Thursday, October 23, 2008

i know it's today

The last couple of years--I can't complain, despite the stretches between paychecks and those cruel rumors of paid vacation and health insurance. But who needed such frills when I could catch every Jon Brion show on Largo's schedule? No contest! Alas, my schedule isn't as flexible now that I'm once again holding down an office job, but hey, I'm more than willing to take up the challenge of being both gainfully employed and a dedicated rock tourist. (And if worse comes to worst, I can always quit my job again.)

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, October 17, 2008: When it comes to the musicians I really like, no two shows ever feel the same, regardless of how many times I see the artists in question. With your more typical performers, the varying locales and club settings tend to heighten the mystery, but when it comes to Jon Brion's gigs, you can't count on those surface differences. Instead, you have to see how they develop.

But this show's vibe, even from the outset, was colored by several factors: that delicious feeling of having escaped temporarily from the 9-to-5, my solo status, and the massive amounts of Rock Band I've played in the last few weeks. I swear, picking up a plastic toy in the shape of a child's guitar really deepens your appreciation and love of music.

As is often the case, however, the apprehension flitted away as soon as the lights dimmed. Flanny even drew our attention to the two sets of drums onstage, hinting of surprises to come. Of course, this signaled Jon's arrival and his opening salvo, a mix of piano, at least a couple of synthesizers, and a smattering of foot stomping too. I'd characterize it as a modern, jazzy piece, except I swear I heard a hint of "Paranoid Android" in there too.

Jon followed with a trifecta of his originals--at least, I think "Don't Make Me Fall in Love with You" is his, as Google isn't giving me much of a trail to follow. But there's no question of the provenance of "Girl I Knew," which featured one of Jon's trademark outros, rolling together Carmen, James Bond, and Peter Gunn, to name three.

Jon next requested, errr, requests, and I'd like to point out that I did not ask for "Band on the Run." I simply can't inflict that request more than once every, oh, three years or so. Instead, the suggestion came from a guy in the back, and in any case, Jon ventured no further than the song's instrumental intro. I'd also like to gloat that Jon, Benmont Tench, Paul Bryan, and Jay Bellerose granted my request for the whole song back in January. I haven't washed these ears since.

Jon went with an Eno cover next, a blistering "Baby's on Fire." My request--a longtime personal favorite, but now also heavily influenced by the aforementioned Rock Band fixation--got a spin after that: Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone," swathed in whimsical piano and chamberlin in place of its trademark jagged New Wave stylings. Closing out this request block, Jon switched on the vocoder for a somewhat tongue-in-cheek "This Guy's in Love with You," even without E's homoerotic contributions.

Jon went back to his originals, at first by himself, then with the help of some friends. The first guest to emerge was an older African-American gentleman, who took his place behind one set of drums. Jon introduced him as James Gadson, and together they dove into "That's Just What You Are" as a drum and bass production, with James easily finding the beat. It was odd to hear Jon and Aimee Mann's pure pop perfection transformed into a funky, low-key groove, but neither man seemed particularly concerned with its derivation. From what I could tell, they were having too much fun anyway.

With Sebastian Steinberg, they soon numbered three, returning to Jon's back catalog for "Trouble." James and Sebastian were great on the low end, emphasizing the song's gravitas while Jon took it through a jazzy, torchy treatment that incorporated a gorgeous piano solo.

Jon asked for a request, which brought about "Nobody Does It Better." In a twist, the audience--or, rather, the guy who requested it--knew the second verse when Jon's knowledge of the song petered out and had no qualms about taking up the slack through the rest of the tune. The musicians onstage were duly impressed as well.

It's no secret that I go gaga over David Rawlings, ever since that first time I saw him at Largo, so I'll cut to the chase: In the midst of "Femme Fatale," he appeared, carrying some sort of flight bag and looking even more laid-back than the last time I saw him. At first, he chimed in on vocals, but soon picked up an electric guitar, and by the end of the number, there was no mistaking his twangy touch.

For the remainder of the first set, Jon and David switched off vocals, and the centerpiece of this run was probably David's suggestion, which elicited Jon's comment that he liked any song David knew the words to. Before they could get to it, though, they quickly worked out the rhythm and a very loose arrangement, with Jon suggesting a "slow 6/8" beat.

These mystery titles often inspire a personal round of "Name That Tune" in which you try to figure out in as few notes as possible what reimagined song you're about to hear. My initial guess was "Purple Rain," which turned out to be wrong, though not before I nearly had a heart attack contemplating the possibility. Instead, we got "Five Years," which is no consolation prize, especially when David Rawlings belts it out, accompanied by Jon on piano and chamberlin and James and Sebastian comprising the rhythm section.

