Believe it or not, this visit to Largo coincided perfectly with the timetable I've worked out to balance ("balance") my need to see Jon Brion's shows with my need to stay in my own area code--though it's subject to change in case of emergencies, of course (all rights reserved).
Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, August 1, 2008: Tonight, the crowd was the sparsest I've yet seen come out for Jon at Largo at the Coronet, but it was probably a little more than the old place would've accommodated. Perhaps in acknowledgement, Flanny commented in his intro that he likes it when the place isn't packed and not to worry because they are making money. Whew!
Jon opened with a "peppy little number called 'For Fuck's Sake'"--in other words, a somber, scattered improvisational piano piece. The piano remained the centerpiece as Jon pressed through five of his own tunes, all of which he tweaked, either in their arrangement or phrasing, some more radically than others. For example, "Here We Go" kicked off with an entirely different vocal take, the normally well-mannered song transformed into a dark, desperate entreaty. Even the piano playing shifted, and the tune's beautifully straightforward underpinnings could barely contain the complex derivations that Jon hinted at as the song unfolded. I wondered if one of those emotional, scary shows awaited us; as it turned out, we wouldn't have a definitive answer for a little while.
I don't think we heard a traditional take for any of the remaining selections in this string of originals, but none as extensively reimagined as "Here We Go." However, that's no disrespect to the imploring "Knock Yourself Out"; "Happy with You," more nuanced than usual, with the cadence charmingly provided by Jon's tapping feet; or the revised "Roll with You" or "Trouble" that rounded out this segment.
The next song, a smoky ballad built from the drums up, may be another original, but I can't confirm it. After that, we got a bit of solo electric guitar appreciation, first with the standard "I Really Don't Want to Know," then an extended freestyle exercise that the audience had trouble following. We weren't sure exactly when it ended, leaving the room in silence for a few moments until Jon conspicuously quoted several concluding motifs we were sure to know.
The requests portion of the night kicked off with "Amateur," my suggestion--actually, the only suggestion offered at that point, but the rest of the peanut gallery soon took up the slack. It was no surprise to hear a call for the Commodores' "Easy" from the audience, but more surprisingly, Jon vowed to learn the lyrics, as he "loves" the song. Instead, we got a sweet instrumental nod.
I'm not sure how this led to a couple more of his own works, but I'm not complaining, as they paved the way for the extravaganza to follow. It started off with "Here Come the Warm Jets," which inspired a full-body performance from Jon, seen hopping and grinning all over the stage, as well as playing the shit out of the drums.
That alone might've been pretty cool, but there was more to come. Back at the piano, Jon added layers of vocoder, chamberlin, celeste, and analog synth, then took the tune in the direction of the Buzzcocks. Less predictable, however, was the turn toward "Ruin My Day," which kept the familiar melody but set it against a bleeping, blipping background; it was almost like watching a remix in real time. Then he brought it back to Eno, and thus, concluded the set.
In the drum solo that started the second set, I heard a bit of "The End," but a ton more references likely snuck in as well. More recognizable was Jon's own "You Made the Girl," but I don't really want to talk about the song. Instead, I'll mention Jon ran through several covers and requests, interspersed with a chaotic keyboard cacophony.
The first guest of the night was Sebastian Steinberg, who, as natural as can be, emerged with the metal stand-up bass we first saw a few weeks ago. On Jon's urging, Sebastian unleashed a bass solo, but what I really dug was their ensuing duet, an effortlessly cool, jazzy number.
They attempted a couple of Who songs but couldn't quite get the lyrics down--foreshadowing later developments in the show. They recruited Sean Nelson, perhaps for some help in the lyrics department, and he fell right in with the co-conspirators. Sean's confession of having performed Tommy in its entirety inspired a similar admission from Jon (heck, I saw at least one of these occurrences just last summer). Their braggadocio was soon exposed when their collective knowledge failed them two songs later.
But rather than call the whole thing off, they came clean and took requests for song fragments--thus taking the show in a new and entirely inspired direction. In fact, they eventually worked up a complete band manifesto wherein they rejected the tyranny of full performances for their 21st-century approach.
Some notable asides: Jon calling Colin Blunstone "107" years old, though he and Sean had nothing but admiration for Colin's voice; Jon flipping off the audience after pulling off a fragment of "Solsbury Hill" (Sean: "All song requests are secretly dares." Jon: "Secretly?"); and a hilarious, drawn-out discussion of Donovan, covering the merits of "Atlantis"--which also, incidentally, drew Benmont Tench out of the shadows--a laughable gig Jon and Flanny attended about 15 years ago, and finally, the perfect punch line delivered by Benmont himself. It was so beautifully timed, delivered, and true, in fact, that it sent Jon hopping once again across the stage and proclaiming his love for the music biz. Also, "This is bullshit" rang out repeatedly.
Benmont, I believe, provided the brilliant suggestion for Sean Watkins's first song, a Weezer cover that Sean claimed shared a lineage with the bluegrass he's better known for. The Fats Waller tune simultaneously took them back to more familiar territory and served as the inspiration for the second Buzzcocks song of the night (there was some mention of similar chords).
David Garza perked up the proceedings with the anthemic "Rock and Roll Music," which inspired Benmont's suggestion of "I'll Follow the Sun." Flanny helped navigate their lull, yelling "Gypsy" from the back, which David obliged.
Finally, it was sing-along time, though in not quite the same spirit as I've seen before. Instead, Sean Nelson and Jon stepped up to the front of the stage and yelled requests at us. Jon also commanded the crew to kill the stage lights and turn up the house lights, and ordered us to sing the Turtles. Apropos of the night's show, we really only knew the chorus; clearly, we were in lockstep with the musicians themselves.
After such hijinks, is it any surprise that we closed the night with a "Wild Thing/Louie Louie" medley? Of course not. And it sure beats "Freebird" any day.
--Here We Go
--Knock Yourself Out
--Happy with You
--I'm on a Roll with You
--Before You Broke My Heart
--I Really Don't Want to Know
--Please Stay Away from Me
--So I Fell in Love with You
--Here Come the Warm Jets/You Say You Don't Love Me/Ruin My Day/Here Come the Warm Jets
--The End/drum solo/You Made the Girl
--Pulling Mussels from the Shell [Les Paul style]
--Somebody Made for Me
--I Can't Reach You
--So Sad About Us
w/Sean Nelson and Sebastian Steinberg
--The Kids Are Alright [vox = Sean Nelson]
--Tommy Can You Hear Me [vox = Sean Nelson]
--Tattoo [vox = Sean Nelson]
--I've Just Seen a Face
--Life's a Gas
--Alone Again Naturally
--Care of Cell 44 [vox = Sean Nelson]
--Strawberry Fields [vox = Sean Nelson]
--Last Train to Clarksville
--Peace Train [vox = Sean Nelson]
--Season of the Witch
w/Benmont Tench, Sean Nelson, and Sebastian Steinberg
--Atlantis [vox = Benmont]
--Aaron Copland jam
w/Sean Watkins, Benmont Tench, Sean Nelson, and Sebastian Steinberg
--Pink Triangle [vox = Sean Watkins]
--It's a Sin to Tell a Lie [vox = Sean Watkins]
--Ever Fallen in Love with Someone [vox = Sean Nelson]
w/David Garza, Sean Watkins, Benmont Tench, Sean Nelson, and Sebastian Steinberg
--Rock and Roll Music [vox = David Garza]
--I'll Follow the Sun
--Gypsy [vox = David Garza]
--Wild Thing/Louie Louie
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