Tuesday, June 30, 2009

it's all beginning

Growing up, I spent many summers in Southern California, hanging out a week or more at my aunt and uncle's house far away from all the cool places I read about. More specifically, I whiled away those seasons practically right next door to Pomona. I never would've guessed, though, that Wilco would end up here all these years later and that I'd be in attendance for their show at the renovated Fox Theater.

Wilco, Fox Theater, June 20, 2009: As I write this, on the day the new Wilco album officially hits stores, I've heard the record exactly once (but spent much of that time giggling and chatting with friends), and thanks to an apparently defunct hard drive, I'll have to wait a few days more before I can get the tracks on my iPod. Additionally, I haven't seen the entire band perform since last October. Who am I kidding, though? This mask of moderation won't hold up after I file a week's worth of concert reports, starting with Wilco's arrival in Pomona.

Wilco, Fox Theater, 6-20-09

Wilco's extensive tour schedule, combined with my frequent attendance at those gigs, means that I don't expect radical reinventions every time, but with a new album looming, this show would inevitably hold some changes. The most obvious developments were the new titles, five in all, only two of which I knew: "Wilco (The Song)" from The Colbert Report performance and "One Wing" from the last year's Alaska tour dates.

Wilco, Fox Theater, 6-20-09The latter certainly sounded more polished a year on, but not so different from those early renditions. However, "Bull Black Nova" and "You Never Know," both shaping up as Wilco concert staples, were relatively new to me, and I was hooked instantly. Also, "Deeper Down" made its live debut, which also means we saw Nels pulling double duty on lap steel and that little swan of a guitar. I look forward to hearing them all for some time to come.

Those older tunes, though, didn't remain static. I noticed the extended coda on "Misunderstood," for example, and some subtle reworkings in "Radio Cure." On the other hand, "Impossible Germany" took an unexpected turn when Jeff's guitar didn't work for about half the song, leaving Nels to draw out the longest solo he may have ever pulled off for that particular title. Then again, I've seen him play for 45 minutes (and more) straight--it's certainly within his abilities.

Wilco, Fox Theater, 6-20-09The technical problems were eventually solved, and the song floated to its usual graceful ending, but something else happened in the span of the tune. Maybe dodging that bullet opened them somehow, because the energy level kicked up not long after that. Before the night was over, we'd hear both "classic" tunes ("Pick Up the Change," "Can't Stand It") and more recent releases ("Hate It Here," "Hummingbird"), sing "Happy Birthday" to the 40-year-old windmilling guitarist, listen to some kids shredding, and watch the monitor tech bound across the back of the stage while throttling a cowbell. I don't know how else to quantify it, except to say that it was a fantastic, spirited night and a great return for this band (that never really goes away).

This was not the Pomona I knew as a kid, and in a way, this was not necessarily the band I saw last fall. On neither count was this a bad thing; on the contrary, it was a delicious tease of the next week's agenda.

Wilco, Fox Theater, 6-20-09

Opening this show and the next two dates was Jonathan Wilson and his band. Their set in Pomona needed much editing, dragging out longer than the usual opening slot, though they tightened up a bit for the Wiltern gigs. The percussionist, however, won me over completely--I love the gourd!

See also:
» i see my light come shining
» that year
» choo choo charlie had a plenty good band
» the men stood straight and strong
» three-god night

Friday, June 26, 2009

it's a given, given time

You can take your official openings and one-year anniversaries. (OK, I'll take those too.) But to attend the Jon Brion show coinciding with the day the taps started flowing again at Largo at the Coronet? I'll drink to that.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, June 19, 2009: One of the best things about Jon Brion returning to a weekly schedule is that the odds are all the greater I can append a Largo show to any visit to Los Angeles. Though I'm ostensibly in town for another reason (stay tuned for those reports), the week really began down on La Cienega.