With the night's guest roster mostly revealed, there weren't too many questions of surprise appearances going into the second set, and Jon sort of admitted as much, stating that he would first tackle a solo segment before opening the floor to his friends. So we got three of his songs, concluding with "Walking Through Walls," complete with the full-body rocking that Jon's been showing off, now that he has some room to move around.

Sebastian Steinberg was the first to return, joined soon after on the second set of drums by Earl Harvin, who had just come from Dave Palmer's gig in the Little Room. Together, the three of them teased out "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)." Earl exhibited a light touch on the brushes, but if he felt at all apprehensive about his impromptu recruitment, he certainly didn't show it.

The drummer population doubled as James Gadson returned to the stage. Though I didn't discover James's standing as a drumming legend until a round of Googling after the show, it was apparent that the other performers were honored to be sharing the stage with him. Jon made a passing comment to it in the first set, and for this round, as James took his seat, you could spy both David Rawlings and Sean Watkins tucked just behind the curtains as they snapped pics of this extraordinary gathering.

So with two drummers and a bass player to accompany him, what song did Jon decide on? One of his own, "Same Mistakes." From there, though, it was all covers.

When I see two drummers onstage, the first thing that comes to mind is Adam Ant--but there's no way I could've unloaded that frivolous request on this group. So when Jon asked for song suggestions, I went with one of the more brooding mainstays of their canon, "It's All Right, Baby Blue." Success--they took it up, though Jon stopped the song and started it again so that Benmont Tench could join them. It was just a matter of time before David Rawlings reemerged to chip in guitar and vocals.

Someone in the audience requested "Emotional Rescue," but a quick survey around the stage revealed that no one knew the lyrics, so they cobbled together "Miss You," mostly sans words, instead. Benmont had turned out a couple of gorgeous solos already, and now he took further control, seamlessly leading them to an upbeat, jovial "Blue Skies."

An observation: When Jon and David Rawlings play together, they sometimes reach a point where it seems like they play exclusively to each other, no matter how many other people may be around. We saw a little bit of this during the song, when they sort of took up a musical version of Simon Says, each one trying out a riff and the other aping it, all in keeping with the loose, silly spirit of the set.

It took the Elvis/T. Rex mashup to unleash the double-drum delirium, as James and Earl traded solos. When Dave Palmer squeezed in next to Benmont for "Beast of Burden," the Largo stage became the world's greatest Doublemint commercial ever as it hosted two pianists, two drummers, and two guitarists (and a bass player). Double your pleasure--check. Double your fun--double-check.

Sean Watkins threw off the numbers when he finally jumped in, but the reverie continued. Though Ben seemed reluctant to do "I Wanna Be Sedated," he came through like a trooper, and he inspired the last two numbers of the set as well. When the group admitted they couldn't carry off "Heart Full of Soul," per Ben's suggestion, Jon steered them toward "For Your Love" instead. And it was also Ben's idea to try "I'll Cry Instead," though he was probably as surprised by Jon's yodeling as we were. It turned out to be the last song of the night, leaving Jon to thank us for allowing them to "goof off" in public.

Set 1

--piano and synth noodling
--Please Stay Away from Me
--Don't Make Me Fall in Love with You (?)
--Girl I Knew
--Band on the Run [snippet]
--Baby's on Fire
--Hanging on the Telephone
--This Guy's in Love with You
--Ruin My Day
--Why Do You This to Yourself

w/ James Gadson
--That's Just What You Are

w/ James Gadson and Sebastian Steinberg
--Nobody Does It Better

w/ James Gadson, Sebastian Steinberg, and David Rawlings
--Femme Fatale
--Sin City [David = vox]
--Helter Skelter
--Five Years [David = vox]

--Knock Yourself Out

Set 2
--I'm Further Along
--Over Our Heads
--Walking Through Walls

w/ Sebastian Steinberg and Earl Harvin
--I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)

w/ Sebastian Steinberg, Earl Harvin, and James Gadson
--Same Mistakes

w/ Sebastian Steinberg, Earl Harvin, James Gadson, Benmont Tench, and David Rawlings
--It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
--Miss You/Blue Skies
--My Baby Left Me/Jeepster

w/ Sebastian Steinberg, Earl Harvin, James Gadson, Benmont Tench, David Rawlings, and Dave Palmer
--Beast of Burden

w/ Sebastian Steinberg, Earl Harvin, James Gadson, Benmont Tench, David Rawlings, Dave Palmer, and Sean Watkins
--I Wanna Be Sedated [Benmont = vox]
--For Your Love
--I'll Cry Instead

See also:
» the first one said to the second one there
» it's been said many times, many ways
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, Greg
» singin' songs for pimps with tailors

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