Thursday, April 28, 2011

the message

I'm not going to update the tally of these shows, nor will I make any other declarations on what will become of these gigs. The previous dates have been chronicled, so I'll stick with a report of the 2011 gathering at the Hotel S'n'S for an evening with Jeff Tweedy.

Basement 2011Jeff Tweedy, Hotel S'n'S, April 23, 2011: First off, Jeff didn't play us the new Wilco album, as he had in years past. Apparently, the band is still in the studio, but we did get a sneak preview at a couple of new songs (more on that later).

However, if you've been following this blog over the years, you know the drill. Food, friends, and music (not necessarily in that order--but not not necessarily either): Done, done, and oh boy, done. Alas, many beloved original cast members didn't make it this year, and they were missed (and even celebrated, but more on that later too). In their stead, a wave of new faces and friends joined in.

The roster aside, no two appearances have ever been the same when we get together. Last year, there was a certain poignancy with what we thought would be the final show the Tweedys put on for us in this setting, but a general ease has been the overall vibe for a while now. At times, we wondered if all parties had become too comfortable, but as someone who's allergic to drama, I prefer the laid-back approach.

Basement 2011

In a slight variation from the past few years, Jeff informed us he would open with a song of his choice from the submitted requests instead of kicking it off with a random party. In turn, the person who had chosen the mystery request would pass it along, duck-duck-goose-style. Easy enough, we figured.

I don't think anyone recognized the song immediately, but seriously, how could we, considering it hadn't been played it in more than a decade? The opener, as it turned out, was "This Ain't No Lounge Ax," previously performed twice (as far as we can tell from bootlegs), inspired by Susan Miller Tweedy's old nightclub, and coincidentally, my nomination. Dedicated readers may even recall I tried to request it last year, but was denied.

Basement 2011I'm completely biased on this count, but it sounded fantastic, especially considering Jeff had been reacquainting himself with the tune just minutes before the show (so I'm told--I didn't see it myself, and I'm glad for the surprise). The song also set the goofy, tongue-in-cheek tone of the night, and the slightly revised lyrics suited our show perfectly. In fact, at the end, Jeff remarked that the tune had withstood the test of time, and I think I detected some pride in his voice. I hope it doesn't take another decade-plus before the work is unfurled once more, but if he happens to dust it off at a show I'm not attending, don't forget where the revival began! My only concern is that it may bring up bad memories for Susan--I hope she realized it was meant as a laugh.

From there, I picked Wafer, and he tapped Judy, setting off the trend from the first set: Asian power, including a couple of Caucasians married to Asians or mixed Asians. [Editor's note: Some non-Asians and non-Asian-related people made the cut.] We rocked it! Or rather, our requests rocked it, including Judy's long-awaited "Corduroy Cutoff Girl"; the so-called LouFest version of "Casino Queen" (taking a cue from "Subterranean Homesick Blues") from Mike; Patty's crowd-pleasing "Summer Teeth," bolstered by our backing vocals; Andy's request for a new song, which turned out to be an uptempo track that may be called "I Might"; and Paul's inspired suggestion of one of the most effective and enjoyable earworms of all time, "Cruel to Be Kind." Whew!

Sometimes I claim I could go home happy after hearing a song or two at a show. In related news, I sometimes lie, so I won't attempt to roll out that fib now. But if I had made good on that claim, I would've missed such in-the-moment events as Ruby's uninhibited dancing or Alison's three-part request plan, which culminated in a iPhone-abetted group rendition of "Ripple" that would probably give any Fillmore West or Greek Theatre singalong a run for its money. I also would've been deprived of Kris's sweet request for "Wish You Were Here" in honor of the friends who couldn't attend, as well as his ballsy move to take the lead vocals, at Jeff's behest.

Basement 2011

And I most certainly would've lost out on some of Jeff's more memorable moments, such as his serenade to Zelda for "Either Way," his wholesale disowning of "Train" from his Uncle Tupelo days (sorry Dick!), a fractured rendition of a Replacements tune in response to a question about a song from his youth, and his game attempt at an LCD Soundsystem takeoff called "Jeff Tweedy Is Playing at My House," in concert with Sam and her drum machine. That last one somehow became an old-school rap medley that owed more in its delivery to Jackie Mason than Melle Mel--go figure.