Flanagan kicked off the proceedings by sharing the prior week's medical emergency: a bout of kidney stones that ended, appropriately enough, with him puking over the papers finalizing the bar in the Little Room. What this had to do with Jon's ensuing opener I can't say. Even he called it the "strangest opening medley," beginning with the theme to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, then eventually encompassing (I think) "Strawberry Fields" and Scott Joplin. Along the way, Jon touched upon the celeste, a hammer, the Optigan, the analog synth, and probably everything else within arm's reach.

Jon went a little more traditional for the next few songs, including two of his originals. "Girl I Knew," in particular, was subtler and more stripped down than usual, but it seemed to inspire some harsh words from Jon to his guitar. I'm not sure why--it sounded gorgeous, all echoing and jangly from where I was sitting.

The first request of the night landed "I Believe She's Lying," and my initial thoughts that maybe we'd see a kindler, gentler treatment were corrected about three-quarters of the way through the songs, when the unusually melodic swell of the song was replaced by Jon's aggressive, strident guitar work. By the end, he had gone all out My Bloody Valentine-style, a squall ringing out.

Herewith I reach the portion of the show where my attempts at description are most decidedly in vain. I noticed before the show began that Jon's onstage setup now included two video screens--one apparently being too easy for him? I counted three separate clips depicting, respectively, Middle Eastern dancers, an old-time theremin player, and early hip-hop (featuring Kool Moe Dee and Special K, to be exact). Later, Brad Mehldau would make an appearance onscreen.

The gist of the multimedia diversion is that Jon crafted "Within You, Without You" from the disparate beats. Additionally, the juxtaposition of the Middle Eastern troupe and the early breakdancers offered some food for thought. Overall, it was a pretty wild mix that showed some kinks (not to be confused with the Kinks); I suspect, though, that this might be the closest we get to glimpsing Jon's subconscious at work.

After that sensory overload, Jon offered a succinct intro for Fiona Apple. They started with a song from Kate Bush's The Dreaming, a favorite for both of them, then returned to more familiar territory. Specifically, they hit an old jazz standard, followed by a bluesy track for Fiona's short set.

"Here We Go" came from an audience request, and that's all you really need to know--other than it was, as always, gorgeous and and sublime. The next round of requests proved more resistible, as Jon took his time to make his choice. After laughing at our collective unconscious, he plucked one of the less than ideal tunes and ran with it anyway: "Barracuda" through the vocoder and through the ages. Somewhere along the way, Peter Frampton was invoked too. In the end, though, Jon led us through "The Star Spangled Banner," a la Hendrix, to the accompaniment of an especially cringe-worthy interview with Dick Cheney from 1994. We got the message, loud and clear.

But there was more to come! At the end of Flanny's medical melodrama, he had invited everyone to the Little Room for drinks and some music from Jon. Thus, there was no encore per se--but we got an honest-to-god second set with beverages in the smaller space. Sound familiar?

The difference between the Little Room and the theater were immediately evident, the minimal setup in the smaller space contrasting sharply with the expansive layout of the main space. Ultimately, though, you could argue that those variations are merely cosmetic, as you end up taking in great music performed by masterful musicians in both locales. And as it happened, Jon welcomed us in with an instrumental passage again.

For such an auspicious occasion, the show itself proceeded at a leisurely, low-key pace as the guests trickled in. Fiona came in for one song, then left. Sebastian Steinberg settled in for the long haul, joined by Sean Watkins and Fiona again for another tune. When Benmont Tench arrived on the scene, Jon offered vague directions for a "rolling jump thing in G," which led to a song that I wish I could name. The tune teased me, and I want to say it was in the vein of Fats Waller or Fats Domino--you get the idea, right? "Blue Moon" came out whispered and hushed, like a secret confidence.

They closed with Fiona once again, in a combination that many people consider to be the quintessential Largo team, and it was later revealed that this would be Jon's schedule from here on out, with the main set in the big room, and another set, free of charge, following in the Little Room.

See you next month.

