Friday, October 01, 2010

simple twist of fate

I've clocked exactly one gig in September, and for various reasons, this may be the trend for a while--but all in due time. Until that ugly day arrives, however, you're allowed to take a wild guess at the show that forced me out of the cave. And if you figured anyone other than Jon Brion at Largo, you've clearly been reading the wrong blog.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, September 24, 2010: I have to tell you the truth--if my gig-going life truly comes down to seeing, say, only two artists and skipping everyone else, I wouldn't mind too much. You could, in fact, argue it's already reached that point, but if it truly comes to pass--well, at least it'll help clear out your RSS feeds.

Though he didn't have the excuse of jet lag this time, Jon appeared onstage in an unusually casual outfit for the second month in a row. To start off, he gave his fingers a nice workout on the piano with a tune I should probably know. It sounded a bit like Duke Ellington, but I'm pathetically ignorant of the era and the genre. If you have a better hunch, send them my way.

Jon leafed through his own catalog for the next several songs. "Same Mistakes" traded the studio version's simplicity for a rich piano bridge; the reverb rung out on "She's At It Again"; "Piece of You" downright rocked as always; and "Trial and Error" returned to the lineup for the first time in a long time.

Roxy Music, More Than ThisThe first cover of the night was Jon's pick, as he lined up footage of the old-time Latino band we haven't seen for a while and matched it up to Leopold Stokowski. The result: "More Than This." This song was on heavy rotation on my cassette/record/CD player long before I heard Jon's version, but it's taken on another life with his interpretation. How did I ever miss its easy beat? How did he dig his way under all those layers of synthesizers and production? And why is that other cover version I sometimes hear over department store PAs so lame in comparison?

Jon revisited his oeuvre for a couple more songs. He delivered "Love of My Life So Far" on acoustic guitar in a more emphatic form than typical, downplaying its overtly comical tones. "Croatia," on the other hand, seemed to revel in its swampiness and weirdness, leaning in the direction of Tom Waits instead of my usual reference, Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac.

"Croatia," as I've stated before, is my go-to request whenever it feels like the show is taking a turn for the morose, maudlin, or murky, but I had no such outlet as Jon pulled off the double header of "Round Midnight" and "Please Stay Away From Me." As it turned out, I didn't have to wait long to lodge a request.

It's probably safe to say that you can count on a significant percentage of newbies at any Jon Brion show these days, so you get a bit more exposition at certain points of the performance. For example, Jon often prefaces the Les Paul portion of the show with a few words of explanation, partly to educate the audience and partly to pay proper tribute to the "looping elders," as he noted.

AdventurelandThe advantage to being an old-timer in these instances is that you often pick up on the signs a little earlier than the freshmen and, thus, can get your request in before everyone else. Also, I had a very specific tune in mind, thanks to a couple of viewings of the movie Adventureland the week before. My suggestion was "Satellite of Love." Jon took a little while to build up the song. At first, it leaned heavily in the Western direction, but the parts slowly came together and, in the process, gave us a glimpse into how music happens at all. I'm biased, but I loved it, and I'm glad we got to hear Lou Reed through another prism.

I believe another request led to "Strawberry Fields Forever" on vibes. I'm not sure who asked for it, but I heard the people behind me veritably squeal at the performance.

Roxy Music, Take a Chance on MeFor the encore, Jon brought out Robyn Hitchcock, who had played the very same stage, though in a different capacity, just the night before. Robyn and Jon tuned and futzed, and Robyn asked if they were allowed to tell us what they had in mind, but they didn't actually share their intentions. Instead, they launched--after the tuning and the futzing, of course--into Robyn's selection, which practically made me fall out of my chair. I assume Robyn was inspired by "More Than This" because he kicked off with "The Main Thing" from the same Roxy Music album, though he also threw "Are You Experienced" in the mix--because he can.

For the closer, Jon was on his own with "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes," stretched out to 30 minutes or so. Along the way, he called up Andres Segovia, a full orchestra, a young Eric Clapton, and a guitar teacher from an instructional DVD, but make no mistake--Jon drove this half-hour effort, launching another shot of guitar into it at several points when the coda otherwise loomed.

With the song properly dispatched, we moved the party to the Little Room. It's always hard to predict how much of the crowd will carry over from the main performance, and tonight, the Little Room was perhaps only half full.

Jon and Robyn showed up first in different outfits, and Robyn even flaunted his earlier costume just so that we could revel in its full Technicolor glory, I suppose. At this point, I should reiterate Robyn's crucial role in my early shows at Largo. I think it was my third or fourth visit to Largo, but it was probably the first time I fully understood the club's appeal and potential. Because I'm a total nerd, I not only documented my recollections of the evening, I was able to locate the account many years after the fact. Check it out for yourself: Take Me Home, Country Pigeon.

Tonight's second set started up in no less auspicious a manner when Robyn promised/threatened to carry out the rest of Avalon. Robyn got two more numbers in, while Jon accompanied him exquisitely on piano, but the medley came to a halt when Jon requested one of Robyn's own songs. He claimed to give us a new one; I have no reason to disbelieve him, but I don't know enough of Robyn's vast catalog to verify or shoot down that remark. During this original track, Jon took on the role of percussionist, using his feet, hands, and parts of his body to supply the beat. If it brings to mind Bobby McFerrin, you're on the right track.

Sebastian Steinberg, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins rolled up onstage at Jon's urging, and we even saw a couple of those real-time introductions, as is often the case at Largo. With this assemblage, Roxy Music gave way to another concentration: Bob Dylan. In round-robin style, each pulled out their favorite Dylan tune, including a couple of audience requests.

Several of the titles brought out surprising touches from the musicians. For example, "She Belongs to Me" featured acoustic slide guitar from Jon, and it inspired a couple of patterns that we'd see again during the course of these performances. One was Robyn's charming habit of singing off-mic, and the other was the spontaneous addition of background harmonies from whoever wasn't on lead. Despite Robyn's words of caution about the song's beat, they knocked "Subterranean Homesick Blues" out of the park, and I jumped again to hear Robyn's lackadaisical take on "Simple Twist of Fate," a song that's become a staple in sets by that other singer/songwriter who crowds these blog entries.

I have no problem admitting I'm not a Dylan fan, and I know his music mostly through other people's interpretations. But watching this group in action, it became evident to me that Dylan is the lingua franca of Largo. Heck, I say this as a Beatles fan, and lord knows, I've seen some Beatles-centric shows over the years. But I don't think I've seen any gathering of musicians in the Little Room perform a single artist's songs with such relish before. This laid to rest any questions I may have had over the room's true patron saint, and it definitely made for another memorable night in the Little Room.

Set 1
--Same Mistakes
--She's At It Again
--Piece of You
--Trial and Error
--More Than This
--Love of My Life So Far
--Round Midnight
--Please Stay Away From Me
--Satellite of Love
--Strawberry Fields

--The Main Thing/Are You Experienced [with Robyn Hitchcock]
--Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes

Set 2
with Robyn Hitchock
--Take a Chance with Me
--To Turn You On

with Robyn Hitchock, Sebastian Steinberg, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins
--She Belongs to Me
--Subterranean Homesick Blues
--I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
--If You Gotta Go, Go Now
--It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
--Simple Twist of Fate
--Positively Third Street
--Farewell Angelina
--My Back Pages
--Don't Think Twice It's Alright

See also:
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon
» all the ladies and gentlemen
» don't give yourself away
» i remember finding out about you

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