in the '80s. I've reported this incident to many people, but very few have known the song well enough to share in my appreciation of the commingling of talent. Fast-forward to 2007 and one of those rare people, a very good friend I hadn't spoken to in about four years, found me in line at Largo. It's a small, beautiful world after all.
Jon Brion, Largo, November 3, 2007: In fact, this whole weekend, and especially this third night, at Largo drove home a point that I've been very fortunate to confirm time and time again: that hitching my wagon to this music thing has yielded much greater rewards than I ever thought possible. In addition to reveling in the company of my own posse and reuniting with the aforementioned pal, I was welcomed by a small gallery of other familiar faces. Not to get all "it takes a village," but this little room on Fairfax felt a lot like home for a night. (Birthday girls are allowed to get sappy, right?)
On to the music: No shark talk tonight, just an anti-Viper Room rant from Flanagan before Jon set himself at the piano for a good 20 minutes of nothin' but instrumentals. Our table detected hints of "Danny Boy" and some of his soundtrack material in the first tune, decided that the second number must've been improvised, and giggled with the rest of the room at the third selection.
Properly primed, Jon ducked over to the drum kit to start a song build of "Further Along" that came complete with some wailing guitar. Another original, "Excuse to Cry" followed, and I jotted down something about different vocal phrasings and guitar style, but more than a week on, I can't tell you what they are. I also can't guess at how we next arrived at the Love Story theme performed à la AC/DC, so feel free to fill in the blanks yourself.
Oh wait, I remember part of it now--metal mania descended when Jon was tuning his guitar and must've heard something in the chords that brought up that song. In any case, the guitar reverted to its untuned state after that song, but Jon asked for requests anyway and dove into "Who Loves the Sun," with a little help from Scott in the soundbooth on the rhythm track. Though you could clearly hear the wonky chords, it added a psychedelic feel to the tune.
Scott's contributions weren't finished yet; when our continuing song requests floundered, Jon asked Scott to step in. Thus, he threw on some spoken-word recording that asked, "Why are we so attracted to things that are bad for us?" Jon responded with jags of abstract guitar but eventually settled on a song with lyrics ("Get hurt and you'll learn"). Song sleuths, your input is welcome, as I have no idea what its provenance might be.
It was back to the piano, this time for music and lyrics--even some of Jon's own. He teased out the intro of my request for "Amateur," but it gave way to Kermit the Frog, Burt Bacharach, and Billie Holiday. Well, I can't complain about the last two.
The first set ended with an audience request that snowballed into a Pink Floyd medley, and I'm relieved to report that our roars of laughter were not accidentally sampled in the loops for "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" this time out.
Jon landed at the piano once again for the opening of the second set, where he polished off a triumvirate of his own songs, including (finally!) "Amateur." Sorry for the overkill, but dammit, I love that song.
An audience request for the Monkees sat well with Jon, inspiring the next two tunes and reacquainting us with the console. He went nuts with the electronics here, but he had already taken the songs so far from their original form that the extra blips, bleeps, and scrawls of sound didn't hurt at all. More amusingly, Jon also confessed to a period in his childhood when he would answer only to "Mickey"--as in "Dolenz."
The ridiculous is to the sublime as the Monkees are to Benmont Tench, who returned for his third show as well. The two set off on a familiar course, but on the second song in, they hit a lull. They were engaged in an oblique discussion when Benmont took the lead and launched into Feist's "1234." We managed to overcome our shock soon enough to join him on the chorus, even as Jon peeked over Benmont's shoulder to learn the notes. Jon grabbed the baton from there and segued seamlessly into "All You Need Is Love," "Daydream," and "This Will Be Our Year."
Our requests were once again bombing with the performers, though Benmont couldn't stop himself from tickling out a few bars of various titles, even as Jon batted them away. The decision, thus, went to Flanny, and he got his first suggestion. The second request didn't seem to arrive intact to the stage; where Flanny asked for "Tom Waits for our Detroit friends," Jon must've heard only the geographical element, but even that common thread was loosely defined in the tremendous medley that followed.
You can bet your bottom dollar they hit the more predictable touchstones, such as the White Stripes, Kiss, and even Motown, and of course, this being a Jon Brion show, he and Benmont had no qualms about throwing in some Beatles and Bee Gees riffs as well. But also crammed in there was an Oasis reference for a song I had requested on Thursday and had never heard in all my visits to Largo, and then they tied it up in a lovely little bow, reprising Feist's hit. Really.
But please don't assume that the musical maelstrom was anywhere as mannered as my catalog of artists might have you believe. First of all, half a dozen or more songs probably went right over my head. And I haven't even mentioned the real-time mashup of Kiss and the Stooges ("I wanna be your dog/And party every night"). Or the original vocal arrangement for "My Girl." Or how "Seven Nation Army" and "Detroit Rock City" served as the co-anchors of the whole endeavor.
But wait, there's more! There was some debate over whether the time change would add another hour to the show, but the executive decision had been made--we'd have to scram soon, though we had already enjoyed more music in the last 20 minutes than some people hear all year. Thus, Jon serenaded us with "From Me to You," which started out with gospel inflections but morphed into sultry, R&B-style voicing at some point after the bridge. For the weekend's concluding note, they returned to Randy Newman, finally satisfying the guy who requested "Political Scientist" [sic] several times that night.
--piano piece 1
--piano piece 2
--Home on the Range
--Excuse to Cry
--Love Story theme
--Who Loves the Sun
--Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way
--The Way It Went
--Over Our Heads
--It's Not Easy Being Green
--I'll Never Fall in Love Again
--Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key
--Bike/Welcome to the Machine/Shine On You Crazy Diamond
--Strings That Tie to You
--Love of My Life So Far
--What Am I Doing Hangin' Around
--Dayton, Ohio 1903
--1234 [vocals = Benmont]
--All You Need Is Love/Daydream/This Will Be Our Year
--Walk a Thin Line
--7 Nation Army/Detroit Rock City/Devil with the Blue Dress/New York Mining Disaster 1941/I Wanna Be Your Dog/My Girl/Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing/Baby You're a Rich Man/Tomorrow Never Knows/Supersonic/1234
--From Me to You
» Night 1: i'm younger than that now
» Night 2: play a song for me