Monday, June 08, 2015

the subject now in question

How long has it been since I've been a regular at Jon Brion's show? Long enough that the young man sitting next to me asked me to stop clicking my retractable pen while I was taking notes because it was too loud. Bwahahahaha! Oh honey -- I was doing this back when you were dancing to your babysitter's Blink 182 CDs. I hope I didn't ruin his show (probably his third, tops). Anyway, this weekend offered me the chance at a double dip (Hello Kitty!) and of course filled out the schedule with a visit to Largo.

Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, May 29, 2015: I do not suffer from FOMO. Instead, I may labor under FOGO (fear of going out -- tip of the hat to Susan for the phrase), but dammit if the recent promises of Jon Brion with a band didn't pique my interest. Alas, I couldn't make my way to those shows, and only a month later, Jon was back to his spartan setup. Other than a small rack of electric guitars (that went unused) on one side, every instrument was acoustic and unplugged, and the drum set was absent altogether. If a band were scheduled to assemble, they probably wouldn't be loud. (In fact, early on, we were promised guests, but we'll get there in time.)

As for the man himself, Jon emerged looking somewhat professorial in glasses and with notable cheer in his voice. He also carried a small folder with loose-leaf pages and informed us that he had new songs, though he didn't yet know the order of the verses. To start off, however, he went on an instrumental tear covering several songs. As I've said repeatedly, I'm not great at picking out older songs when no words are sung, so take my guesses with a grain of salt. That said, I think I heard Vince Guaraldi and Cole Porter ("Everytime We Say Goodbye"), though the latter might've been Chet Baker -- or Elvis Costello ("Almost Blue")? I want to say Randy Newman ("Dayton, Ohio - 1903") made it in too. However, I can report an I Heart Huckabees tune capped off the movement.

From there, Jon stayed on piano but turned to the lyric sheets for the first new song, which even on my first listen struck me as a Jon Brion classic in the making. We're talking four or five verses, with a couple of bridges and a nice clip to the tune. The phrase "my love" came up repeatedly -- which probably doesn't sound revolutionary, but it totally fit in the context of the tune. I would love to hear it again, no doubt in some form I couldn't predict.

Another new song followed, and at first, the pace reminded me a little of "Knock Yourself Out." The lyrics, however, were nothing to write home about it. Let's say this song holds promise but could use more attention.

The next song was not new, but it was a relatively rarity. I'm pretty sure it was "Row" from Eternal Sunshine, only with lyrics and extra poignancy. Jon ended this piano-based segment with "Happy With You," complete with all the spontaneous bits Jon is known for.

The acoustic guitar then came out, along with a call for requests. "Meaningless" landed first, followed by "Citgo Sign," a request from the patron sitting front and center, who I assumed has taken over the role of #1 fan. Jon said it might be the first time he's played it at the Coronet, which probably checks out. Jon capped off this segment with "I Believe She's Lying," and I should mention all of them got the extended treatment. For "I Believe She's Lying," Jon even changed up the vocals here and there.

Jon returned to the piano and his "hymnal" for the next song. If you read this blog enough, you know I don't love everything Jon has ever done, and this falls squarely into that pile. The lyrics were heavy-handed, and the melody itself didn't stand out. Unlike previous clunkers, this didn't morph into a 10-plus minute dirge (whew). OK, enough said!

At this point, Sebastian Steinberg came out, with his stand-up bass and an impressive beard. I likened him to Zeus, albeit with his long ponytail intact. Jon opened up the floor to requests, and after some back and forth, the Buzzcocks finally landed in a jazzy two-man piano-and-bass take. As if I needed a reminder of Jon's encyclopedic knowledge of music, but it's always nice to hear confirmation.