Oh yeah, we heard one more new song that may be titled "Capital City," which betrayed a Randy Newman-esque lilt, and several more unabashedly gorgeous works, including the always hypnotic "More Like the Moon" and the Grammy-winning "You Are Not Alone." I don't do setlists except for that one guy in Los Angeles, but trust me, several more gems comprised the final tally, which you can find elsewhere on the Internet--or even on my blogroll--if you do a little searching.

Basement 2011
Photo by Joshua Sarner

The weekend was hardly over, and we had more meals, music, and activities (again, maybe or maybe not in that order) on the schedule--that is, it was another wonderful weekend in Chicago. Even though I have no predictions on whether we'll do this again, I know I'll be back to Chicago soon enough. In the meantime, feel free to check this space and see for yourself; I too am pretty excited about discovering the answer.

The full history
» i wish that i knew what I know now
» people say i'm crazy doing what i'm doing
» all the ladies and gentlemen
» that year
» springtime comes
» turn our prayers to outrageous dares
» every day is dreamlike
» it's been a while

Monday, April 18, 2011

talking trash under your breath

The Coachella runoff is in full effect in the Bay Area, with a few particularly overbooked nights around town. Personally, I felt no such conflicts and even cut back on my concert plans. However, as with Noise Pop, I always feel a little disappointed when I don't hit at least one of the annual satellite shows. This year, Broken Social Scene's date at the Warfield fulfilled my goal.

Broken Social Scene, the Warfield, April 13, 2011: As this blog proves conclusively, I harbor long-standing fascinations with certain musicians, but they're the exceptions. The truth is most artists occupy a middle ground--I like their music but don't feel especially loyal to them. Then there's another trajectory: A band will make one or two albums that stay with me forever, and for that, they win my undying loyalty and affection, even if I never listen to anything from them again.

Broken Social Scene, 04-13-11

Broken Social Scene is starting to cement its place in that first category, but it wasn't always this way. On the one hand, I've listened to and enjoyed much of their catalog, but You Forgot It in People remains the record from their discography that I want buried with me in my memorial pyramid, even though this tidbit has a habit of slipping my mind. Maybe it has something to do with the nature of ever-changing collectives, where band members come and go, complicating that silly act of pinning your dreams, hopes, and schoolgirl crushes to any single person. Maybe it's their erratic recording schedule. Maybe it's because they're from Canada.

Nonetheless, I've now rediscovered its wonders twice, despite a burning love for it around the time of its release. Dammit, I put two songs from that album on mixes (back when I made mixes)! The first reawakening was kick-started by their performance at Outside Lands in 2008. More recently, they provided the soundtrack to a movie I can't get out of my brain (see earlier ode to Canadiana). This time, especially after the Warfield show, I think it's finally stuck.

Broken Social Scene, 04-13-11

For a period of several weeks this past winter, I was a moist-eyed, trembling-lipped commuter, ready to stream the waterworks to the sounds of "Anthem for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl" or "Shampoo Suicide," and convinced it was the soundtrack to my life. It's reached the point where I can vocalize all the instrumentation on certain songs, from the guitar solo to the bass line to the drumbeat. (Full disclosure: I can do this for several albums.) Bobby McFerrin has nothing to fear, but it's hard to resist the melodies embedded in the gorgeous instrumental swaths that mark so many Broken Social Scene songs. Also, it helps me embrace the tunes when I can't make out the damn lyrics!

This (re)immersion in Broken Social Scene's catalog hasn't exactly made me a connoisseur, but it's resulted in one major difference: For the first time, I was watching the band not for merely the spectacle or out of idle curiosity, but as an invested fan. With this revised outlook, the creative core of Kevin Drew, Brandon Canning, and Andrew Whiteman was particularly prominent, and since I still can't always figure out who handles the singing, it's nice to get visual confirmation of the lead vocals.

Broken Social Scene, 04-13-11The horn section, at times showing off choreographed moves, was probably the biggest attention grabbers of the less permanent crew, but of course, it helped that they played against such a strong foundation. Last but not least, it'd be criminal to overlook Lisa Lobsinger, bringing the female voice that elevates critical portions of their catalog. Broken Social Scene has a stellar record in finding and nurturing amazing female singers; if history is anything to go by, keep an eye on Lisa.

