Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, December 19, 2008: I always feel like a jerk when discussing my travel plans around this time of the year. Whereas other people are forced to deal with weather issues, work obligations, and family demands, my main concerns are, How do I hit all of the year-end shows at Largo? And can I get away with flip-flops or do I need real shoes?
To restate the obvious, I'm hopelessly hooked on--well, nearly everything associated with this particular L-word, but even by my questionable standards, Jon Brion's last show of the year at Largo is in a league of its own. Say what you will about commercialism, religion, and what have you, but you gotta admit Christmas and New Year aren't bad excuses for a party (though the sweaters remain unforgivable).
Not that I expected the blowouts of years past--after all, Largo's answering machine message explicitly stated that Jon would play only one set, and there was the not inconsequential Dave Rawlings Machine late show taking place in the Little Room. But if you can't hope and wish at Christmastime, when can you?
Jon appeared onstage at the appointed hour in a green striped suit, a red shirt, matching shoes, and a star-pattern tie--perhaps in tribute to the holiday. He introduced the first guest, who he said had been with Largo since the earliest days. I sort of gritted my teeth, in fear of who might turn up--but as it happened, he was referring to the comic Greg Behrendt. Largo's comics cover, to put it mildly, a wide range of styles, and Greg's pacing and storytelling were unlike anyone else I've seen at the club. I gotta give him props, though, for his observations on Criss Angel and Matthew McConaughey. Well spotted, old chap!
In addition to returning the introductory favor, Greg provided the perfect springboard from which to launch the music portion of the evening. Corroborating Greg's remarks about what your friends' musical tastes say about their reliability, Jon informed us that he's notoriously bad at returning phone calls and that he's an Of Montreal fan. This, in turn, inspired the first song of the night, followed by a snippet of Bryan Adams.
Jon bounded to the piano for the next couple of songs: a cacophonous "Someone Else's Problem Now," then "Strings That Tie to You," featuring the mellotron/chamberlin/whatever, which he deployed on the tune's gorgeous ascending bridge.
From there, Jon marched to the piano for a build of "Didn't Think It Would Turn Out Bad," introducing the first peals of electric guitar for the evening, but dialed it down a notch with "Happy with You" on a battered metal acoustic guitar. I wanna say it's a dobro, but these words aren't binding.
As the Magnolia theme wafted from the stage, I shivered in my seat and wondered if Jon would follow it up with "Amateur." Alas, no--instead, he opened up the room to requests and chose two of his own compositions. "I Believe She's Lying" deserves a mention; not only did the full-blown song build incorporate the analog synth, the mellotron, two distinct drum attacks, and a My Bloody Valentine-like squall of electric guitar, it was also the first time Jon ventured over to the vibes that evening.
The epic made way for the succinct, as Sebastian Steinberg joined Jon. Sebastian brought the bass and Jon stationed himself at the vibes for a jazzy take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"--but if you want to know the truth, it might have been "Chestnuts Roasting over an Open Fire." I surrendered the pad and paper to the gossamer notes coming from the vibes.
Don Heffington (thanks again, Tom!) was enlisted next for a Cole Porter request, and he threw himself into the song with the same dedication as his cohorts. Between Jon's full-body throes, Sebastian's forceful plucking, and Don's staccato beat, they sounded anything but fragile or effete on this downright ferocious take on "Everytime We Say Goodbye."
This interpretive inclination continued with the next number, when they picked up on an audience request for "Caravan" as a "fucked-up Chess blues mambo," in Jon's words. If you're left dumbstruck by that string of modifiers, don't feel too bad--Sebastian and Don didn't jump on it until Jon sounded out a beat and a few notes. To oversimplify, I'd say they were stepping through Tom Waits' stomping grounds.
At least one person's wish was granted when a call from the peanut gallery for David Rawlings yielded immediate returns, and then some: David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and Benmont Tench. David picked up at least three guitars before finally settling on one that was in tune and functioning. Apart from that hiccup, he launched right into "Nadine," with Gillian supplying backing vocals. And though it appeared that David and Gillian intended to stay for only two songs, Jon convinced them to squeeze in one more before dashing over to the Little Room for their own show.
For these last two numbers, they looked to Neil Young. Throughout these two titles, the collective stayed anything but static. My favorite visuals: David and Gillian sharing a mic, then David and Jon, and finally, Jon and Gillian. Elsewhere, Jon plunked himself down on the piano next to Benmont and traded guitar licks with David. Gillian ventured over to the vibes and even picked up a wand, but stopped short of making contact with the tines.
Atypically, we eased out of the room as David and Gillian left the stage--for real this time. My initial pangs of uncertainty dissipated when Jon indicated he would soon close shop himself, but it helped that the frenzy of "Entrance of the Gladiators" played out during our exit.
--Greg Behrendt opener
--Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider
--Cuts Like a Knife
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--Strings That Tie to You
--Didn't Think It Would Turn Out Bad
--Happy with You
--Here We Go
--I Believe She's Lying
--Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas *
--Everytime We Say Good-Bye **
--Nadine *** [David = vocals]
--Birds *** [David = vocals]
--Powderfinger **** [David = vocals]
* = with Sebastian Steinberg
** = with Sebastian Steinberg and Don Heffington
*** = with Sebastian Steinberg, Don Heffington, Benmont Tench, David Rawlings, and Gillian Welch
**** = with Sebastian Steinberg, Don Heffington, Benmont Tench, David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and Sean Watkins
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