Largo recently announced Jon Brion's single-set winter schedule, the latest in a series of change-ups the club and the performer has unveiled in the last couple of years. Some people may see this as another roadblock to hitting Jon's shows, but after all the tumult of late, I'm just happy to know he continues to play.
Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, November 21, 2008: I think Flanny referenced the c-word in his intro, but in the best way possible--at least, we were all giggling by the time Jon took the stage. From there, Jon set off on an instrumental jag, followed by his original songs. "Trouble," always one of my favorites, stood out in this opening wave. Jon guided the song through a range of cadences and treatments, from a pounding, driving lead to a delicate bridge and finishing in a languid, drawn-out coda, while at the same time draping it with entreating vocals.
The short Gershwin block was accompanied by an envious mini-rant before the requests rolled in. The Smiths, reflected through the prism of "For No One," kicked off the proceedings, and I think a guy a few seats down from me got his wish for "Ruin My Day." Jon didn't hesitate to take on the suggestion for a sing-along "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," confident that our collective knowledge of the song would peter out sooner rather than later. Was he ever right, as our strong start fizzled out in the opening notes of the second verse. Jon marveled at the meltdown, calling the unidentifiable sonic haze we produced one of the greatest sounds he's ever heard. You're welcome, sir.
A stretch of silliness took over, interrupted by a couple of sincere numbers, such as Jon's own "So I Fell in Love with You," complete with a scorching solo. The Foreigner double-header anchored this segment, with Wagner the seeming inspiration for "I Want to Know What Love Is," whereas the cock rock of "Hot Blooded" gave way to a spacey, gossamer-like treatment. Jon gilded this one-two punch with more '70s sex music, then made up for it with a '70s "palate cleanser," a gorgeous moody piano piece.
"Same Thing" set us back on the right track, as Jon opted for a more minimal interpretation of what's often a prime candidate for rococo treatment. Sure, the steady syncopation remained intact, but Jon maintained a level tone for piano and vocals throughout. By the song's conclusion, Jon had pared down the instrumentation to simple piano and a spare beat.
A request for "the good part of 'Layla'" left us with the outro (familiar ground at Largo) before the collective once again came together, but to much better effect. Inspired by the planetarium projection on the back of the stage, I had asked for "Space Oddity" earlier in the evening (so I'm literal—sue me), but it wasn't until someone else called for "Space Odyssey" that Jon responded. He left the vocals to us and provided a couple of subtle hints when our voices wavered, but overall, we more than compensated for the disastrous Beatles sing-along, if I do say so myself. A guy in the row behind me totally deserves a shout-out; he sounded great. I can't say the same for myself, but that's never stopped me from warbling along.
Jon left on that triumphant note, but was quickly summoned back for an encore. He chose a request for "It's All Over Now Baby Blue," and after a verse or two, Benmont Tench tip-toed out to join him (thus making good on the "and friends" billing). Can a song express both joy and gravitas at the same time? In their able hands, it certainly can--and did.
--Punch Drunk Theme
--Over Our Heads
--She's Funny That Way
--Someone to Watch Over Me
--Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
--Ruin My Day
--Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
--So I Fell in Love with You
--I Want to Know What Love Is
--It's All Over Now, Baby Blue [with Benmont Tench]
» the way it went, the way it's gone