This blog is clogged with accounts of earnest acoustic performances, and don't get me wrong--I love the heartfelt material, but one can't live on folk songs alone. Watching Broken Social Scene, I realized they deliver tunes that appeal to the head and the hair the brain and the booty. Sometimes it comes from a bubbly beat ("Stars and Sons," "Texico Bitches"), or it can be spelled out explicitly in the lyrics ("Lover's Spit," "Me and My Hand").

Then you hit the likes of "Hotel," which can easily take its place among the best sexy-time songs I've heard in a while. I don't know what the trending topics on Twitter were at the very moment the band played the song, but if #fuckmusic lit up the charts, you can thank the guy next for his contribution (according to what he told his friend). Coincidentally (or not), the song came after the band joked about Prince and Chaka Khan, even treating us to a a few beats from "Controversy."

Throughout the entire gig, the crowd had eaten up the band's every move, and the musicians responded in kind. Brendan Canning, for example, thanked the familiar faces in the audience, including the often forgotten balcony. He also invited everyone out to drinks afterward, though he didn't disclose the meeting space.

Broken Social Scene, 04-13-11Kevin Drew, meanwhile, praised San Francisco for its longtime support and promised to play for as long as possible, as he said it would be Broken Social Scene's last show in town for a while. To that end, the band didn't bother leaving the stage before the encore and instead kept plugging away.

Play they did--Kevin had mentioned earlier in the set the expense of exceeding their allotted time, but he didn't appear to heed his own words, as the show ended around 11:15, or 15 minutes into overtime for the union crews (I think?). Also, though he'd been trying to keep his bronchitis at bay with tea and lozenges all night, Kevin's lungs finally gave out on "It's All Gonna Break," which he had to call off for, er, a song I didn't recognize. Whatever its title, this closing tune brought Kevin into the crowd, where he fist-bumped much of the front row and sang on the rail to the rest of the room. Let it be known they went out--but not down--fighting.

Broken Social Scene, 04-13-11

I'd initially planned to stake out a spot off the main floor, but opted to hit the rail when I noticed plenty of open spots for the taking. I'm glad I did; I don't think I would've enjoyed the same connection from the first tier back. Double bonus: The very nice security guy in my corner indicated I should stick around for a couple of minutes, then handed me the setlist without any prodding. You can keep your Coachella--I'll take the local route any day.

See also:
» used to be one of the rotten ones
» song for america

Thursday, April 14, 2011

i wrote elegiac stanzas for you

The fact that I'm still listening to British Sea Power four albums into their career is somewhat surprising. Sure, I'm a fairly faithful listener, and it helps that the band has maintained a level of notoriety that lets me see them at the kind of venues I prefer. However, it was a huge relief to hear such compelling chords at the opening of Valhalla Dancehall. Way to keep the streak alive, guys (and girl), and thanks for coming back to the Independent for your San Francisco appearance.

British Sea Power, the Independent, April 5, 2011: According to my records, British Sea Power has managed to visit the States every three years or less, but for some reason, the previous tour felt like it was a long time coming. That, in part, explains why I went, er, overboard with British Sea Power's last series of shows in the States, though I can't lie--I also did it because I'm crazy about the band. For once, the excess might've cured me. Though I considered and penciled in another gig on this tour, I ended up hitting only one show--in my hometown, to boot!

British Sea Power, the Independent, 04-07-11To refresh, British Sea Power played the Independent in support of Open Season six years ago to the month, but a lot has changed since then. Most notably, the personnel has shifted, though they've kept the same lineup from the 2008 tour. Also, despite asking for contributions of foliage on their mailing list, the stage was sadly flora-free. The band didn't skimp on the owls, however. Ultimately, their stage-climbing, piggybacking hijinks went MIA, as did their banter, but as Yan explained, it was nothing personal--they just wanted to play as much music as possible.

In exchange, we got a primo setlist covering all four albums, including a few titles out of left field. "Something Wicked" may have been the big surprise of the evening, so thanks to whomever requested it. Also from the debut record, perennial crowd-pleasers "Remember Me" and "Carrion" took their usual spots as the anchors of the show.

British Sea Power, the Independent, 04-07-11

In addition, the well-represented Do You Like Rock Music succeeded on two fronts: It brought me back to the previous tour, and it reminded me of Hamilton's growth as a songwriter on that record. Thus, it was great to see him get his own dedicated four-song section of the show.

