Wednesday, March 11, 2009

wish you were here

After Thursday's amazing marathon gig and a half, you might wonder how one might top such an experience. Well, you get as much or as little sleep as you can, punch the clock, then return to Largo for the Friday night delight known as Jon Brion and friends.

Friday night on La CienegaJon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, March 6, 2009: After Flanny's opening words, Jon stepped onstage in a rather formal outfit: a black velvet jacket, black tuxedo pants, a white shirt, and a black bowtie. No need to adjust your set, however--the look was less Leonard Bernstein and a little closer to your favorite maitre d'. And as it turned out, the tie was a clip-on anyway. Hey, at least he changed his outfit from the night before.

The short version of this concert report: Jon (and friends) did a lot of covers I can't name. Sorry, I'm useless with those jazz standards, though I'm pretty sure Jon started with a piano improv, followed by what sounded like a Billie Holiday tune. Or maybe Duke Ellington. Or Billie Holiday singing Duke Ellington.

A string of Jon's originals followed. "Croatia" offered a nod to Dick Dale, "Same Mistakes" glided out on a hint of harpsichord, and "Meaningless" rose from a wave of Chamberlin, then closed on the celeste.

The first request of the night went to a short Todd Rundgren number, which in turn inspired Jon to trot out one of his most succinct compositions. We returned to the originals track for a while longer, first with "Love of My Life So Far" on 12-string; Jon started out fast, led it through a lovely bridge, then dialed it back for a slow, deliberate ending and a triumphant flourish. "Girl I Knew" featured a slick guitar solo and quotes from Cheap Trick and the White Stripes, I believe. The self-penned streak continued with the addition of Sebastian Steinberg on "Please Stay Away from Me."

Sebastian alluded to Thursday's festivities, admitting that some of the artists had even later nights than the audience. But Sebastian more than held up his end, eliciting some sweet words from Jon himself. They polished off "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," highlighted by Jon's celeste solo.

Jon picked up an acoustic guitar and joined Sebastian around the omnidirectional mic for an instrumental that may or may not have been a jazzy version of "I'm in the Mood for Love"--or something else. Sean Watkins shored up their ranks for another wordless tune; my guess is "Ain't Misbehavin'" (or not).

Fortunately, they finally hit on some titles I know, such as Jon's "Trouble," a song that Sean has often covered with Nickel Creek and for the Watkins Family Hour. Jon's tone was wistful, the piano veritably surged, and Sean contributed harmonies as well as some charming guitar details.

Déjà vu: Jon asked Gillian Welch to step up, and after conferring on their song selection, she urged David Rawlings to hop on. This is no slight on Gillian or David, but of all the people onstage, they most prominently bore the signs of a late night. Gillian wore eyeglasses, a hat, and no makeup; David simply looked like he had just rolled out of bed. And to tell you the truth, their sound tonight was less than polished too--no detriment at Largo.

Gillian had initially offered to sing a song she had never done before or one that she had; Jon left the decision to her, and I'm guessing we got the former. As far as I know, I haven't seen "Pale Blue Eyes" on any of her setlists, especially not one with Dave volunteering to man the vibes. Though they're clearly not his instrument of choice, Dave carried it off well, underscoring the song's otherworldly feel. Add Jon and Dave's backing vocals, and you kinda had a slice of heaven.

They shuffled the lineup so that Gillian could take the drums (so as not to waste her "drumming skirt") and David could grab a guitar. Neil Young provided the springboard for the first couple of songs, then they huddled for some ideas.

I'm nothing if not a deliberate requester. Oh sure, I throw out the long-shot suggestions every now and then, usually with no success, but a lot of times, I think about the songs I know they can do but haven't aired for a while. Tonight, I got the chance to call out a title I hadn't heard them tackle since that amazing night three years ago: "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." After confirming that Benmont wasn't around, they ripped into the duet. High five!

On the heels of the Tom Petty number, they jammed their way to an unlikely follow-up: "The Sounds of Silence." Judging by the wide-eyed look of recognition on Gillian's face, it was as much a surprise to them as it was to us. Though Jon nominally assumed the lead, Dave swung between Jon and Gillian, and it was very much a collaborative effort, with all three singing and filling in the lyrics when the others forgot. Maybe it was the song, or maybe it was the delivery, but it felt bracingly intimate, even in the big room.

The guests vacated the stage (momentarily) for Jon's finale. He asked for requests, but waited out most of them. Finally, he went with a James Bond medley, comprising the themes for Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Live and Let Die, according to my notes.

For the encore, Jon asked for more requests, despite the dubious success of the last open call. As it happpened, we were trumped by one of the guests. From what I could tell, Jon reacted to a shout-out from Dave Rawlings and proceeded to build the song. He asked for the longest delay possible from the soundbooth; set the foundation of drums, synthesizers, and guitar; and turned on the planetarium projection, all in the run-up to Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." A verse or two in, Gillian Welch snuck onstage to help with the vocals, and behind her, Sebastian and Dave eased in on bass and drums, respectively.

The musical chairs continued. Dave ditched the drums for guitar and vocals, as all three of them came together for the song's signature scream before Gillian returned to the drums. Jon, meanwhile, could be seen kneeling at one of the mics, as he fed the lyrics to Dave and Gillian. The epic drifted to another Pink Floyd title, with Dave and Jon sharing vocals on "Wish You Were Here." My thoughts exactly.

--It Looks Like You
--Same Mistakes
--Remember Me
--Stop the World
--Love of My Life So Far
--Girl I Knew

with Sebastian Steinberg
--Please Stay Away From Me
--Don't Get Around Much Anymore

with Sebastian Steinberg and Sean Watkins

with David Rawlings, Sebastian Steinberg, Sean Watkins, and Gillian Welch
--Pale Blue Eyes [vocals = Gillian]
--Don't Let It Bring You Down [vocals = David]
--Ohio [vocals = David]

with David Rawlings, Sebastian Steinberg, and Gillian Welch
--Stop Draggin My Heart Around [vocals = Gillian and David]
--The Sound of Silence [vocals = Gillian, David, and Jon]

--James Bond medley

--Comfortably Numb/Wish You Were Here [vocals = Gillian, David, and Jon]

See also:
» cortez, cortez
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, Greg


ms. yvon said...

you forgot to tell me about the todd rundgren request. did the title rhyme with "hermit of mink hollow?"

i love the pic with this post. evocative! :)

pneyu said...

Oops, sorry about that! The song was "Remember Me." My excuse: The bow tie cast its spell on me. 8-)

Ryan Collins said...

I keep stumbling back to your blog on accident while going through Jon Brion search results and I just wanna say I really enjoy it. I was at this show as well, as I've been seeing Jon Brion every week for the past ten weeks with no sign of stopping. I wish I had been able to catch the Dave Rawlings machine but I have to settle for the past few times with Jon. Last Friday I actually caught Dave outside of the Largo and talked with him for a minute!

Alas, I'm rambling. Nice to see someone digging the Jon Brion goodness as much as I do.