I'm back in the gig game, however briefly, after a visit to--surprise, surprise--Largo at the Coronet for a Jon Brion show. As the year wanes, I'll post less often, but the well won't dry up completely. However, the names will look awfully familiar--I mean, moreso than usual--in the weeks to come. Caveat lector!
Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, November 21, 2009: In case you've been wondering, I have, in fact, been living under a rock for the last month. To be more specific, I've been settling into the new apartment, loading up on freelance work, watching a lot of TV, and living within my means (for a change)--in short, being boring. It kills me that I haven't wanted to see any bands coming through the Bay Area in the past few weeks, but alas, my gig requirements aren't what they used to be. Fortunately, salvation lies, in weekly allotments, to the south.
We got a sneak preview of the guests scheduled to drop in tonight, both via the Largo email list and with our very own eyes, but that's never been the point (for me, anyway) of seeing a Jon Brion show. However, it sort of explained Jon's emphasis on his own compositions in the first part of the set. As is his wont, he opened the show with a range of styles, from the airy "Over Our Heads" to the soulful "Someone Else's Problem Now" to the spare "It Looks Like You" to kind of a '90s-era college rock version of "Same Mistakes," all discord and fuzz.
But then he sprung a new song on the audience, a piece I first heard in August, according to my not especially trusty notes. But even without my reference material, I probably would've reached the same conclusion based on the irresistible jangly guitar riff alone.
Jon finished this first figurative lap around the Largo stage with a visit to the video mixers, summoning footage of Andrés Segovia, then joining it up to a clip of a string band playing alongside Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Jon spliced, diced, and looped the sounds, culminating in "That's Just What You Are," then added more effects, including what I want to call the "Little Mermaid" detail--you know, where it sounds like everything's under water. Next up was Maria Callas; I heard her voice as something akin to a guitar solo, punctuating the song with an undeniable emotionality, before Mr. Segovia's measured fingerpicking wrapped up the tune.
"Please Stay Away from Me" nearly marked the last of Jon's originals before we plunged into audience requests. The Summer of Love went ragtime for the Jefferson Airplane suggestion (I swear I heard a hint of "Big Spender" in there too), though cowbell fans might've been disappointed by the piano-and-vocoder "Don't Fear the Reaper." Jon cut through the rest of the requests with a guitar medley that strung together the Rolling Stones, the Turtles, Nirvana, and Village People, among others. Actually, one more cover awaited: a Les Paul-style "You Really Got Me," which took a while to come together, but his perseverance won out--big time.
Jon used to end his sets with those Les Paul tributes, but a whole new phase beckoned, kicked off with another new song that recalled the White Album in its pacing and a sweet, yet weary tone reminiscent of George Harrison's best works. With that, he set the stage for his guests.
First up was Fiona Apple, performing some of the standards she's known for. She sounded rawer than I've heard before on "River Stay Away from My Door," though overall, she looked a lot more relaxed than usual onstage. She and Jon were soon joined by the guest we saw crossing the courtyard earlier that evening: John Paul Jones, visiting on a night off from touring with Them Crooked Vultures.
The trio convened for two songs, including a gorgeous tune popularized by Hank Snow, before Fiona left the stage to Jon and John. Jon runs through "My Baby Left Me" pretty often at his shows, so it'd be hard to call it a novelty, but you had to appreciate where this song led. I'm pretty sure it started with two solos each by Jon and John, and the next thing you know, we listened to a funky wordless jam between the two of them, invoking James Brown here, conjuring Curtis Mayfield there.
When big-name artists stop by Largo, they seem to revel in the opportunity to bypass their hits and play songs you wouldn't expect to hear from them--good luck getting in a Tom Petty request when Benmont Tench is around, for example. Color me surprised then when Jon stepped up to the mic during this extended exchange and started singing "Good Times Bad Times." Picture it yourself: Jon Brion on vocals, John Paul Jones on bass, and a Led Zeppelin song between them. To shake us out of shock, they tried it one more time, the second go-round taking the form of a slow jam and Jon kicking in bursts of Robert Plant-style vocals here and there.
Jon closed out the first set with a video mix of the old-time Latin band he frequently calls up for such purposes, a classical music conductor that I should probably know but can't name (Googling "conductor shock of white hair" didn't help in the least), and Jacques Brel, all in the service of "More Than This." Of the three, Jacques' contributions were less discernible, but I especially enjoyed the orchestra's synth-like accents.
During the main show, the artists had fielded several inquiries into the whereabouts of the Punch Brothers, and each time, they were told that the band was on the way. I think we had their tardiness to thank for the lengthy early set, and as it turned out, they were ready to make up for lost time in the Little Room. Jon appeared briefly to introduce the group, then retreated to the back, content to throw out requests and other bits of guidance. In the process, he offered us a glimpse of the role he fills as a producer--entirely fitting, as the Punch Brothers are currently filling up his dance card, according to reports.
All together, they tried out a few of their older songs, a number of as yet unreleased tracks, and many covers, including Radiohead, Gillian Welch, the Cardigans, the Strokes, D'Angelo, and even an old banjo tune called "Sled Ridin'." Unfortunately, they couldn't tackle the Of Montreal request we fielded, though many of us had seen Chris Thile and Jon carry it off when the Coronet opened; Chris claimed that the rest of the band didn't know it, despite his best efforts to teach them.
Instead, they brought back Fiona for one of her songs and a cover, followed by Benmont's aiding and abetting on another tune. Finally, Jon took his place with them for "Tonight You Belong to Me," though the Punch Brothers claimed no knowledge of the song. Jon and Fiona assumed the bulk of the responsibilities, while the others tried to fill in where they could. I have to commend the Punch Brothers for not only playing along but taking us nearly to the 2 am mark, but for those few minutes, Jon and Fiona needed no accompaniment.
--Over Our Heads
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--It Looks Like You
--That's Just What You Are
--Please Stay Away from Me
--Somebody to Love
--Don't Fear the Reaper
--Paint It Black/Happy Together/Smells Like Teen Spirit/YMCA/other stuff
--You Really Got Me
--You Belong to Me *
--River Stay Away from My Door *
--Don't Get Around Much Anymore **
--Lovesick Blues **
--My Baby Left Me ***
--Good Times Bad Times ***
--More Than This
--Don't Need No
--Ninety-Nine Years and One Dark Day
--How to Grow One from the Ground
--Wayside/Back in Time
--On the Bound *
--Walking After Midnight *
--Ophelia [with Benmont Tench]
--Tonight You Belong to Me [with Jon Brion, Fiona, and Benmont]
* = with Fiona Apple
** = with Fiona Apple and John Paul Jones
*** = with John Paul Jones
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