I'm always delighted to hear anything from the underappreciated Open Season, so "Larsen B" and "It Ended on an Oily Stage" were welcome selections, even if the fickle fangirl in me would've campaigned for "True Adventures" too. "A-Rock" wasn't officially on the list, but an eerily familiar--if also truncated--commotion descended at the end of the gig. It's nice to see that some things never change.

British Sea Power, the Independent, 04-07-11

Alas, I opted out of the following night's gig when they announced the venue had changed from the Brookdale Lodge to the Catalyst because of asbestos issues. I've never been to the former, but I'm familiar enough with the latter to know it wasn't worth the drive (and the car rental and the lost sleep). I also recently saw that BSP canceled the Marfa gig because of local wildfires. I hope this isn't an unlucky streak for the band, but then again, if any group has survived an injury scare or two, they can. I look forward to their 2014 run!

See also:
» carry on, inside of your heart
» fans of alcohol
» from the books you don't read anyway

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

i'm happy, hope you're happy too

At my day job, we have a lot of fun concocting stories for April Fools' Day, but I'm less enthused when those jokes affect my areas of interest. Fortunately, the Largo show featuring Robyn Hitchcock, Grant-Lee Phillips, and Jon Brion scheduled for April 1 was as serious as a heart attack--albeit without any of the medical complications and delivering all the physiological benefits that a cardiac episode ordinarily takes away.

Robyn Hitchcock, Grant-Lee Phillips, and Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, April 1, 2011: I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but many years ago, I had the great fortune to catch a set by these three musicians at the old Largo. (Bwahahahahaha! As if I haven't trotted out that memory at every possible opportunity.) In the intervening years, Robyn, Grant, and Jon have flitted in and out of various combinations to play together at Largo and elsewhere, but if my memory serves me well, this may be the first time in a long time this particular trio has convened for a paying audience, and it could be their only co-headlining show ever.

In any case, the stage seemed set for an extravaganza; it was well stocked with a range of microphones, a full drum kit, a chair, and a good sampling of Jon Brion's gear, including the vibes and his video projectors. It should come as little surprise that much of the same crew from Robyn's show in the Little Room the night before reassembled and took their places. As for the chair, Flanny had referenced each musician's recent bout with leg/foot/knee problems. Grant, it turned out, had been recuperating from an Achilles' tendon injury, so the single seat was reserved for him.

The opened with "Queen Elvis," each musician trickling in without haste. Jon was first out, settling down at the piano, and Bill, Robyn, Grant, and Sean followed, armed with their instruments, in roughly that order. Once more, Robyn requested a violin solo of Jon--yes, on piano--and he delivered. They then thanked us and left the stage.

I guess our applause drowned out our laughter; in any case, we convinced them to return, and once again, Jon emerged first. He broke out the video projectors for a performance of "Strings That Tie to You" featuring Andres Segovia and Sonny Rollins, as he had at his own show the week before. I'm sure you could pick out a wealth of differences between the two versions if you heard them side by side, but for me, the main development were heard in Sonny's contributions, which worked better tonight than just one week previously.

Jon left the stage to make room for Grant, who caught us up on the happenings in his life in hilarious fashion. I'll paraphrase, but he reported reading up on Achilles' tendon terror blogs, streaming peak oil documentaries on Netflix, and popping an occasional Ambien, all in preparation for some online shopping. I've now succeeded in killing two grand memories from a couple of great shows, but take my word that Grant's version was delightful and laugh-out-loud funny. (Also, be prepared for more jokes to get lost in translation in the paragraphs to follow.) Anyway, Grant performed a couple of songs from his solo repertoire before vacating for Robyn.

Robyn returned with both Bill Rieflin and Sean Nelson; Jon was soon recruited as well. Robyn's first order of business was to instruct Jon to make sitar noises, and the latter happily obliged. Robyn also requested a certain harmonic convergence of Bill, while Sean was moved to the high hat. This unusual instrumentation led to "I Often Dream of Trains," one of Robyn's classics. Robyn concluded his solo spotlight with "Simple Twist of Fate," which may or may not be a new staple of his sets. Though he betrayed a minor flub on this notoriously lengthy tune, he caught himself and proceeded to the end of the countless choruses.