For the next request, Jon married a style of music with a song, which is how we got "Space Oddity" a la stride piano. Did you watch the last season of Mad Men? I've had at least one screaming moment during each episode, when an unexpected twist plays out. One of the moments -- MINOR SPOILER ALERT -- had to do with "Space Oddity." I will never not love this song in any form, and this one was a delight. Jon himself wore a big smile on his face for much of the tune, and Sebastian's slap bass added unexpected notes. Of course, it morphed into another style all together, but I'm not the person who could characterize it for you.

"Over the Rainbow," a request personally solicited by Jon from the person sitting in what was once my seat (AA24, in case you're wondering), was soon granted, and it was slow, pretty, and spare. Sebastian came close to a bass solo around the bridge -- so it was deliciously ironic when he declared he hated the song at its conclusion. For the record, Jon stated he did not.

Jon next picked up the acoustic guitar for an instrumental track, the kind that tend to stump me. In my notes, I have "I'm in the Mood for Love," but I could be way off, which is typical for standards. During the course of this song, Sebastian's face was like that of a silent movie actor, nodding and shaking along. By the end, both Jon and Sebastian were actively hamming it up for one another.

The requests continued, and Radiohead made it to the forefront. Jon returned to the piano, but hardly went traditional. The notes sounded like they were coming from a harpsichord or a toy piano, but eventually came back around to the "real" sound. This was a ton of fun, as well.

Jon followed up "Trouble," featuring a jazzy bridge, then a request for a song he gleefully reported he didn't like: "Rocky Raccoon." Susan next to me thought she heard Vince Guaraldi here. All I know is that it took a detour through, like, the Preservation Jazz Hall (note: I know nothing about the Preservation Jazz Hall), and it was decidedly loose, though not in a White Album sort of way. Make of that what you will!

Jon inquired into Sean Watkins' presence, and after a brief dash to the stage, he joined them for a couple of tracks: "I Go to Pieces" and "Tribulations," the latter a terrifying (in Sean's words) gospel song he recently learned. Brownie points go to Sean for the Back to the Future reference when he explained what it was like to try to teach a song to the bona fide geniuses beside him.

Jon Brion playing stand-up bass at Largo at the CoronetSebastian stepped up for his vocal contribution, George Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care." This song may be one of the highlights of the evening, as we watched Jon and Sebastian switch instruments. I don't think I've ever seen Jon play stand-up bass! What a sight!

Jon returned to the piano and took over for the next song. I don't know if it was a request or his own selection, but he rolled out the always welcome "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding." Jon went with a pretty classic power pop take on this song, which is fairly different from the slower version Nick Lowe plays these days. Trust me, there were no complaints.

Sean exited the stage, and we were left once again with Jon and Sebastian, this time for Jon's own "Please Stay Away From Me." This has become a semi-staple of Jon's set, and I hear hints of this and that with every listening, but for some reason, the Randy Newman-esque tone hit me between the eyes this time (perhaps because the earlier brick of a tune was probably trying too hard to take the same approach).

With that, Jon and Sebastian's show came to an end, but a couple dozen of us headed to the Little Room for extra songs from Sean. I didn't take notes here, but I can report he did my request for "Moonshiner," though only after he realized I wasn't asking for moonshine. I've heard him do this before, as Sean himself acknowledged, but I know it's far from a regular on the setlist. Nonetheless, he gamely attempted it, with a little help from Jackson (I think), undoubtedly Googling lyrics in the back.

I likely won't get back to Largo for a Jon Brion show until the fall, but I'm already looking forward to the next go-around.

-- piano (like, five songs)
-- new song #1
-- new song #2
-- Row
-- Happy With You
-- Meaningless
-- Citgo Sign
-- I Believe She's Lying
-- new song #3

with Sebastian Steinberg
-- Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't)
-- Space Oddity
-- Over the Rainbow
-- I'm in the Mood for Love
-- Creep
-- Trouble
-- Rocky Raccoon

with Sebastian Steinberg & Sean Watkins
-- I Go to Pieces
-- Tribulations
-- Peace, Love, and Understanding

with Sebastian Steinberg
-- Please Stay Away From Me

See also:
» strangest times
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, Greg