Saturday, December 31, 2011

a really good time

This was a close one. I mean, December 23? And I have to get back to Northern California in time for the family celebration, preferably on a reasonably priced flight? But it worked out, and in a way, it's fitting that Jon Brion's show is indeed the last gig of the year at Largo. It should be as such forever and ever (amen).

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, December 23, 2011: It started with a game changer in 2005, but the 2006 edition -- an all-around epic night -- sealed the deal. What the hell, I can't dismiss 2007 either. OK, I'm gloating now, but if it's late December, you can find me at Largo for Jon Brion's final show of the year.

As is the wont with Jon Brion, not two of these yuletide shows have been the same. Some years, he's almost ignored the seasonal aspects, but that wasn't the case this time out. Looking professorial in glasses, a hat, a bowtie, and a red sweater, he wished us a "merry fucking Christmas" and parceled out a Thelonius Monk-style "Jingle Bells." He followed it up with a short, multidenominational holiday medley, which segued seamlessly into his first original tune of the evening: "Ruin My Day," marked by stamping feet and one line ad-libbed for the season ("even on Christmas").

A ha moments (not to be confused with A-ha moments) aren't exclusive to Largo, but Jon's shows in particular lend themselves to those eye openers, thanks to their structure -- or lack thereof. I kind of knew what was coming before Jon said a word, but I was only half right. Yup, he was about to play a Roxy Music song, but it wasn't the one I expected ("To Turn You On"). Either way, the audience won, and my night was made early on, a sentiment cemented soon thereafter by Jon's selection of "Here We Go." It's been far too long since I've heard it at Largo, and certainly not with the opening snippet of "Rhapsody in Blue" -- which I now finally recognize!

Jon commented on the downbeat tone of the evening -- as if anyone who's heard his music should be surprised -- and switched to acoustic guitar for "Love of My Life So Far." He introduced a 12-string for "She's at It Again," turning in a bluesier take than I've heard before. I stand by my assertion it could be done with Ian Curtis-style vocals, but the similarities between Jon's tune and any part of the Joy Division catalog probably has more to do with song titles than with chord progressions.

The third guitar of the night was a smaller model, though still bigger than a ukelele, for "Knock Yourself Out." I think Jon stayed with this apparatus for "Why Do You Do This to Yourself," though he presented an almost a cappella rendition, with barely any accompaniment at all.

Jon returned to the holiday theme with what he said was one of his two Christmas songs. I don't know the title of this tune, but I'm pretty sure I've heard it before, and it may even exist on a bootleg somewhere. Stop me if you think you've heard this one before, but let me state it featured an effortless melody, a compelling hook, and an air of melancholy. In other words, it fit right in with all the favorite year-end classics.

At some point, Jon had asked for requests from the audience, which is usually when you find out what kind of crowd is in attendance. More often than not, you'll hear some silly suggestions -- guilty as charged -- but that's par for the course. Tonight's fans were not of that ilk, however, requesting Jon's works from the outset. Thanks to the attendant masses, we got both "Roll With You" and "Happy With You," if I recall correctly.

Jon brought up a couple of guests, but downplayed the fans' cheers and anticipation by saying it was as much a present for himself as it was for us. Out came Fiona Apple and Sebastian Steinberg for a mix of Christmas songs and Fiona's works. When Don Heffington stepped up, they hit on a couple of beloved standards. In one of the more entertaining slipups, Fiona forgot a line from "Frosty the Snowman" and endowed the beloved character with a briefcase instead of a broomstick. I probably would've missed it entirely if she hadn't brought it up after their performance.

Completing the coterie, Sean Watkins and Benmont Tench ambled along to their preferred spots. In fact, they carried off about half the first song without Jon onstage: one of two consecutive murder ballads. But the third song was the showstopper, hints of which I'd heard from more than one person earlier in the night. It was a mashup of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and the Police hit "Roxanne." I'll give you a second to think about it -- makes perfect sense, right? Now imagine Don Heffington handling the bridge, the rest of the assemblage harmonizing the protagonist's name, and Fiona flailing and yelling out the chorus. If you don't trust your imagination, check out this YouTube clip, but imagine the Largo regulars in place of the Rankin-Bass figures. (Now there's an idea!)

Jon closed out the set at first by himself on vibes, then with Fiona, for a couple of mainstays. We wouldn't see either of them for the rest of the night as the show moved to the Little Room, where the packed bar was treated to free shots of Jameson, in memory of longtime custodian Guillermo, recently passed away. In the meantime, the aforementioned crew were joined by Gabe Wicher for a loose round of tunes. Sean Watkins was the de facto leader, but Gabe, Benmont, and even Don took lead vocals, while Sebastian rolled out a series of zingers -- clearly, he'd been dipping into the whiskey.

In a way, we had our cake (Jameson?) and ate (slammed?) it too. We enjoyed a healthy dose of Christmas songs, but given the mix of tunes, genres, and personnel, it was still a banner night at Largo. See you in the new year.

--Jingle Bells
--The Christmas Song/I Have a Little Dreidel/more
--Ruin My Day
--A Really Good Time
--Here We Go
--Love of My Life So Far
--She's at It Again
--Knock Yourself Out
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--original Christmas song?
--Roll With You

with Fiona Apple and Sebastian Steinberg
--Frosty the Snowman
--To Your Love

with Fiona Apple, Don Heffington, and Sebastian Steinberg
--Tonight You Belong to Me
--After You've Gone

with Fiona Apple, Don Heffington, Sebastian Steinberg, Benmont Tench, and Sean Watkins
--Knoxville Girl
--In the Pines
--Rudolph (You Don't Have to Put on the Red Light)

--Cry Me a River

with Fiona Apple

Little Room (Don Heffington, Sebastian Steinberg, Benmont Tench, Sean Watkins, and Gabe Wicher)
--More Pretty Girls Than One
--Wild Side
--Big Mon (?)
--You Get Me High
--Not That I Care
--99 Years (And One Dark Day)

See also:
» let your heart be light
» i'm offering this simple phrase
» it's been said many times, many ways
» it's the end of the things you know