Finally, the entire band reconvened onstage and joked about their reunion tour. But before we could get to the music, Robyn and Jon engaged in a rambling riff about alchemy involving Guinness and Coca Cola. I report this because the final words of this exchange were "precious metals," which Grant quickly turned into a a request to play a song from that genre. (I told you I was going to butcher every funny thing they said onstage.)

On Golden PondJon jumped at this suggestion and kicked off "Smoke on the Water" on the vibes, and Robyn added what I think are completely off-the-cuff lyrics. That is, I'm pretty sure it's not a real song or at least it wasn't until that night. This soon progressed to Grant providing an acoustic guitar score to Robyn's dance moves, followed by Grant's best zinger in a night filled with lots of Grant's zingers, his new nickname for the behatted Jon Brion: Henry Fonda.

For several minutes, the room roared with laughter, but the giggles and guffaws eventually died down and the music resumed, this time with Grant's "Don't Look Down," which I believe was a request from Henry Jon himself. Even better, Jon added a light dusting of vibes to this dreamy tune.

After a short meeting with Bill regarding arrangements and the like, Robyn led the band through Bowie's "Quicksand," followed by a detailed treatise on Canada and the northern border states. Bill even played electric guitar on this one ("Quicksand," that is--not the treatise)! Then the baton returned to Grant for "Strangest Thing," a request from the audience. The musical chairs continued apace, as Robyn manned the piano for this tune.

With some hesitation on Jon's part and a little prodding by the others, Jon chipped in a tune, "Same Mistakes." I suspect he was having a fine enough time in his role as a backing player, the territory he had staked out the night before at Robyn's show in the Little Room, and felt little need to grab the spotlight. However, this seeming trepidation didn't stop him from coaching the band members through the exact cadence he wanted, resulting in a much more pronounced waltz-time version of the track.

For the next song, Jon moved back to piano and Sean Nelson enjoyed a larger role than he had much of the evening for the song "Dismal City," as well he should've. As Robyn explained, the song was featured in Sean's recent film.

The reportage becomes incredibly suspect at this point because there's no way I can accurately describe what happened next. All I know is that Robyn asked the audience to yell out "bingo," and we did, but not to an overwhelming degree. The side I sat on (stage right) was assigned the "bingo" chant, while Robyn asked for a letter from the audience. A woman in the front row offered "A," and soon her section was assigned the accompanying chant, though I could almost swear she was the only one who partook. Finally, Robyn asked for a third sound, and the final section of the room shouted out "FF." We were commanded to yell out our portions in time, but it soon devolved into random noises, helmed happily by Robyn.

And somehow this led into a Doors/Who/Lennon rock block. Robyn kicked it off with Doors, and in the huge rock landscape scared up by the band, Jon and Sean snuck in a couple lines of "My Generation." Eventually, they dovetailed into Lennon's "Well Well Well" not once but twice. In between the two takes, Jon explained to Robyn how he had sung it in a certain key, then introduced him to the key that worked better with his voice. Between Jon's tutorials on "Well Well Well" and "Same Mistakes," I think we in the audience may have earned college credit in musicology!

Grant's "Heavenly" soothed the room, but Jon brought the temperature up a notch with an especially jangly "Knock Yourself Out." I heard a railroad rhythm to this arrangement, as well as hints of the Kingston Trio and Buddy Holly in its clipped pacing. The pendulum swung back to Robyn; he chose "I Feel Beautiful," though it may have also been an audience request. Robyn reminded Jon of his marxophone solo on the tune, and once again, Jon pulled it off, this time on electric guitar.

The musicians set off on a celestial-inspired two-fer, with Grant's cover of "Under the Milky Way," one of the most perfect pop singles of all time (IMHO) and Robyn's own "Full Moon in My Soul." If I remember correctly, the good folks at Largo even worked out a lovely blue lighting scheme for the stage, at the performers' request. Now that I've typed out that sentence, it occurs to me the color cues may have moved Robyn to his next choice, "Blue Suede Shoes," only done v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Bless the band for playing along--and Jon for jumping right in with Tuvan throat singing at Robyn's behest.

In an 180-degree turn, "John Wesley Harding" was as traditional as they come, complete with what sounded like Robyn's attempt at Dylan's accent. But in the back-and-forth nature of the night, they followed up with--I believe--a spontaneous composition that began with a request to the audience for a key (F sharp minor), then erupted into a heavy, cock rock anthem complete with nonsensical lyrics. I jotted down "Heavy birds got heavy features" and "suffocates my trilby," but come to think of it, they could very well come from a classic Robyn song.

