I'd consider it entirely reasonable if you asked me, at this point, whether there is such a thing as too much Jon Brion. I should hope, though, that you'd find wholly plausible my reply of hell fucking no.
Jon Brion, Largo, January 11, 2008: I love my city, but some aspects of L.A., such as the warm weather, the charming locals, that fish taco place on Hillhurst, and the pair of Jon Brion shows this weekend, are irresistible, especially during the winter. OK, I don't come to L.A. specifically for fish tacos (though they were pretty damn good), so let's get to the gig.
Jon started out on the keys, firing up the synths and punching at the piano for a good stretch before arriving at that exceedingly lovely chamber-pop version of "Anarchy in the U.K." he's been known to do and that I haven't heard in a while. In case we were wondering what brought about that unpredictable choice, Jon quickly confessed that he was as clueless as the rest of us and moved directly to taking requests. And though he made good on "Jesse's Girl" and its kissing cousin "Gigantic," he also remarked, "We're going to be in trouble."
With the room's brain trust already looking suspect, Jon went with his own works, but a certain rustiness showed up here too when he stumbled through the second verse of "I Believe She's Lying" and dodged technical problems in "Further Along." Issues aside, he landed on his feet with both tunes, especially "Further Along," which he presented with a mannered reading that was not only notably removed from the song's typically strident tone but surprisingly devastating as well.
The musicians I see over and over (and over) again have a knack for breathing new life into songs that I may have heard dozens of times before; it is this quality that keeps me coming back for more. Tonight, that "a ha" moment came during "Over Our Heads." As you might expect, he cranked up the console to the point that it was going off like a slot machine, albeit a tasteful one. But instead of sitting down at the piano and curling up to the vocoder, he instead picked up a guitar and gave us the most naked version of the song I may have ever heard. Though I certainly didn't mind the stop-and-start nature of the night's performance, it was truthfully the first time during the show that I felt maybe we were on our way.
Jon once again mentioned something about the show being a "disappointment," if only to himself, then resolved to wipe the slate clean and kick off the proceedings anew. Phase two started off with James's request for "anything off Tattoo You"--except that none of the Rolling Stones songs Jon proceeded to play were off that particular album. I barely know the Stones' catalog, but my tablemates were indispensable in piecing together an incomplete list of titles from the megamedley.
The songs I could pick out were "Pop Life" à la Eno, New Wave representing with Yaz's "Don't Go," and Daft Punk remixed on the celeste. Cue the disco pyramid!
Jon made an 180-degree turn in the brace of ballads that followed, including the White Album-style "Someone to Watch Over Me." After a snippet of Glenn Miller, he launched into one of my favorite staples of his current set, "More than This," but mixing it up, Scott in the soundbooth added a complementary beat, and Jon introduced an unfamiliar piano passage. As it turned out, he was barreling toward the next song, his own "I'm on a Roll with You."
Once more, Jon asked for requests, and though there was no shortage of ideas, none took hold, so it was up to Flanagan to determine the course of the rest of the night. Together, Jon and Flanny comprised sort of a tag team, with Flanny supplying the suggestions, while Jon performed, tweaked, and even commented on the songs. For example, he signed off of "Walk Away Renee" with the line "Fuck it, you're to blame"; heaped mountains of praise on "Queen Elvis"; and schooled us on the musical references in the Move's "Blackberry Way" (I'd totally sign up for that class).
After a little back and forth, they decided to bring Benmont Tench up for the rest of the set, and the two awaited Flanny's word. Jon carried off only a verse or so of "Blue Chair," but it was more than I've ever heard of the song from him, and for that I'm grateful. Also, it gave them a entry into "Slow Down."
With "Lithium," which turned out to be Flanny's last request of the night, Jon made the executive decision to do it as an instrumental, thus avoiding the impromptu American Idol trials we saw in Chicago. This was all Jon and Benmont needed to carry off what they do best. The two dug in their heels for a long medley, much of it instrumental and led in large part by Benmont. In fact, at one point, Jon sat down on one of the amps, and though he continued to play guitar, he was clearly taking advantage of the opportunity to bask in Benmont's mastery.
They bestowed the fullest treatment on "Isn't It a Pity," with Jon taking up the vocals for several verses. In contrast, "Hey Jude" was a brief instrumental nod, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" warranted a couple of lines, and "Cortez the Killer" didn't dawn on me until nearly the end of the set. I have no problem admitting it's likely I missed most of their musical clues, aside from these no-brainers. I did notice, however, Jon thanking Benmont off mic for coming through tonight, and he certainly wasn't alone in that sentiment.
--Anarchy in the UK
--I Believe She's Lying
--Over Our Heads
--Love of My Life So Far
--Emotional Rescue/19th Nervous Breakdown/White Lines/Another One Bites the Dust/Pop Life/Miss You/Don't Go/Around the World
--Someone to Watch Over Me
--Please Stay Away from Me
--Strings That Tie to You
--More Than This/I'm on a Roll with You
--Walk Away Renee
--Not Long for This World
--Lithium/lots of stuff/Isn't It a Pity/Hey Jude/Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey/Cortez the Killer
» that was hazy cosmic jive
» look at those cavemen go
» the first one said to the second one there