As Jon Brion's February dates happened to fall on the one weekend I could escape to L.A., I wasn't about to squander the coincidence on a stupid cold. Besides, after Chicago, I knew I could survive anything.
Jon Brion, Largo, February 22, 2008: I have no ulterior motives for going to Largo; that is, I try not to second-guess guest appearances or surprise cameos. I'm perfectly content with the prospect of letting the headlining artist or artists do their thing any way they want.
That said, I'm not above gawking, and the weekend's perch afforded a handful of sightings. Friday night, Liam Finn was easily spotted at the back booth, but as the evening progressed, we noticed Aimee Mann and Michael Penn taking a table as well. They later provided an extended pit stop for Jon on his way to the stage, exchanging big hugs and lively conversation before Jon had to get on with the show. Alas, Aimee and Michael slipped out quietly before the end of the first set, so no one had the opportunity to request "Nightmare Girl."
I'm pretty sure, though, that Aimee and Michael saw, at the very least, Bobb Bruno opening with a very short ambient set (once again taking the stage to Wilco's "Outtasite"), followed by Jim Turner as Mr. Tremendous.
From there, Jon took over the reins in great spirits and a new, short haircut (Faces style, as ID'd by Evonne). The cover of They Might Be Giants -- and, come to think of it, Gavin Bryars, which Jon welcomed with a guffaw and Waits-style intonation -- came via an audience request, while the Dylan number reaffirmed its status as Jon's current favorite blank slate, the one he likes to prod and poke with as many styles as he can dream up.
Of his own songs, "Further Along" went minimal, featuring only harmonica and electric guitar and, in the process, shedding a new light on the tale of picking up and moving on. "Croatia," meanwhile, was called off in favor of "Girl I Knew" when Jon announced, "Fuck it, I need to rock." There was also a moment in "Happy With You" when Jon stood before us with his hands over his heart and not on any instrument, while the loops and layers continued to chug along in support. Of course, I know he does this all the time, but it was a great visual reminder of what Jon carries off better than anyone else.
Liam Finn and EJ opened the second set, stepping out from the back booth and manning the guitar and mic, while Jon went for the drum kit. With lots of encouragement from Jon, they blasted out four songs -- and sounded great doing it. I've missed Liam's recent appearances in the Bay Area (though I was fortunate to catch him opening for his father at Largo several years ago), so this was a great opportunity to hear his newest material.
After trying out the new vocoder with a string of the instrument's "greatest hits," Jon halfway apologized and announced he was going to play standards for the rest of the night because that's what he felt like doing. He should've known that the Largo audience would get behind that, and I think we did, supplying all our favorite titles, even if Jon's ultimate plans for each song were far from faithful ("My Funny Valentine" paired with a disco beat; "Over the Rainbow" interpreted solely through electric guitar distortion; "Anything Goes" in the style of Les Paul). A pre-show conversation at our table happened to invoke "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," complete with lyrics, which helped to a certain extent when Jon asked for the first line of the song. But when the second verse flummoxed us all, Jon commented that it was starting to sound like a Bryan Ferry covers record -- high praise at our table -- and accordingly, he went into the matching vocal stylings. Eeeeee!
The standards agenda soon narrowed in scope to Cole Porter, though Jon vetted the requests based on whether he could remember the lyrics. I was desperately trying to recall titles from my biggest exposure to Cole Porter (the Red, Hot, and Blue compilation from the early '90s), but the only song that occurred to me, "Miss Otis Regrets," was swatted away for having "37 verses ... and someone dies in the 12th verse" (fair enough). The songs we did get included a rockin' "Night and Day" that saw Jon audibly singing the rhythm and chord changes as he approached each instrument he was about to loop, as well as the aforementioned "Anything Goes."
For the last number, Jon sat down at the piano, but the familiar strains issuing from the mellotron/Chamberlin/whatever were more contemporary than expected. Following this lead, Jon commanded Liam to take the drums and help him out for something "evil." Liam steadfastly played along as Jon mirthfully threw a series of Porter songs at the Beatles melody; with a healthy giggle, he finally settled on a technique that married, to eerie effect, the '60s-style instrumentation with a tempered reading of "I've Got You Under My Skin."
--Bobb Bruno [opener]
--Jim Turner as Mr. Tremendous [opener]
--piano improv/I Fall in Love Too Easily
--Don't Let Start
--Love of My Life
--Happy with You
--The Way It Went
--Get Over Yourself
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet
--Girl I Knew/Everything Works if You Let It/Don't Think Twice It's Alright
--Life on Mars
--So I Fell in Love with You
w/ Liam Finn & EJ
--Better to Be
--Music Moves My Feet
--This Place Is Killing Me
--Home Sweet Home
--Everytime We Say Goodbye
--My Funny Valentine
--Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
--Over the Rainbow
--Night and Day
--Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)
--I've Got You Under My Skin/Strawberry Fields Forever [with Liam]
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