Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, May 15, 2009: A little past the Blockbuster parking lot, I realized I was smiling to myself for no reason other than the fact that I was about to see my first Jon Brion show in more than two months (not including that cameo at the last Rawlings Machine gig). It felt good to be back.
In the grand scheme of things, I hadn't been gone that long, but in the interim, some serious new equipment joined the stage setup. Jon's collection of gear, already a formidable mass, now encompassed a small multimedia lab, including the following:
- A roll-up movie screen planted toward the back of the stage, directly to the right of the piano
- A small monitor mirroring the larger viewing surface hanging from the piano itself
- A projector at the front foot of the stage
- A video mixer atop the celeste
Granted, I didn't recognize much of this at first sight, and it took a little while before Jon worked them into his set. There was the matter of the opening "Werewolves of London," called off because it reminded him too much of Kid Rock, followed by a lengthy instrumental piano that returned us to more familiar ground. I picked out maybe three movements, if you want to call them that, and perhaps a touch of the Punch-Drunk Love theme. A string of originals ensued, including an exceptional "Why Do You Do This to Yourself," the typically straightforward, country-style treatment replaced by rich, sonorous waves.
Sometimes you watch Jon Brion in action and you think to yourself, "He can't do that, can he?" Then it becomes apparent that he can, and he can do it well. We probably shouldn't have been surprised that Jon would use the video equipment to draw out loops and samples to play against, but I don't think any of us could've predicted some of the more charming results.
For starters, he cued up an old-time clip of a Latin band, fashioned a rhythm, and added piano, celeste, and mellotron, culminating in an instrumental version of "Lithium." This same mini movie provided the raw material for a subtle segue into "More Than This." Jon's equanimous vocals, coupled with a swaying calypso-style beat, were hypnotic, even as the Video Toaster-type effects applied to the flick, such as color shifts and a psychedelic repetition of the image, took the opposite tack.
He repeated this feat later in the set using footage of an Iron Butterfly TV appearance grafted to a '40s-era film of two women singing what sounded like a traditional tune. I feel like I should know at least one of the songs, but I couldn't give you a title even if I wanted to. From the former, he spliced the percussion, sprinkled some MicroKORG, and surfaced with his own "Meaningless." Throw in some piano, celeste, one or two more keys-based instruments, and that eerie a cappella performance, and you get the Bacharach/David classic "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."
Between these two superlooping exercises, Jon also produced a more traditional score, playing along to a black-and-white Felix the Cat cartoon. I remember talk of Jon providing live accompaniment for films and other performances when Largo at the Coronet first opened. I also know that he has, indeed, carried it off (for example, with the Paul Thomas Anderson plays last year). Perhaps this is the next step in that direction.
Of course, there was plenty of non-video-based music to fill out the night, much of it culled from audience suggestions. For once, I can say I enjoyed every request granted. I'm happy to say I got in the first request of the night--"Rockit"--though the vibes were Jon's choice. After extricating himself from an unexpected detour through "Axel F," Jon worked out the details admirably, going to town on just about every surface of the instrument, down to the pipes. I'm going to say it was a hit among the audience, but Jon may not have agreed, judging by the fact that he gave the instrument the finger before switching to guitar.
"As Time Goes By" sounded wonderfully natural, warm, and intimate on acoustic guitar, as did Jon's own "Further Along." The latter's initially spare treatment eventually gave way to a full build that peaked on electric guitar--but not before we enjoyed the spectacle of watching Jon simultaneously (albeit briefly) playing harmonica, acoustic guitar, and drums.
You could file several of the evening's selections under "Odd Juxtapositions Unless You've Seen a Show at Largo." To wit: The calls for David Bowie and the Monkees resulted in "Daydream Believer" sung to the tune of "Moonage Daydream" and Jon's quip that they're both by singers named Davy Jones. "Here We Go" closed out on a nod to "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," and "Under Pressure" galloped out in Les Paul style, even if Jon admitted some trepidation at the outset.
I can't recall if I've documented my "When Doves Cry" request history on this blog, but I'll assume I've already driven that story into the ground. The point is that I don't request it anymore, but I never mind when someone else does. For the first time in a while, Jon took it up for the final song of the evening.
There's a recording of a show from 2005 in New York City when Jon carries off a legendary version of "When Doves Cry." I wasn't there, but the story goes that he soldiered through with a broken guitar, the audience's eager support, and little else. This was not the version we heard tonight.
In place of the song's spare, cool signature, Jon fashioned a woozy, frenetic take. Over a slightly off-kilter foundation of piano, he lavished a generous helping of percussion, manipulating the piano hammers as he often does with his own "Same Thing" and throwing in a smattering of well-timed tambourine. The guy behind me (I think he also requested the song) tried hard to sing along, but Jon's use of the vocoder put a damper on those plans.
On guitar, though, Jon could've given the Artist a run for the money. Those heavy chords and the fierce feedback pretty much told me that Jon meant to close the night for real--there'd be no way to top this baby, thanks in part to the White Stripes quotes (for the second time this evening; he snuck it into the Felix score as well), among others.
It had been too long, Largo. I won't let this happen again.
--Werewolves of London
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--Over Our Heads
--Get Over Yourself
--Lithium/More Than This
--As Time Goes By
--"Felix and random"
--Please Stay Away from Me
--Moonage Daydream/Daydream Believer
--I Want You to Want Me/Electric Avenue
--I'll Never Fall in Love Again
--Here We Go
--When Doves Cry
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