Robyn's question to Grant about his favorite part of Canada resulted in "Riders on the Moose," which sounded exactly as you might imagine. Warning: It wouldn't be the last the Doors reference of the night.

On the absurdist tip, they tore into "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," only to have Robyn interrupt it because (he said) it was so bad. Grant took up the slack and prescribed a sing-along for the audience. I'll never turn down the chance to hear "Walk Away Renee" at Largo, but truth be told, the verses didn't exactly roll off the tongue for everyone in the audience. We killed it on the chorus, though! Also, for some reason, I thought for sure we'd get "Tainted Love" at that moment, but I was clearly mistaken.

Robyn's own "Saturday Groovers" gave Sean another chance to pipe up loud and clear. It also placed Jon at the piano, where he took the reins for the last song of the main set. He cued up a video of a person shushing the camera and brought in Leon Theremin. Bill soon provided a beat for them to work with, and Robyn turned it all into "Back Door Man." Somehow, Robyn and Sean made their way to "Me and Julio," Jon called up Leonard Bernstein, and Robyn may have tied it all up with "You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bonds." (Please note that I've never heard that last song before, but that's what my scribbles say.)

Though they fooled us once already, we welcomed them back for an encore, and I swear I was ready to request the very same song--partly because I knew they could do it--if the opportunity arose. I didn't have to since they chose "Ashes to Ashes"--my ultimate teen angst anthem--on their own accord. Grant handled the lead vocals, with plenty of help from his fellow musicians. I also loved how Jon managed to coax out the song's trademark wobbly keyboard bits from his arsenal of consoles, but they could've banged it out on mouth harp and a set of house keys and I would've still left beaming.

--Queen Elvis °

--She's at It Again *
--Strings That Tie to You *
--Little Moon ^
--Susan Little ^
--I Often Dream of Trains °
--Simple Twist of Fate °
--Smoke on the Water/improv °
--Don't Look Down ^
--Quicksand °
--Strangest Thing ^
--Same Mistakes *
--Dismal City °
--My Wild Love/My Generation/Well Well Well °
--Well Well Well °
--Heavenly ^
--Knock Yourself Out *
--I Feel Beautiful °
--Under the Milky Way ^
--Full Moon in My Soul °
--Blue Suede Shoes °
--John Wesley Harding °
--improv? °
--Riders on the Moose (?) °
--Maxwell's Silver Hammer °
--Walk Away Renee ^
--Saturday Groovers °
--Back Door Man °
--Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard °

--Ashes to Ashes ^

* = Jon lead vocals
^ = Grant lead vocals
° = Robyn lead vocals

See also:
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon
» there's a band playing on the radio
» if my eyes don't deceive me
» simple twist of fate

Saturday, April 09, 2011

there's a band playing on the radio

I'm getting better at not freaking out over show times, but this gig--the last evening of Robyn Hitchcock's three-night stand in the Little Room at Largo--required more precision than your average club date, as it involved three flights (one of which was changed specifically to accommodate this show), two Los Angeles-area airports, the freaking 405, dozens of text messages, and far too many red lights on La Cienega. Still, we made it to the Little Room with minutes to spare and prime seats for what turned out to be a grand kickoff to a fantastic weekend.

Robyn Hitchock, the Little Room at Largo, March 31, 2011: Robyn opened the gig in troubador style, strumming on the guitar and walking toward the stage while playing "Queen Elvis." Soon after, Bill Rieflin and Sean Nelson joined him on percussion (actually, a Harp beer case) and backing vocals, respectively. Robyn made one more trip to the back bar to recruit his final player: Jon Brion on piano. This casual intimacy carried over for the rest of the show; Robyn didn't even sing into the microphone for most of the performance.

For the full setlist, check out my friend's new blog, but even without the official rundown, I won't forget the highlights very soon. As the guy sitting next to me--miles more conversant with Robyn's catalog and history than myself--remarked, it was practically a greatest hits set, as Robyn and the gang hit such classics as "Balloon Man" and "My Wife and My Dead Wife," as well as some of Robyn's more current material and rarities.

