Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, January 22, 2010: Didja hear? It's not only a new year, but a new decade as well! And despite sitting within spitting distance of several calendars, I apparently didn't get the memo. Case in point: The fact that I showed up at Largo with the misguided expectation that it would be business as usual, that I could waltz up to the gate and purchase a ticket on my own timetable, and that the rain would keep the droves away.
Wrong! (On two counts anyway.) Tonight, the masses were in attendance, including a gaggle of youths, as well as a recent Golden Globe-winning actor, if my stalkervision is to be trusted. Alas, my favorite seat had been claimed long before I arrived, but I was happy to get in at all.
In his opening remarks, Flanny noted that the night's proceeds would go to Habitat for Humanity, then made way for Jon, who arranged himself at the piano for the introductory passage: his simultaneously typical and atypical piano improv, a fairly straightforward "Ruin My Day," and an off-kilter "Same Thing." Regarding that last tune, if I had any real knowledge of music, I'd not only suggest he was playing a counterpoint-based version of the song, but I'd even know what that meant.
Or I can stop trying to show off
Jon went with more originals--and unreleased ones, at that--for his next rock block, leading me to entertain the idea that last month's promise of a follow-up to Meaningless may come to fruition after all. There's no telling what will happen to a song between the time Jon plays it onstage and when it's locked down in the studio, so it's kinda useless to describe what we heard at this show--but I'll try anyway.
The first tune was spare and distinct, with a lovely melodic lilt, and I don't recall hearing the last selection (performed on the piano) ever before. However, the middle work, titled "Piece of You," as Jon revealed in response to an audience inquiry, is a gorgeous reminder of why we want him to record a new album: It sounds fucking great.
Warm and jangly, it's steeped in a late-'70s vibe, definitely extending a nod to Neil Young, but with an undeniable pop hook. I'm completely biased, of course, but I can't tell you how many times I've had this very reaction to a new Jon Brion song, only to be left wondering if I'll ever hear it outside of Largo. At least it gives me a reason to come back.
The video mixers were next called into action, and Nels Cline was the first guest of honor, joined soon thereafter by Maria Callas. After a meandering prologue, Jon unveiled the selection: "Here We Go." It wasn't the scorched-earth version we heard in December, but Jon drew out the piece to incorporate symphonic strings, as well as his own touch of guitar and drums. The song, usually the epitome of stability and understatement, arced and swayed in Jon's hands tonight, until it brought to mind the outro to "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." "Here We Go"? More like away we went.
We got one more original, then dove into the covers, starting with "Life on Mars" on the vibes. The people sitting behind us were clearly delighted, based on the stream of giggles and gasps I overheard. They weren't alone, if the applause and laughter throughout the room were any indication.
In fact, I'd argue that the audience's very enthusiasm sent Jon into crowd-pleaser mode for this segment of the show. The newbie-dominated group gushed their appreciation of Jon's transitions and selections, and Jon, in turn, seemed to capitalize on this freshness with an extensive survey of his talents and versatility. Thus, we got Tom Waits doing Led Zeppelin (says the woman who knows nothing about either), a classic delivered with a healthy dose of distortion, and finally, the long-awaited return of the Beatles to Jon's setlists.
"Tomorrow Never Knows" is nothing less than a blowout in any performance, but tonight's rendition resulted in a broken guitar string, though it didn't stop Jon from playing; briefly quoted "Revolution" and "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey"; and drew on more video footage, including a segment that Jon manipulated to make it appear as if Nels were record scratching. Whew! Oh, and those gigglers/gaspers behind me? They got a kick out of this one too--as did I.
For his encore, Jon took it down a notch with a solo acoustic "Love of My Life So Far." But the show wasn't over--on to the second set!
Over in the Little Room, Sara and Sean Watkins were the first to arrive onstage, and the presence of Jon's guitars gave us hope that he would show up eventually too. The siblings traded off songs, including some brand-new works and audience requests. Benmont Tench joined in next, then finally Jon took his place alongside them. Then it got really interesting.
Nature or nurture? It's a question that often crosses my mind at Largo. Do I come back again and again because the club draws so many of the artists that helped form my musical vocabulary? Or do those names dominate my listening habits because I've seen them at the club? The case can be made either way, but when certain faces pop up seemingly out of the blue, I lean toward the former and start wondering if some form of destiny is at work.
Granted, large tracts of my musical upbringing have never surfaced at Largo, but when Neil Finn drops in or Glenn Kotche is coerced onstage or Jon plays a Spoon song (then, years later, goes into the studio with them), I want to think it's not mere coincidence. At tonight's show, Charlie Sexton got me looking up star signs and reading the tea leaves all over again.
As I understand it, Charlie Sexton has been in Bob Dylan's touring band for a while now, but I'll always see him through the eyes of my 13-year-old self, thanks to the magic--or the curse--of music television and his hit single "Beat's So Lonely." I'm not sure how the clip stands up to contemporary scrutiny, but when it debuted, Charlie's striking profile couldn't be ignored, even in an era of aggressively telegenic musicians. Truth be told, the song wasn't effete enough for my teenage tastes, but the video stayed on my mind. See for yourself:
Flash-forward 25 years (OMFG, kill me now), and there he was, on the tiny stage of the Little Room, summoned by none other than Jon Brion. How did Charlie look? Pretty damn good, especially as he, Jon, and Sean threw goofy rock 'n' roll shapes around the mic.
But how did he do? Not too shabby there either. With Sara, Charlie spearheaded "Bye Bye Love," but Jon and Sean kicked in their harmonies too, while Benmont imbued it with a swinging beat. With that, their performance quickly shot up my list of favorite Largo moments.
The quintet went back to round-robin mode, sharing vocals and solos, as well as making requests of one another. By now, my eyes were glued to Jon and Charlie. For example, they contributed tasteful guitar notes to Benmont's downtempo take on ELO, and they came together to mine the rootsier aspects for "I'll Cry Instead"; coincidentally, it featured Jon's only true lead vocal of the second set. I hope it won't be the last I'll see of Charlie at Jon's shows.
To close out this long second set, Jon released the group and brought up Margaret Cho for a song they wrote together. I don't recall catching the title, but Margaret gave us some background on the song and explained that it's about an ex-boyfriend who stalked her after they broke up and didn't recognize himself in the lyrics. All you really need to know, though, is that Margaret has penned the greatest couplet in existence, rhyming "hottest girl you know" with "Margaret fucking Cho." Need I say more?
--Ruin My Day
--new song ["She's at it again/Once my rival, now my friend..."]
--Piece of You [new song]
--Here We Go
--Please Stay Away From Me
--Whole Lotta Love (?)
--As Time Goes By
--Tomorrow Never Knows
--Love of My Life So Far
Sara and Sean Watkins
--Any Old Time
--new song [Sara]
--Bella and Ivan
--new song [Sean]
Sara and Sean Watkins and Benmont Tench
--Hold What You Got
--I Go to Sleep
Sara and Sean Watkins, Benmont Tench, and Jon Brion
--Early in the Morning
Sara and Sean Watkins, Benmont Tench, Jon Brion, and Charlie Sexton
--Bye Bye Love
--Brand New Heartache
--Can't Get It Out of My Head
--Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)
--I'll Cry Instead
Jon Brion and Margaret Cho
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