Monday, May 31, 2010

funny that way

The calendar says it's almost June, but I'm catching up on my May entries. For now, no month is complete without at least one Jon Brion show at Largo at the Coronet to round out the calendar.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, May 21, 2010: I gave up on trying to guess how any Jon Brion show will proceed a long time ago. Heck, some nights I can't even tell what song Jon is doing before he hits the chorus, which probably says more than I want to admit about my powers of prediction. Instead, I show up, jot down notes, and try to decipher them when it comes time to update the blog.

This lackadaisical approach was somewhat vindicated when Jon came onstage and tried to explain the headspace that results from being cooped up in the studio and at work on four different projects, as he did tonight. The not so subtle message: Our guesses regarding the night's direction were as good as his.

At first, this led to what Jon called "middle C" on the piano, which eventually coalesced into "I Fall in Love Too Easily" on the Chamberlin, the EMS Synthi, the MicroKorg, and even a callback to the piano. From there, Jon experimented with his originals. "Over Our Heads" opened with the trademark pitter-patter of electronic blips, but the sampled vocals veered from the ethereal cloud of voices and more closely resembled a Benedictine chant. Throw in some old-time scratchy record sounds and a bit of distortion, and you got a murkier stew than normal for this track.

"Piece of You," as I'm sure I've mentioned before, is a standout among Jon's newer tracks, and the extraspecial element in this evening's rendition was once again the guitar. Those fantastic chords brought to mind Jon's legendary solo on the Wallflowers' "One Headlight" so many years ago and gave you a glimpse into what he must've brought to the table during his days as a session musician.

Anyone who sees their share of rock shows can attest that looping is hardly a novel phenomenon, and Jon himself often refers to the debt contemporary musicians owe to Les Paul for pioneering this technique so many decades ago. But for whatever reason, this fact hit home more emphatically in the last few months, and it was just a couple of weeks ago when I saw a young singer/songwriter using loopers to power his stark solo act that I realized how far other musicians have come, at least in the decade-plus I've been attending Jon's shows. Back then, I was too awestruck by the overall effect to bother contemplating the hardware behind it. Now, though, I understand why Jon had to move on to the video screens. It's called raising the bar.

With the help of Leonard Bernstein and Leon Theremin, as well as a glimpse of Marc Bolan, Jon built up a grand entrance for what would turn out to be "More Than This." Both the orchestra and the theremin melted into the melody beautifully, so much so that Jon crafted them into a lengthy bridge. He added a touch of guitar as well, just enough to draw out a self-referential grin, and capped the song with a subtle change that made you wonder how you never heard that tone before.

The requests portion of the evening began soon thereafter—with a portion of the Bonanza theme, if memory serves me right. But it was a rock-style treatment of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," a kissing cousin to the version of "As Time Goes By" we heard last month, that really kicked off the action. Over a thundering piano transition, Jon ripped into a portion of "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding"; I think he inserted an extended reference to Devo into the proceedings as well.

The rest of the night's requests enjoyed a less definitive treatment, as Jon dispatched them at machine-gun pace, reeling off a few bars here, a couple of chords there. "Space Oddity" rolled out in double-paced ragtime, "White Wedding" wafted in on celeste and Chamberlin, and when the audience spontaneously clapped along to the Scott Joplin number (I can never tell if it's "Maple Leaf Rag" or that other famous title), Jon urged, "Faster!" on us. We obliged to the best of our abilities.

Jon closed out the initial portion of the show with "Walking Through Walls," then quickly reappeared for the encore. Sebastian Steinberg took the stage first, and at Jon's urging, Dan McCarroll left his seat in the audience and joined their ranks on drums. The trio warmed up with a folksy, bluegrass-tinged version of "Someone to Watch Over Me."

Their ranks swelled with the addition of Sara and Sean Watkins, along with Fiona Apple. The two women assumed vocal duties for their first selection. With their second song, they welcomed Benmont Tench, who served as one of the two anchors to "Object of My Affection." The song's other pillar? Jon on vibes, where he unleashed a sweeping solo. The two veterans, at opposite ends of the stage, shared nary a glance, but together, they took the song to another level.

For the final song in this set, Jon flanked himself with Benmont, Dan, and Sebastian to give "Waterloo Sunset" the full band treatment. You never want to take Benmont's solos for granted, and his additions to the song were as refined and as welcome as ever, but Dan was the one to watch. If he was the squeakiest wheel, you wouldn't have known it. Rather, Dan imbued the song with a surprisingly jazzy swing that I don't recall sensing before.

Over in the Little Room, the proceedings resumed in the style we'd seen during the tail end of 2009, when Jon lingered in the back of the room and let his friends run the show. Sean and Sara Watkins broke the ice with their trademark mix of originals, genre- and epoch-spanning covers, and new songs. The addition of Fiona Apple, Jerry Roe, Sebastian Steinberg, and Benmont Tench honed their focus somewhat, and they remained on the standards tip after they finally convinced Jon to join them, only with the addition of a couple of his favorite covers.

"I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" became a playful duet between Jon and Benmont, but a different tone prevailed when Jon and Fiona came together for the final track. Jon provided the acoustic guitar backing, while simultaneously trading hushed verses with Fiona. Judging from the silence in the room, my guess is that the last breath of the song coincided with the first breath from the audience.

Set 1
--I Fall in Love Too Easily
--new song
--Over Our Heads
--Piece of You
--She's At It Again
--More Than This
--Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head/(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding
--Space Oddity/White Rabbit/White Wedding/Rocky Raccoon/You Really Got Me/Scott Joplin
--Walking Through Walls

with Sebastian Steinberg

with Dan McCarroll and Sebastian Steinberg
--Someone to Watch Over Me

with Fiona Apple, Dan McCarroll, Sebastian Steinberg, and Sara and Sean Watkins
--The Glory of Love

with Fiona Apple, Dan McCarroll, Sebastian Steinberg, Benmont Tench, and Sara and Sean Watkins
--Object of My Affection

with Dan McCarroll, Sebastian Steinberg, and Benmont Tench,
--Waterloo Sunset

Set 2
Sean and Sara Watkins
--On the Other Side of Jordan
--new song [Sara]

Sebastian Steinberg, Benmont Tench, and Sean and Sara Watkins
--Sam Phillips song
--new song [Sara]

Fiona Apple, Jerry Roe, Sebastian Steinberg, Benmont Tench, and Sean and Sara Watkins
--Where I Ought to Be
--Come Love

Jon Brion, Jerry Roe, Sebastian Steinberg, Benmont Tench, and Sean and Sara Watkins
--Harry Nilsson song
--Don't Come Home A-Drinking (With Loving on Your Mind)
--I Don't Hurt Anymore
--Early in the Morning
--I Don't Want to Spoil the Party
--Think It Over

Fiona Apple and Jon Brion
--(I Got a Man, Crazy for Me) He's Funny That Way

See also:
» the Book of Brion 2 has landed
» public service announcement
» the song went forever
» it's the end of the things you know

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