On the covers front, they went for Simon & Garfunkel ("The Only Living Boy in New York") and David Bowie ("Soul Love"), but c'mon, the Roxy Music tunes made the night for me. I was somewhat prepared for "The Main Thing," which I'd first heard back in September, but "Oh Yeah" seguing into "Dear Prudence"--break out the smelling salts! The fanboy next to me reported reading of Robyn's admiration of Bryan Ferry, but the songs were all the evidence I needed.

In between, we got lots of stream-of-consciousness Robyn banter, including a long meditation on the Queen of England, glue, and marmite; a lengthy retelling of the Dirty Harry movies; and a couple of spontaneous, free-form compositions. One of the last works, something about Lorenzo, involved Robyn helming the tune by himself onstage, while his collaborators lined the bar. They were hardly off the hook, however; instead, they were conscripted to add backing vocals/call and response. They started out echoing the last words of each line, but eventually branched off with their own impromptu word association. Wow, that may be the most boring description of an incredibly entertaining exchange I've ever written, but it just goes to show you--you really need to be there.

Robyn was in fine form all night, but his band met him step for step. Sean's harmonies were smooth and sweet, and despite his initial reticence, Jon delivered as always, even when Robyn requested a mandolin or saxophone solo--on the piano--of him. Believe it or not, the mandolin solo came close to re-creating the sounds of the stringed instrument. However, the MVP of the night was Bill Rieflin; not only did he coax a whole range of sounds from his decidedly lo-fi beer case, he added charming harmonies too. It's hard to imagine a better supporting cast.

See also:
» simple twist of fate
» Night 2: i'm happy, hope you're happy too

Thursday, April 07, 2011

if my eyes don't deceive me

It may look like I'm back to hitting every Jon Brion show at Largo, but don't let appearances deceive you--the schedule is unsustainable, and I'll take a break soon enough. But boy, am I glad I made it to the March gig, and I hope I can do it some justice in the account below.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, March 25, 2011: My first thought at seeing Jon Brion's entrance at this show: He wasn't limping. In fact, he bore no signs of last month's injury and made no reference to the earlier ailment. Still, I was relieved to see him sit down at the piano, even if he claimed to have "no clue" as to what's in his head.

That "no clue" turned out to be the Magnolia theme, which led to "Someone Else's Problem Now" in a Dylan-esque cadence and a subtly darker tone that may not have been detected by the newer fans that seem to comprise a good chunk of the sold-out room these days. Sure, I picked up on it, but then again, I've spent far too many hours in a Largo seat.

Jon moved to the guitar for "It Looks Like You" in what sounded like a treatment akin to "How Soon Is Now," featuring a nice echo and the Smiths song's trademark chug. I can't guarantee that was Jon's intent, but I can only report what my eardrums registered.

Jon next built up "Girl I Knew," complete with a slight mistake on piano that made him laugh out loud, though he kept it in the mix for all of us to hear when the loops repeated. I wrote down something about "different phrasing" and a Cream-like guitar solo, but more than a week after the gig, I can't really back up my words. However, over on piano, "Please Stay Away From Me" was more straightforward.

The vibes soon captured Jon's attention, as did "It's All Over Now Baby Blue." In the giggling and earnest reverence that followed Jon's announcement of the title, I wanted so badly to yell out "Judas," but I hesitated a second too long. The momentum had passed, but the reward was more than worth it, as the Dylan cover turned out to be both poignant and effervescent. I love it when Jon does this song, and this version was no different.

Andres Segovia and Sonny Rollins--in video form, of course--joined Jon for "Strings That Tie to You." Andres's spare and deliberate plucking, with a little tweaking from Jon, practically melted into the song. Sonny's work, however, took time to find its place, but somewhere in the bridge, it clicked--the notes lined up, and I finally heard how the song served as a jumping-off point for Sonny's blasts, echoed by Jon on the piano. To finish off, Jon embellished Segovia's fingerpicking with distortion--because he can.

Jon asked for requests from the audience, but before he attempted any of the tunes, he brought Sebastian Steinberg and Matt Chamberlain to the stage first. Jon has been doing truly solo shows for several months, so any guests at all were a surprise, but it was especially pleasing to see an instant rhythm session, especially when one of the most in-demand drummers comprised half of the duo.

