Wednesday, December 26, 2007

she's lived it 10 times or more

For Jon Brion's last Largo show of 2007, we caught a sweet break, in which our slightly abbreviated party was not, in fact, banished to Glendale but instead landed at the very table we had hoped for. I can't vouch for Santa Claus, but I surely believe in Largo's magical minions!

Jon Brion, Largo, December 22, 2007: The first time was instantly the charm, the second time exceeded already high expectations, and now I'm just being greedy. Strap on the bib, loosen your belt, and dig in--this feast is far from over.

Jon appeared onstage to make the introductions for someone he called one of his favorite performers and people in the world. In our pre-show game of I Spy, we had already scoped out the individual in question, but we nonetheless welcomed Greg Proops with a hearty round of applause, even when he eviscerated us for the sympathies we supposedly harbored for Owen Wilson and the Police. That's all I'm going to say about his monologue, except that I also loved the Evel Knievel bit.

Thanks to Scott in the soundbooth, we weren't quite finished with Greg, even when it came time for Jon to take the bench. Scott weaved several Proopisms into Jon's abstract instrumentation, but ultimately, Jon brought Greg's declarations full circle. After tickling out hints of "Jingle Bells," Jon constructed a droning wall of sound to which he added the vocoder-treated vocals for--wait for it--"Roxanne." The Largo soundbooth, ever resourceful, was happy to lend a hand by, you guessed it, turning on the red light. At the end, Jon generously shared the blame credit by counting the song as a Proops/Fritz/Brion/Sumner composition.

The call for requests followed immediately, and I was more than ready this time. Granted, I didn't actually expect Jon to tackle "Do They Know It's Christmas," so the single bar he churned out was enough to put a disproportionately huge grin on my face. I don't know if the person who requested "The Underdog" felt the same way when Jon decided it meant the Underdog theme, but I suspect they took it pretty well.

With those two ringers out of the way, Jon got down to the business of a real request: "Life on Mars" on piano, in that simultaneously exultant yet weary tone so prevalent in Bowie's early work. Sigh.

After an equally unvarnished "Someone Else's Problem Now," Jon set the next chain of events in motion, first coaxing out various notes and melodies on the mellotron, then adding the analog synth and a murmur of drums. Topping it off were the piano and the guitar for "You Don't Know What Love Is." Twenty-odd wrenching minutes on, it was clear we weren't tuned into the Bing Crosby Holiday Special.

We weren't about to say it, so it's a good thing Jon cleared the air first by announcing that the show was ready for a turnaround and, thus, threw in a few reliable pick-me-ups. The streak stayed strong with "Girl I Knew," as well as Jon's charming Christmas song. But it really kicked up a notch with the arrival of Benmont Tench and David Garza.

While David made himself comfortable behind the drums, Benmont took his time unpacking the CVS bag he brought with him. The gifts turned out to be an electronic guitar and piano, intended as children's toys, but in Benmont's hands, they were good enough to rock a solo. More satisfying than any axe fest, however, was seeing the unadulterated glee on Benmont's face whenever the guitar or the piano hit a particularly inspired passage.

The instruments momentarily exhausted, Benmont took his rightful place at the piano, and the three of them rolled out the hit parade. David was the first to pipe up, contributing vocals to "Winter Wonderland," while Jon held the mic for him until the technical details were ironed out in the soundbooth. From there, it became a Benmont bonanza as he led the others through an extended series of segues and transitions. I gave up taking notes during this section because there was just so much stuff zooming by. I halfway expected the Flying Wallendas to fly out at some point!

Their escapade took a small turn when Jon started intoning, "E-L-F," and "I wrap more presents than you've ever seen," and David approached the front of the stage. The elements (the instantly identifiable bass beat, the smattering of piano) started lining up, and David and Jon broke into "Under Pressure", assuming the roles of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, respectively. And when that was done, we got another Led Zeppelin doubleheader. Because they can.

Jon whispered something to Benmont, who tore into the Ramones, and it moved me to request Feist in the lull that followed, just because I knew that Benmont launched into it last month. I wasn't alone in this recollection, as Jon looked instantly to Benmont and said, "You know the words." Ben claimed that his knowledge covered only four lines, but they jumped on it anyway. Ben certainly knew more than four lines, but at the same time, he had no problem improvising the lyrics when his memory failed him. Then again, I think I know the exact same four lines that Benmont does.

The trio played a couple more rounds of musical chairs, with David and Jon at first swapping roles, then David and Benmont switching up, leaving Benmont on the guitar. David's choice of "Come Dancing" was deliciously fitting, even if the audience didn't quite deliver on the singalong. Benmont, meanwhile, appeared less assured on a real guitar than he did on the toy, but no need to worry--he nailed both songs.

Jon thanked his friends, then closed out the show by himself with his own songs. Ordinarily, I'd be happy to see off the year with pure Jon Brion ringing in my eardrums, but I don't have to. Check back later for the New Year's Eve report.

--Greg Proops opener
--piano noodling/Jingle Bells/Roxanne
--Do They Know It's Christmas
--Underdog theme
--Life on Mars
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--You Don't Know What Love Is
--If I Only Had a Brain
--The Entertainer
--Girl I Knew/Peter Gunn/Sunshine of Your Love/Everything Works If You Let It/I'll Never Fall in Love Again
--Jon's Christmas song
--Winter Wonderland/lots of segues/Happy Together/Bad to the Bone/Under Pressure/Immigrant Song/Kashmir * [vox = David and Jon, intermittently]
--I Wanna Be Sedated * [vox = Benmont]
--1 2 3 4/Sunny Afternoon * [vox = Benmont and Jon, respectively]
--Come Dancing * [vox = David]
--Mood Indigo * [vox = David]
--??? * [vox = David]
--It Had to Be You * [vox = David]
--Mr. Sandman * [vox = David]
--Knock Yourself Out
--Strings That Tie to You
--Same Mistakes
--Over Our Heads

* = with Benmont Tench and David Garza

See also:
» it's been said many times, many ways
» i'm offering this simple phrase
» let your heart be light

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