I didn't expect to be back at Largo and a Jon Brion show so soon, but somehow, it always works out. I'll skip the usual rigmarole of concocting an excuse and simply proceed to the report.
Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, September 4, 2009: Most visitors may not know this about Los Angeles, but this city of transplants is a veritable ghost town for the holidays. There's no better time to visit than Christmas, and traffic never materialized this Labor Day weekend. Granted, that may have been partly due to the Station Fire raging a valley away, but in true Hollywood fashion, we were shielded from the reality.
Largo managed to buck this trend, and to our surprise at least, the big room filled up nicely by the time the show was about to begin. After commending us for sticking around, Jon sat down at the piano for an instrumental opening that I--for once--recognized: Cole Porter's "Everytime We Say Goodbye," I believe, proving that the Red Hot + Blue compilation ranks among my better music purchases.
Turning his attention to a couple of originals, Jon lingered over a particularly Eno-esque intro to "Over Our Heads," but "Further Along" turned out to be more a battle of wills between Jon and his guitar. Rest assured, Jon prevailed.
The last time I saw Jon's show, it was the day after Les Paul's death, and we speculated if and/or how he'd honor the memory (with full knowledge that he usually does so by not attempting the dearly departed's music so soon after the loss). The tribute didn't transpire that night, except for some old TV footage playing on the flat-screen in the Little Room.
I guess the moratorium had lifted because Jon combined two separate audience requests, first for the Les Paul treatment, then for Harry Nilsson. "Alone Again Naturally" required more tinkering than usual, but by the time Jon hit his stride, it sounded magnificent, with a bridge that can only be described as delightful and oodles of fine fingerpicking--if only all posthumous salutes were so joyful and dignified.
The video mix kicked off with an elderly guitar player I can't name, and after isolating and looping a certain measure, Jon matched it to some footage of Toscanini (maybe) for an almost pastoral affect. It took me a while, but after Jon added a MicroKorg-derived beat, I finally figured out the song: "That's Just What You Are" with a chamber-pop twist.
From here, Jon asked for requests in earnest, and a small chorus of voices prevailed with a suggestion for "Little Person." Though he seemed less than certain of its key, I was thrilled to finally hear this tune--the highlight of a movie I desperately wanted to like--for myself.
Maybe it was the long weekend, or maybe it was the fires, but the audience requests seemed more ludicrous than usual. Then again, maybe it's always like that, except that Jon actually humored them tonight, though not without an inscrutable silence. I'm pretty sure I've heard Jon do "Electric Avenue" before, at least in part, but this may have been the first time I've seen it in toto, built from the floor up. In case you're wondering what it actually sounded like, imagine Eddie Grant taking a detour through Paisley Park. (No, seriously.)
I'm pretty sure the next selection came from an audience request, moving Jon back to the video mixers. His first clip was of recent vintage: an MTV show with Alexa Chung and Adrian Grenier on drums. Matched up with an orchestra and an opera singer, they comprised a grand backing band for the Kinks song we ultimately heard. I've comment before that sometimes it's hard to pick out the discrete elements of Jon's multimedia mashups, but as with the evening's previous video foray, the collaborators' roles were clear and distinct.
Early in the show, we spied a spectator in the wings and waited for the announcement from the stage. But apparently, the visitor's presence was completely lost on Jon until Bret informed him at nearly the end of the set. So while Jon urged us to shout out more requests, he ducked away, welcomed his friend, then finally brought her forward: Gillian Welch, last seen at Largo in July.
Jon and Gillian tried to include us in their decision-making process, but the crowd consensus on "Safety Dance" (not me) probably spiked that idea. Instead, they went with what Gill knew how to sing, and both songs turned out to be fine selections. Gill even got in some time on the drum kit for "You Can't Always Get What You Want." This preference carried over into the encore, so with Gill once more holding up the bottom end and Jon asking for Sun-style slapback, they looked to Sam Cooke, and I thought of at least one person in Los Angeles who really should've been there.
Over in the Little Room, Jon called us lucky bastards and ceded the stage to Benmont Tench and Gillian Welch. From our front-row perch, it hit me almost immediately: There's no reason for these world-class musicians, whose audiences regularly number in the thousands, to play for the two dozen people who stuck around tonight. Yet they do, and as trite as this may sound, it seems they're motivated by nothing other than their love of music.
In the main room, Gill and Jon had established that their brains were "mush," so it fell to Benmont to play the crucial role of arbiter. He provided the request for "Wabash Cannonball," which established a mini trend of train songs for the night. Benmont would also assume lead vocals on "How Deep Is the Ocean" when Jon commanded him to "take one."
Jon's presence was something of a question mark until, two songs in, Gillian called him back to the stage. He dutifully obliged, but also managed to steer clear of the mic, content to sit on the floor for much of the show, mostly supporting the others on guitar, backing vocals, and er, Guinness. He was helped in part by David Rawlings's eventual arrival, guitar and guitar case in hand.
Though there was much give and take between the musicians, David ostensibly took the lead, singing a handful of songs himself and sharing the duties with Gillian on the others. Actually, my notes show that Gill did most of the singing, but they came together at the mic often--just the way we like it. My favorite moment might've been "Elvis Presley Blues," which David started, but Gillian closed the deal in one of those effortless handoffs that characterize their partnership. Along the way, Jon had been moved to leap to his feet in solidarity with David, and Benmont gave us a gorgeous glissade on "Wildwood Flower."
After the show concluded but before we left the premises, we caught a peek at one more spectacle: Gillian, David, and Jon singing in a cappella harmony just outside the Little Room, carrying off what we think was one of the titles they passed over just minutes before. I don't kid myself that I've seen everything possible at Largo (or that such a compendium exists), but it sure was a pleasure to check that item off the list that I didn't even know I was keeping.
--Everytime We Say Goodbye
--Over Our Heads
--I Really Don't Want to Know
--Alone Again Naturally
--That's Just What You Are
--This Is Where I Belong
--Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain *
--You Can't Always Get What You Want *
--Bring It on Home to Me *
--Make Me a Pallet **
--Wabash Cannonball **
--Love in Vain **
--How Deep Is the Ocean **
--Copper Kettle ***
--Mountain Dew ***
--Window Up Above ***
--Elvis Presley Blues ***
--Wildwood Flower ***
--It's Too Easy ***
* = with Gillian Welch
** = with Gillian Welch and Benmont Tench
*** = with Gillian Welch, Benmont Tench, and David Rawlings
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