This blog may indicate otherwise, but I like seeing gigs at home, and I love it when the Bay Area get exclusive engagements. Take, for example, Jon Brion's sole date with Of Montreal, scheduled for the Fox Theater in Oakland, of all places. I'm in!
Of Montreal/Jon Brion, The Fox Theater (Oakland), July 24, 2009: I admit it; Google was my friend in discovering that Jon Brion was scheduled to open for Of Montreal in a location that happened to be extraordinarily convenient to me. The moral of the story: Repeated and semi-pathological Googling can work to your advantage. The jury is out, however, on whether the same can be said for broadcasting such actions publicly.
The last time I saw Jon play in the Bay Area, he was opening for Evan Dando; he brought some loopers and a ukelele, but he had to borrow an acoustic guitar from Ben Kweller, the other opener. This time, he had the full setup: a complete drum set, several guitars, the Chamberlin, a celeste, a mini piano (the first time I've seen it), that analog synth thing, a forest of electric cables, and so much more I can't name.
If there's a common thread running through Jon's shows outside of Los Angeles, it's that he aims to please. That's not to say he abandons his muse; who else would, upon taking the stage, serenade a predominantly teenage audience with Billie Holiday? Jon also represented himself well with his pick of originals, covering country, power pop, ballads, and the ambient. But if you've hit enough of Jon's shows at Largo, you may have seen his more internal side, those gigs performed head down, with little chance of surfacing. This isn't the norm when he's on the road.
The young woman next to me professed conversion after the athletic build of "Girl I Knew," but the majority of the crowd will likely remember the two requests. Even I was pleased to hear a couple of tunes that Jon doesn't tackle often at Largo, despite repeated calls for them. The first was "Helter Skelter," initially reimagined on Chamberlin, then shifting to a ragtime cadence, and finally rocking out with the addition of drums and guitar. I don't know how many young 'uns caught this detail, but the "Only Shallow" quote over the coda's dissonance may have been worth the price of admission.
"I Put a Spell on You" would turn out to be the final song of the night--or, more accurately, the last four songs of the night. Jon started it on a beat that recalled "Disco Duck" and, after a long gestation, introduced some bass notes to the blips and beeps. He teased the audience with a snippet of Beastie Boys via the vocoder, but went without ornamentation for the screeches so essential to the song. That rebound would be short-lived as he plucked the natural complement to the electro beat he'd so expertly established: Daft Punk, of course!
During Jon's set, at least a few ticket holders bellowed their appreciation, but in the transition between acts, I heard from several people around me, including the photographers in the pit. Jon isn't unknown these days, but in truth, not a lot of people--even those in the music business--have seen him in action. It was lovely to hear these concert veterans express their wonder and amazement at what he does.
I'm ill equipped and entirely unqualified to write about Of Montreal, a band overwhelmingly well represented on the Internet and adored in real life, so I'll try to limit myself to a couple of observations. Firstly, I'm glad that some bands take drugs so that the rest of us don't have to. Mostly, though, they left me wondering if it was like this seeing Roxy Music, Prince and the Revolution, or, er, Mummenschanz at their most audacious. (I might be kidding about that last one.)
I loved the spectacle, the fan base, the crush of bodies, and even the songs. The routines on stage were matched by the choreographed moves of the front row, as much as a jam-packed collection of bodies could maneuver. Where the crew showered us with glitter and feathers (that I'm still finding in pockets and bags), the audience answered with balloons they brought along. I'm often among the first to raise an eyebrow at literal interpretations or obvious apings of the band's oeuvre, but I had to smile when the disco-ball-face ninja met his DIY hand-puppet equivalent--rendered in felt, no less!
And I can see exactly why Kevin Barnes commands such a following. He's opening up a whole new world for these kids; they may appreciate it even more in the years to come.
Jon has namechecked and covered Of Montreal at his gigs, and they returned at least the first part of that gesture at the very end, dedicating "Moonage Daydream" to him. Otherwise, he didn't join the band onstage during the show. One can hope, though, for such a union in the future.
p.s. Patricia at Spin Earth has a much better review of the Of Montreal portion of the show.
Setlist for Jon Brion
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--Girl I Knew
--Over Our Heads
--Helter Skelter/Only Shallow
--Please Stay Away from Me
--I Put a Spell on You/Around the World
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