Wednesday, January 16, 2008

the first one said to the second one there

I hope you're having fun!

Jon Brion, Largo, January 12, 2008: If Jon Brion plays his first shows of the calendar year at a venue other than Largo, do they count, and has the year really begun? Well, they do, and it has, but there's still no place like Largo.

The night got off to an unassuming start, as Jon disappeared into an extended piano play--no synths, no celeste, no Chamberlin (or is it a mellotron? I can never tell). I want to say he touched upon Ellington, among other sources, but don't mind me. Whatever it was--and rest assured, it was quite awesome--we got the distinct impression that Jon was better prepared (however loosely defined) to face an audience tonight.

This became more evident when he launched into a string of original material. He graced "Same Thing" with an improvisational sequence that sounded new to me; built up "Didn't Think It Would Turn Out Bad," then poured into it several distinct guitar solos, including one that called to mind T. Rex; brought out the 12-string for "Love of My Life So Far"; and treated us to a simply breathtaking "Better You Than Me."

I don't want to read too much into the song selection, but next up was "Just What I Needed," which I'll gladly take as a compliment of the highest order. Some of us were probably *ahem* a little more enthusiastic than others in joining the chorus, but I can't think of better accompaniment for the song.

Now that we were in covers territory, Jon dished up a couple of favorites, though with his own twists. "Always Something There to Remind Me" went raw and garage-y, while "I Fall in Love Too Easily" was dosed with mellotron/Chamberlin/whatever. We briefly returned to Jon's back catalog with "Here We Go" (which I haven't heard in a while), but requests for other artists won out.

The strangest selection came from Jon himself. After a straightforward "Political Science" and an earnest though abbreviated attempt at "Baby Strange," Jon teased out the end theme to Davey and Goliath--go figure.

Once more, our requests failed to tickle Jon's fancy, but his response was a first: He brought up his assistant Bret, the "master of the microKORG." Without a trace of nerves, Bret churned out a deep, spacey beat that belied his rocker looks. Joining this "randomness," Jon created an ambient layer by sampling his own nonsensical vocals and dropping in the synth and the mellotron. And if you listened closely, you could hear Flanagan too, contributing a murmur of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" from the soundbooth. But wait, there's more! Jon worked in some guitar, including a pinch of "Controversy," before they wrapped up the song.

The set closer, however, took a more familiar form as Jon asked for a cover to tackle. I managed to dredge up one of the dozens of suggestions I keep ready for Largo purposes, and apparently, it hit the mark. "It's Only Love," then, came up for the Les Paul treatment; granted, as with "Nowhere Man" from a couple months ago, I would love to hear Jon sing these songs, but then again, anyone can do that--so to speak. Even better, before he left the stage, Jon promised to bring up some friends for the second set.

The break between sets was a mixture of keen anticipation (especially after we caught sight of Largo stalwarts Jay Bellerose, Paul Bryan, and Benmont Tench at the back of the room) and booty-shaking revelry, fueled by the girlie drink Michelle had bought for me and Flanagan's handpicked playlist of Prince song after Prince song. As it turned out, several of the above elements would factor into the ensuing set.

As much as we enjoyed the dance party, we liked it even better when the players took to the stage and found their instruments. Flanagan took advantage of his bully pulpit/soundbooth to pump in more Prince and, thus, head off the threat of a lull. Once Benmont jumped on the song, there was no turning back, and the others fell in line for a double dose of The Artist. In the middle of "Controversy," Jon first went off on a scorching guitar solo, then guided the group to T. Rex. As much as I enjoyed the new faces and impromptu pairings in Chicago, this collection of seasoned talent reminded me why Largo will always have the upper hand.

A Bowie request brought on an epic rendition of "Moonage Daydream" that left no question of Jay Bellerose's brute power behind the drums. They rode this song all the way into "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and I suspect Benmont threw a bunch of other references into the sonic stew as well. I can vouch for a quick nod to "Eleanor Rigby," and I'm also pretty sure Benmont instigated the turn toward "Sunny Afternoon." Beyond that, it's anyone's guess what they snuck in under our noses.

Last month, Evonne had been tipped off to a YouTube clip featuring Nick Lowe supported by three of the four musicians currently on the Largo stage (guess which ones), and in fact, we had watched the segment earlier that day. With the video buzzing in our heads and those very same players assembled in front of our eyes, it was only natural that we'd hit upon the idea of requesting some Nick Lowe. Ta da: "Cruel to Be Kind!" The singalong was less prominent compared to November, but then again, there was a whole band backing Jon this time.

