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.
--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
--Punch Drunk theme
--I Believe She's Lying
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