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.
--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
--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
--Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me [vocals = Fiona Apple]
--Roll Out the Barrel
--I'm on a Roll With You
--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