Tuesday, August 11, 2009

no wonder i wonder

It was a luxury and a treat to see two Jon Brion shows (too bad we didn't get the third gig) in the Bay Area just a few weeks ago, but for follow-up fixes, you gotta go to the action--at Largo, of course.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, August 7, 2009: At this point, it'd be disingenuous to claim that I just happened upon all these Jon Brion shows in the last few weeks. Trust me, it's no coincidence, but some events are more fortunately timed than others.

After an extended run through what sounded like at least half a dozen ideas, Jon opened with “Foolin’ Myself” and followed this “psychological warm-up” with a call for requests. They came in, all right, and Jon tucked away a couple of them for later use, but also asked for a dumb metal song to lubricate the mindgrapes. (Note: He didn’t mention mindgrapes.)

I think it was “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (metal was never my thing) that helped limber up his fingers, as he led it through a coterie of styles: classical, ragtime, and more. The aforementioned requests kicked in.

It doesn’t hurt that I love “More Than This” so much, but the fact that Jon continues to mix it up, even in relatively subtle ways, helps keep the song among the highlights of any given performance. Tonight, Jon made it a little bit folk, a little bit electronic with varying measures of piano, harmonica, and synthesizer sounds. He also changed some of the vocal inflections; as someone who (1) knows all the words to this tune, and (2) possesses no musical talent at all, I have to say that these subtle improvisations can sometimes be more revelatory than the reworked arrangements.

From here, Jon headed into a block of originals, starting with the always entrancing “Here We Go.” He grabbed an acoustic 12-string for “Love of My Life So Far,” decked it out with an intricate bridge, and built the loops for “Happy with You.” I detected an errant beat, but no matter how many times I’ve seen him do this song, I never get tired of the trick he plays on our senses, when you hear that crashing wave of piano, even while Jon is on the other side of the stage, busting out a scorching guitar solo.

Jon dusted off a couple of straightforward covers, one by Les Paul and Mary Ford, the other by the Zombies, then fired up the video mixers.

Here’s my oversimplified take on the video mixers: Jon has long established himself as the one-man band ne plus ultra, but the video takes him into the realm of a one-man symphony. The stars of these video clips become, in essence, fantasy session musicians. I realize that, by now, most of us know this practice as sampling, but in a day and age when you can take all but the name of any old song, sing a couple of different lyrics over it, and sell it for $1.19 on iTunes, it’d be foolish to lump in this real-time exercise with those scams.

For the night’s first video outing, Jon brought out Sonny Rollins (via video) and, later, Jacques Brel. I can’t say that I noticed Jacques Brel’s contributions in the mix, but Sonny Rollins’ became much more evident as the song developed. Of course, Jon had to put all the pieces in place first--and I haven’t even mentioned how amazing it was to hear “Rocket Man” at all! But with the foundation--not to mention the foyer, at least two bedrooms, and 1.5 bathrooms--set, Jon trickled in bits of sax, then sped them up, played them backward, and jumbled them every which way. The sax, in effect, became the spacey filigree, suggesting takeoff and punching up the atmospherics.

Jon cleansed the palate with a few more originals, including the ever impeccable “Strings That Tie to You.” And unlike two weeks ago, no technical glitches marred this rendition.

He asked for a closing number and, once decided (though still unknown to us), acknowledged that at least we would get an uptempo and “epic” finale. “Heroes” definitely qualifies as uptempo, though certainly not upbeat, and on top of this already byzantine series of loops, he introduced even more layers. Joining the chorus, at least on video, were Ravi Shankar on sitar, a ‘70s-era guitarist I can’t name, maybe a few moments of a Leonard Bernstein-led orchestra, and, by accident, a roaring metal show--Jon used the guitar solo from the last clip anyway.

I love the return of Jon’s second set, I love how the logistics have worked out at the Coronet, and I especially love the contrast between the two segments of the gig. The names onstage may (or may not) be the same, but the experience in the two rooms, I can guarantee you, will not. At several points during the post-show, I almost had to pinch myself to remember I was in a club, not in someone’s living room.

The first instance was the Buzzcocks’ “You Say You Don’t Love Me,” which sounded so close and so tender that you could easily forget its post-punk roots. The other major moment came during a one-two punch comprising a song I don't know, followed by a Randy Newman tune. Even sitting in the front row, we strained to hear Jon's hushed, gauzy vocals--not because of any technical problem, but because it was that kind of reading. Breathe and you’ll miss it.

Set 1
--I'm Just Foolin' Myself
--Pour Some Sugar on Me
--More Than This
--Here We Go
--Love of My Life So Far
--Happy with You
--I Really Don't Want to Know
--This Will Be Our Year
--Rocket Man
--Please Stay Away from Me
--Knock Yourself Out
--Strings That Tie to You

Set 2
--I Fall in Love Too Easily
--You Say You Don't Love Me
--Eternal Sunshine music?
--Ain’t Misbehavin' (?)

See also:
» first-time high
» the voices in your ear

1 comment:

Danny Lee said...

In regard to your "No Wonder I Wonder" post about the August 7th Jon Brion show. I was there that night, too, with my jaw dropped, loving every minute of it.
I have a question, though. You mentioned that it was Sonny Rollins in the video. Are you sure? That's who I thought it was at first too, but even though the guy had a beard, it really didn't look like Sonny. And wasn't that Thelonious Monk at the piano? Do you have any way of contacting a Largo person to verify. I'd love to get the info. I was blown away by the footage! Thanks, I really enjoy your writing! dan.weber@teamdetroit.com