Their first song together was Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" and the intrigue started almost immediately. Rather than allow Matt Chamberlain as easy an escape valve as the actual drums, he was instead left with Sebastian's stand-up bass as a percussive instrument. And that's where Matt's genius first showed itself; where most of us would merely drum on the bass, Matt worked with his palms and fingertips, creating all sorts of patterns and rhythmic echoes. Meanwhile, we "fuckers" (Jon's word) did our best to sing along.

The trio settled into a more traditional stance--Jon on piano, Sebastian on bass, and Matt on drums--for a jazz tune, though Matt added some avant-garde touches and Jon threw in a cheesy shot of Chamberlin. Ordinarily, I'd take a wild stab at the title of this breezy number, but no need this time, as Jon added vocals. Thus, I'm able to report the song in question was "Our Love Is Here to Stay." At least, it was in the middle; Jon and Matt closed out the song with, respectively, a dash of vocoder and a faster, disco-driven beat, bringing it closer to Daft Punk than George Gershwin.

Jon switched to electric guitar and Sebastian to electric bass for a traditional trio of a different sort, then launched into "Misty Mountain Hop." We in the audience saw Jon and Sebastian sharing a mic for vocals, but the communication between Jon and Matt caught my eye. From my angle, I couldn't tell you how he did it, but it was clear that Jon's prodding convinced Matt to change up the tempo so that they slid into "My Baby Left Me." After lodging several more looks and a bunch of guitar effects from Jon, they segued into the coda for "Barracuda," at least in part a tribute to Matt's hometown of Seattle.

Our vantage and proximity to the stage allowed us to hear Jon's broad direction to the band for an "ambient version of a soft rock classic." They went with "This Guy's in Love With You" in a bluesy vein. The treatment brought to mind "I've Got a Feeling" off Let It Be. I'm not trying to insult your musical IQ, but Google tells me the Black Eyed Peas have a version of it, and I don't want any confusion on this count.

In the Little Room, Jon has been known to turn over the show to his friends, but he's usually more hands-on for the main performance. Not tonight--instead, he presented Matt and Sebastian on their own, as he ducked away to the side of the stage. For their first trick, the guests switched instruments, but this foray turned out to be short-lived, as they played one note each.

Back on their weapons of choice, the fun really began. Matt fired up the loops, then commenced with the deconstruction of his drum kit. Seriously--he unscrewed various components and moved others around. He gave Sebastian a high hat, and the bass player soon started his own experiments, placing various parts of the bass between the cymbals. Sebastian would later rub the electric and stand-up basses together, and Matt would drum against the bass with the drumsticks instead of his hands.

Jon couldn't stay out of this game, so he rejoined them, first on celeste, then with video snippets of a Cajun fiddler, Leonard Bernstein, and Michael Tilson Thomas. Around this time, it was starting to feel like one of Jon's shows with Nels Cline, except less focused, if that's possible. With the addition of the MicroKorg, this maelstrom formed into an impressionistic version of a song that had been requested earlier that night: "Lithium." I didn't recognize it right away, thought it eventually hit me. Still, it was reassuring to hear Jon call out the attempt at "free jazz Nirvana."

Jon concluded the main set with several of his originals because, apparently, people complain to Flanny when Jon does so many covers, and Flanny, in turn, telegraphs the message to Jon. (Who are these people?) In between, he snuck in "Controversy," though his original tone indicated we'd get more than one Prince song. Nonetheless, we got a mini sampler of Meaningless, which of course, remains the one true record to his name, as well as soundtrack works "Knock Yourself Out" and the lovely Punch-Drunk theme. The closer "I Believe She's Lying" was fast, jangly, and exuberant, ending with a wild plunge at the piano.

However, it wasn't quite a night yet, as Jon returned for one final song. Back on vibes, he crooned "Voices," though his was the only one you could hear. Our silence spoke for itself.

--Magnolia theme
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--It Looks Like You
--Girl I Knew
--Please Stay Away From Me
--It's All Over Now Baby Blue
--Strings That Tie to You

with Matt Chamberlain and Sebastian Steinberg
--Is She Really Going Out With Him
--Our Love Is Here to Stay
--Misty Mountain Hop/My Baby Left Me/Barracuda
--This Guy's in Love With You
--drum and bass solo/Lithium

--Knock Yourself Out
--Same Mistakes
--Punch Drunk theme
--I Believe She's Lying


See also:
» maybe i'm amazed
» the stars look very different today
» three-god night
» anything goes
» manifestation of desire