"Time of the Season" required our assistance as well, but the Tom Waits-style vocals were all Jon's. I'm so used to hearing Jon doing this either by himself or with Benmont that Jay's contributions took me by surprise. All of a sudden, the song had teeth--and they were great.

Jon ducked over to the analog synth to start up a pulsating drone, then matched it to an unlikely tune: "Baby, You're a Rich Man." Even Benmont took a stab at the contraption, and it occurred to me that I would've liked to hear Paul help out with the vocals. He definitely knows how to harmonize, but alas, he stuck with the bass all night.

It's impossible to cite a single Largo memory as my favorite, but I tend to come back to a handful of recollections from my earliest visits (i.e., before I started writing this stuff down): that time Jon did my request for "When Doves Cry," the quick line from "Slave to Love," a sublime rendition of "When Love Breaks Down" for Flanny. And frankly, I'm shameless in trying to re-create these instances.

High up on that list is a Wings medley that encompassed the whole room; I think it must've taken place some time in 2000. Anyway, I remember how great it felt to roar out "Silly Love Songs" and "Band on the Run" with the crowd, and lately, I've yearned to do it again. Finally, in the year 2008, it happened.

It started out with a simple request, followed by an inscrutable pause, and the next thing I knew, Jon played the opening riff from "Band on the Run." I, predictably and (according to Michelle and James, seated by the bar) loudly, dorked out. I can't even tell you how gratifying it was to hear these four pros working on one of my favorite songs, nor can I begin to describe the exhilaration of belting it out. Instead, I'll report that Jon sang the keyboard solo from the tune's second movement and glossed over a few lines from the later choruses. No harm done--I was just glad to be there.

"Band on the Run" set Jon's brain down a path as well, as he tried to think of the hardest songs they could do. (It never occurred to me that the three discrete segments of "Band on the Run" could've held him back at any point.) The first one they tried was a horrific track by Kansas, followed by Evonne's call for "Roundabout." Before the latter even began, you could see both Benmont and Jay clutching their heads in anticipation of the impending migraine, sorta like how Heidi winces during "Sentimental Lady." They gave it a shot, but mercifully abandoned the track before long. Jon commented that Benmont started a band to get out of playing songs like that, and Benmont concurred, quoting some of the lyrics as "fighting words" where he comes from.

A Steely Dan request from the crowd inspired "Any Major Dude," which led Jon to quip that they were the opposite of a pub rock band, forgoing feelgood anthems in favor of works by meticulous studio bands. There was also the matter of a Led Zeppelin song to get through, then it looked as if we were close to calling it a night.

Jon threw it back to Jay, asking him to start a beat that the others would work around. Jay responded with a primal, driving rhythm; Evonne heard Bo Diddley, Michelle and I swore it was Bow Wow Wow. Regardless, it inspired Jon to proclaim, "I love you." Paul was the next one to find his place in the impromptu arrangement, then Jon jumped in with, of all things, "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." By the time Benmont added his take, the Dylan classic had become a blues-rock-jazz amalgam that worked better in some parts than others. Jon's vocals might've been the least effective aspect of the song, but then again, it's all part of the fun. Benmont, though, ruled, reimagining the pacing and melody in ways I never would've imagined.

For the past month or so, I've basked in a very odd sensation: the satisfaction of knowing an obscene number of Jon Brion shows awaited me in the near future. With this weekend engagement, the smugness is gone. And I hate it. February, anyone?!

Set 1
--piano improv
--Get Over Yourself
--Same Thing
--Excuse to Cry
--Didn't Think It Would Turn Out Bad
--Love of My Life So Far
--Better You Than Me
--Just What I Needed
--Always Something There to Remind Me
--I Fall in Love Too Easily
--Here We Go
--Political Science
--Baby Strange
--Davey and Goliath end theme
--duet with Bret on the MicroKORG
--It's Only Love [Les Paul]

Set 2
w/Jay Bellerose, Paul Bryan, and Benmont Tench

--I Wanna Be Your Lover
--Controversy/Bang a Gong
--Moonage Daydream/While My Guitar Gently Weeps/Sunny Afternoon
--Cruel to Be Kind
--Time of the Season
--Baby You're a Rich Man
--Band on the Run
--Carry On My Wayward Son
--Any Major Dude
--Misty Mountain Hop
--Don't Think Twice It's Alright

See also:
» we can be us
» don't give yourself away
» i'm younger than that now
» justify your special ways

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