Wednesday, December 29, 2010

you could say one recovers

Did you notice anything missing from this blog for the last couple of months? Oh, you didn't realize this banana stand was still in operation? I can't promise the updates will continue at the same clip as before, but for now, I offer an account of the last Jon Brion show of 2010.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, December 17, 2010: I already made too much noise about commemorations and milestones last year, but I should've saved the fanfare for another 12 months because--drumroll, please--this show marked the true 11th anniversary of my first Jon Brion gig. Yup, 11 years ago to the day, I took my seat at the old shoebox on Fairfax Avenue and summarily had my mind blown. If you search around the Internet, you might even be able to find a recording of the show. Trust me, it's worth downloading!

Arbitrary anniversaries aside, would-be Largo historians and archivists might want to address the bigger development of the last year, when Jon took his show from a weekly residency to a monthly appointment. I'm not the best person to address the topic, as Jon's reduced schedule worked overwhelmingly in my favor. After all, on average, I missed 75 percent of his gigs--which served as a useful salve when I sat out the last couple of months--on the old plan. If a local wants to speak up with any observations on how the new allotments have affected Jon's playing, feel free to comment below.

On this occasion, at least one surprise awaited us: an opening act, a rarity at Jon's show these days. Flanny introduced Garfunkel & Oates, the two-lady musical duo. I catch them all the time on podcasts and the like, and I was delighted to finally see them in person--though a few readers may recall the time we caught half the act at another late-night comedy show the summer before. I suppose you could draw parallels between them and, say, Flight of the Conchords. Heck, I dig 'em both, and it's great to see the pair catching on all over.

Soon after, it was Jon's turn, and he concentrated on his own works. Among the titles, "It Looks Like You" sounded particularly jangly, and "Knock Yourself Out" luxuriated in a long intro. As Jon tuned his guitar after "She's At It Again," one audience member politely but effectively fielded a question regarding the status of Jon's follow-up to Meaningless--an effort Jon had cited a year ago as one of the benefits of his amended performance schedule.

In response, Jon reported that he had put 1.5 weeks into the record before he was drawn away for other work. (By my very rough estimates, that adds up to at least two albums and two movie scores for 2010.) As a consolation, he played "Girl I Knew," which he said would be on that forthcoming album. However, hold your breath at your own risk.

For the video portion of the show, he brought out Andres Segovia and Leon Theremin to lay the groundwork for the amazingly versatile "Stop the World." Jon seems to cobble it together with a paperclip and a rubber band, yet it still sounds like a grand orchestra at work. To close out the originals oeuvre, he almost literally banged out the wordless "Croatia."

It was time to open up the request line, and the calls came in. Jon moved to the vibes for, in order, "Psycho Killer," "You Won't See Me" with our middling vocal contributions, and one line of "Paparazzi," though truth be told, the last one would've gone unrecognized if (1) he hadn't sang the title and (2) I hadn't heard the request myself. "I Believe She's Lying," with the full build, was another request and featured impressive power chords from the 12-string. Finally, "Someone to Watch Over Me" (also culled from the audience shout-outs) concluded the main set in a bluesier though no less grandiose vein than usual.

For the encore, Jon asked for more titles, and they rolled in for a good stretch before he decided to take on the shortest ones. I can't say what time frame he had in mind, but I could hardly complain that he took on a good chunk of "Controversy," followed by snippets of the Velvet Underground, the Beatles (despite his earlier protests), Harry Nilsson, the Kinks, and his own title.

As a nightcap, Jon brought in Leonard Bernstein, while tickling out one of the classic Christmas tunes, one I've heard at least a couple of times before at Largo. I still yap endlessly about the version from four years ago, when Jon and friends performed "The Christmas Song" in the style of Sonic Youth, but the traditional touch is no small matter either. Listening to Jon's dreamy, jazzy take, you could almost forget the typical holiday madness swirling outside.

