Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, May 22, 2010: Toofer--no, not the black guy from Harvard. I'm referring to the phenomenon that occurs when you get the opportunity to squeeze in two shows, maybe by the same artist or at the same venue. In essence, it's a small gig bonanza, and for the first time this year, I was able to catch Jon Brion's May toofer at Largo.
History shows that Jon's Saturday gigs tend to be more low-key than their Friday equivalents. If you want the lingering two-room double-header, show up on Friday. If you prefer a one-shot deal (and, say, plan to hit the Kogi truck for a late-night snack), Saturday is the better fit. Take your pick.
This pattern held in May, though Jon turned the tables at the top of the gig, introducing Sebastian Steinberg at the beginning of the set instead of the end. Jon mentioned Sebastian's limited schedule bringing about this switch, but we saw Sebastian at the end of the gig, so make of that what you will. Also, there was a rumor about another musical friend dropping by, but apparently, those plans didn't work out--maybe next time?
They hit a bunch of covers together, including Jon's charming chamber pop take on the Sex Pistols, which never gets old, as far as I'm concerned. The last song in their collaboration may have been "Paper Moon," but I'm useless when it comes to standards, so I can't commit to that claim.
In between, the gem of their set was their rendition of "Happy with You," performed solely on acoustic guitar and stand-up bass. You have to expect a lot of flexibility from Jon's originals, but it's always enlightening to hear those variations for yourself. Anyway, it's a great song in any form, and tonight's adaptation was no different.
Following Sebastian's departure, Jon resumed with a block of originals: "Trouble" on piano, a build of "Didn't Think It Would Turn Out Bad," and "It Looks Like You" on electric guitar. The first one I love in any form, the last one I consider a light snack, but the middle track made the night. For one thing, Jon doesn't perform it very often, so it tends to surprise me anytime he plays it. Of course, you're perpetually in a state of guessing at any Jon Brion show, but some surprises are more welcome than others.
Rounding out the relatively straightforward portion of the set, the Cheap Trick cover felt more like an experiment with the loopers and less of a tribute to the power pop masters, which has been the case at previous gigs. "Please Stay Away from Me," meanwhile, melded piano and a touch of bass notes from the MicroKorg.
At this point, the show switched into overdrive. First, Jon brought out the video mixers and introduced clips of Maria Callas and Sonny Rollins. I gotta say, though, these performers may have been a bit of misdirection, as I'm not sure either contributed directly to what turned out to be "Meaningless." Maria returned intermittently throughout the song, and Sonny played a bigger role in the tune's coda, which took a more impressionistic turn featuring an abstract jazz breakdown by Jon instead of the usual power chords.
For the final song of the main set, Jon brought out another infrequently heard original: "You Made the Girl." I've commented on this song before, so I won't rehash that discussion. I'll mention, though, that Paul clocked the song, and it came in at exactly 30 minutes. In the course of that half-hour, Jon returned to the Maria Callas and Sonny Rollins footage, and his use of the vibes perked up the proceedings somewhat--emphasis on "somewhat."
As an antidote, Jon, er, knocked out the polar opposite "Knock Yourself Out" for the encore, marking the end of the Largo portion of our evening, which was just as well. We had one more stop before calling it a night, and I'm glad to report it was mission accomplished. Saturday night is all right!
--I Thought About You*
--Anarchy in the UK*
--Happy with You*
--Didn't Think It Would Turn Out Bad
--It Looks Like You
--Everything Works if You Let It
--Please Stay Away from Me
--You Made the Girl
--Knock Yourself Out
* = with Sebastian Steinberg
» funny that way