Should you have the luxury of planning a getaway before the holidays, may I suggest a few days in Los Angeles? I'm now even more addicted to this tradition and was glad to squeeze into the Watkins Family Hour at Largo at the Coronet during my most recent visit.
The Watkins Family Hour, Largo at the Coronet, December 17, 2014: I'll admit right now that the title of this post comes from one of two songs I (1) recognized or (2) took note of the request. Even then, it's kind of a lie because Christmas was anything but blue in Los Angeles, either meteorologically or metaphorically.
When I'm in L.A., the Watkins Family Hour tends to be the hors d'oeuvre before the main entree -- or in this week, the palate cleanser between courses. But they are no ordinary snack. In many ways, they seem to have taken on the mantle of collaboration at Largo, with a varied and unexpected mix of talented guests and friends every month. I think they've settled into a workable blueprint for their shows, but as my visits to Largo have been limited, you'll have to forgive me if I repeat common knowledge. Also, I didn't take notes, so don't expect exhaustive coverage of every detail.
Sara and Sean opened the show on their own, then brought out the crack staff of backing artists that Largo regulars have come to know and love: Benmont Tench, Sebastian Steinberg, Don Heffington, and Greg Leisz. They kept a low-key presence onstage, but I guarantee that they're all over your record collection, in one combination or another, as you'll discover if you dig into the liner notes.
The first musical guests of the night were Beth Orton and Sam Amidon, along with Ella, a young friend from England (and Beth's helper while Sam was on tour). Confession: I had spied Beth slipping in earlier that evening, so her appearance wasn't a surprise, though it was a delight. Beth is a longtime Largo regular dating back from the Fairfax days, but I'd never seen her in a guest or a headlining capacity over the years -- this correction was long overdue. As for Sam Amidon, I had missed him (with her) at Solid Sound a few years ago, so chalk up another nice bonus for the evening. They attempted an old Christmas song Sam had learned growing up in Vermont; Beth messed up several times amid giggles before they finally pulled it off. The guests also came together for an a cappella title, their voices melding effortlessly.
The next artist to show up was less of a guest and more like family, as the Watkinses pointed out: Fiona Apple. She was both funny and weird (funnier and weirder?) tonight, rolling out an alternative narrative on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and possible reactions to his ostracization, all wrapped up in a blue streak. When "Rudolph" was called out for his potty mouth, Fiona informed us Rudolph had recently turned 37 and developed self-awareness. Anyway, it all led to "Walkin' After Midnight," a Fiona staple.
By this point, John C. Reilly had made a couple of appearances, first at the top of the show and again during Fiona's set to move the conversation along. Apparently, he's become the emcee of these engagements, offering banter to tie the show together. Befitting his role, he combined music and musings into his spotlight segment. At first, he and Tom Brousseau took one track together, armed with acoustic guitars and sweet harmonies. John also did a song on his own, the Elvis track referenced in the title of this post. I deserve a bonk on the head for this no-brainer, but dammit, that man can sing. (Sorry, I never saw "Chicago"!)
John C. Reilly closed out his set with his version of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," rewritten for Los Angeles. He nailed every detail of the city and the season, tying it all together with a neat little bow that harkened back to his opening statement. Dammit, John C. Reilly, why do you have to be so talented?!
Jackson Browne rounded out the guest list -- the legend at last. He performed two songs, one by Warren Zevon, the other from Doc Watson, and he too got the John C. Reilly treatment. They didn't quite click immediately, but they eventually hit common ground, with Jackson complimenting John's poem from earlier in the night. However, the real treat in this segment was a story from Sean involving Thanksgiving leftovers and Jackson's swimming pool. Talk about a surreal image!
The show's main segment finished with a group singalong of a song I didn't recognize, except there was a lot of Bethlehem in the chorus (no, not that one). However, the evening was still in progress.
That comment I made earlier about the Watkins taking on the Largo mantle? Another strong argument for that claim: They continued the show in the Little Room. Sara and Sean kicked off the proceedings again, soon joined by Benmont, who did a handful of songs at his hosts' insistence. A few guests remained from the main set and made their way to the stage, among them John C. Reilly and Tom Brousseau. I loved being reminded of Tom Brousseau's inherently high lonesome voice and was pleased to see their rapport. I hate missing out such chapters in Largo's evolution, but I love catching up on my visits back.
I can report two specific memories from this part of the show: Sara covering "Christmas in Prison," which I knew only because I heard the request ring out from the audience; and a short discussion of John's tie, his own creation that looked somewhere between a bow tie and a jabot.
The Little Room was packed with fans, staffers, and other Largo guests -- an unusual scene, believe it or not. The reason for their anticipation soon became clear as Jackson Browne came to the stage. He's not a stranger at Largo (again, going back to the Fairfax days), but guessing by the banter, this may have been his Little Room debut. If so, I'm glad I was there.
Hats off to the Watkinses for another full-hearted night of entertainment. The best part? The week was only half over.
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