Set 1
--piano/Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood theme/Strawberry Fields/Heliotrope Bouquet/more
--Don't Make Me Fall in Love with You
--Girl I Knew
--I Really Don't Want to Know
--I Believe She's Lying
--video mashup
--Suspended in Gaffa [vocals = Fiona Apple]
--He's Funny That Way [vocals = Fiona Apple]
--Mean Old Woman [vocals = Fiona Apple]
--Here We Go
--Barracuda/Star Spangled Banner

Set 2
--Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me [vocals = Fiona Apple]
--Roll Out the Barrel
--I'm on a Roll With You
--instrumental *
--I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good) *
--In the Pines [vocals = Sean Watkins and Fiona Apple] *
--"rolling jump thing in G" **
--Fats Domino or Waller? **
--My Baby Left Me **
--Blue Moon **
--Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key **
--Cry Me a River [vocals = Fiona Apple] **

* = with Sebastian Steinberg
** = with Benmont Tench and Sebastian Steinberg

Sunday, June 14, 2009

who led you to this hiding place

A mere 48 hours before Neko Case's show at the Warfield--er, I was waiting for a delayed connection in Salt Lake City. But a bit of change before that, I was about as far away from June gloom as you can imagine. One of the better substitutions for those sunny skies and warm rays? Neko Case's amazing pipes, of course.

Neko Case, the Warfield, June 10, 2009: Officially, it's been three long years since Neko's last solo appearance in San Francisco, but the truth is the Bay Area has been luckier than most regions, as she's clocked shows here at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and with the New Pornographers. Still, it would be ridiculous to suggest that any of these are equal to seeing Neko in the spotlight.

Neko Case, the Warfield, June 10, 2009

That absence, though, has clearly proved fruitful. Few of the fans I know could've predicted Neko would be selling out theaters on this go-round, but these larger stages were hardly going to waste. Occupying a healthy chunk of real estate, in addition to the numerous guitars and instruments required by her band, was a video screen seemingly built in a forest, flanked on each side by painted trees and on top by a cordial crowned owl. Each song got its own gorgeous video treatment that was a surprise even to the musicians. (This is usually where I'd post a picture, but photography was forbidden.)

Neko brought back the old touring crew, including Jon Rauhouse and Kelly Hogan, along with one new face: Nora O'Connor, also from Chicago. Nora moved in and out for certain songs, but Kelly's role was much more pronounced, joking and quipping. Singing too--such glorious singing.

You'll never hear me complaining that I liked an artist when they specialized in a certain sound (i.e., before they sucked), and I'm not going to start now--but I have preferences. Thus, the selections from Blacklisted sent me swooning, even if Neko uncharacteristically forgot the words to "Deep Red Bells" and messed up the intro to "Lady Pilot."

Neko's newer songs, though, certainly showcase her skills as a songwriter in a way that her earlier performances had not. It was easy to assume she was just a voice--albeit an amazing one--so it's pretty sweet to see her picking up a guitar and leading the band. I don't suppose we'll see her kicking out the drums again, but I guess that was another life.

But the bottom line is that we came to hear Neko belt it out, and we weren't disappointed in that regard. The best musical moments of the night were probably any instance of Neko, Kelly, and Nora locked in three-part harmony, such as on "People Got a Lot of Nerve" or "That Teenage Feeling." But that list of highlights would also have to include the silly asides shared between Neko and Kelly, whether about cougars, drummers, or songs written about Kelly's dog. I wouldn't mind dropping in on their coffee klatch.

The opener was Imaad Wasif, previously seen in Folk Implosion and Alaska. Tonight, his band comprised two other people, one of whom I recognized: good old Bobb Bruno on bass. I didn't catch the drummer's name, but I can say that this band, Two Part Beast, rocked the fuck out. I'm not sure how their sound went over with the rest of the audience, but their jolt of a set was a great start for the evening.

See also:
» my own blood is much too dangerous
» feels lucky to have you here
» use it tonight