--Garfunkel & Oates opener
--Ruin My Day
--It Looks Like You
--She's At It Again
--Girl I Knew
--Please Stay Away From Me
--Knock Yourself Out
--Stop the World
--Psycho Killer/You Won't See Me/Paparazzi
--I Believe She's Lying
--Someone to Watch Over Me

--Controversy/Sweet Jane/Rocky Raccoon/Strings That Tie to You/My Old Desk/Waterloo Sunset
--The Christmas Song

See also:
» it's the end of the things you know
» public service announcement
» i'm offering this simple phrase

Saturday, December 25, 2010

all possibilities

This may be a first for me: The same night Badly Drawn Boy was scheduled to play upstairs at the Swedish American Hall, the honest-to-goodness Swedish Society held a meeting downstairs. Though we didn't have as many yummy snacks as the Swedes, I have no doubt Damon's gig matched them in December cheer.

Badly Drawn Boy, Swedish American Hall, 12-14-10Badly Drawn Boy, Swedish American Hall, December 14, 2010: I don't take recommendations lightly, and in fact, I refrain from making them except under specific circumstances--typically, after we've been locked in a room for weeks on end, I've noted every song you've ever sung or hummed to yourself, and I've issued major caveats in terms of which tune you might like and which ones to avoid. By the time I dredge up a name, it's more a warning than a tip, regardless of how much I love the artist.

Case in point: Badly Drawn Boy. I unequivocally love the guy, but there's always a question as to which Damon Gough will show up at any given concert. Will he be petulant, exultant, or cocky? And behind those faces, will he reveal the fanboy defending his devotion to Bruce Springsteen, the proud father who passes around pictures of his children to the audience, or the barfly who happens to be holding the microphone? There's only one way to find out: See him for yourself.

You could probably be forgiven for pigeonholing Damon based on his gruff appearance and confident sound bites, but take the time to listen, and his classic songwriting chops jump out. In a solo setting, those basics pop even more, notably his lovely voice and his way with melodies. "The Shining" is one for the ages, and it lived up to its legend this evening, but he changed up several tracks without a backing band behind him. For example, "Once Around the Block" benefited from his use of loopers, while on a lo-fi tip, we tried to help, as requested, with a whistling outro on "You Were Right."

Badly Drawn Boy, Swedish American Hall, 12-14-10

Damon wasn't entirely on his own, however. A few friends popped in, including Mike on electric guitar, Steve on piano, and the opener Justin Jones on tambourine. Steve almost stole the show with an old routine in which he made a grand gesture of holding up an index finger for all the audience to see, then used it to accompany Damon on "Magic in the Air." Less dramatically, he appeared to be using more than a single digit to fill out the rest of the song, but who cares when it sounds that good? Justin had a harder time keeping a straight face, but his grins and giggles spoke for all of us.

Badly Drawn Boy, Swedish American Hall, 12-14-10

Damon has never been shy about chatting it up between songs, and he didn't hold back tonight. Among the more inspired conversational threads was an extended riff on the audience handbook and its lessons on when we're allowed and/or encouraged to cheer, clap, and engage with the performer. We eventually picked up on the hints, though Damon continued to offer guidance when the instructions escaped us.

The solo setting also allowed Damon some leeway in his choice of covers, including Richie Havens' "I Can't Make It Anymore" early in the set and the standby "Like a Virgin" intro for the always fantastic "Silent Sigh." (Madonna also came up in Damon's own lyrics for "You Were Right.") But there's no doubt Damon saved the best for last when he cited a song from 1983 as a major influence on his life, explained his use of backing vocal tracks, then serenaded us with "Thunder Road." In the course of the performance, he shook hands with everyone in the front row of the audience before settling down in a chair to simply belt it out. If that isn't a sign of a man of the people, I don't know what is, and it's precisely this mix of humility and brashness that makes the best Badly Drawn Boy gigs so memorable.

Badly Drawn Boy, Swedish American Hall, 12-14-10

Justin Jones opened up the show, and he held his own against such a personality as Badly Drawn Boy. As a songwriter and performer, Justin is entirely in my wheelhouse with stark, emotional songs and deep delivery, leavened by sardonic asides and banter. I've seen his name show up on my local concert calendar now and again, and I plan to investigate further when he returns to town.

See also:
» a strong heart will prevail
» come see what we all talk about
» pre-easily fooled
» tell me that you've heard every sound there is