Thursday, November 05, 2015

you old so and so

Here we go.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, October 30, 2015: I've said it before, but it bears repeating. If I had all the time and resources in the world, I'd attend every Jon Brion show I could. As this was my birthday weekend, I figured I could squeeze in a trip. And what do you know? Everything worked out: Friends were present, (almost) favorite seats were reserved, and of course, music flowed. I didn't even have to blow out the candles and make a wish.

As I mentioned in my last Jon Brion post, Largo continues to evolve and change, and tonight, the first detail that jumped out at me was the setup. It wasn't the bare-bones arrangement that dominated for at least a year, but the drum kit was still missing. However, a handful of electric guitars occupied a spot, and the Leslie cabinet was ready and miked. The right-hand corner of the stage featured a half-dozen acoustic guitars and an overhead mic. Equipment nerds will have to seek out a better authority than me. I couldn't tell you the exact terminology, except it always reminds me of those old shots of the Beatles at Abbey Road studios.

Abbey Road

Flanny offered a short intro, and Jon followed immediately, decked in a gray suit. Early indicators suggested he was in a good mood, which is always a welcome sight. Though he carried a guitar onstage, he went to the piano first, as is his wont. The finger exercises began, and I thought I heard a touch of Randy Newman in the instrumental work. Perhaps it was there, but in truth, I wouldn't have had a clue what he actually played if not for his ID at the end: "I Must Have That Man," complete with Jon's hearty endorsement.

From one queen to another, Jon next landed on "Lady Stardust," which I knew without any hints. I gotta admit -- because of the sheer volume of amazing tracks on Ziggy Stardust, I didn't pay a ton of attention to this song in the first 20-odd years I owned the record, as much as I loved the album as a whole. But attendance at Largo has highlighted the brilliance of both "Lady Stardust" and "Moonage Daydream" -- as if they need a boost. Listening with a new set of ears, you fully understand why it's a favorite for artists everywhere. It's a classic portrait of the performer's life from its humblest beginnings.

Finally, we got a Jon original with "Here We Go." At one point in my life, I felt compelled to listen to this song several times each day, and my appreciation has not lessened, even if the repeat count has dipped. I've sometimes complained on this blog about Jon's lyrical patterns (aa/bb, ab/ab, and so on), but sometimes it works, and boy howdy, "Here We Go" might be the best example in Jon's catalog. The lyrics are so straightforward, yet so sincere. It probably helps that it's paired with one of the most elegant sound beds Jon has ever written. It's a perfect song, no two ways about it, and it was thoughtful of Jon to play it on his own accord, thus relieving us of the burden of the formal request.

If you've heard this song live, you've undoubtedly perked up at the tickle of piano that kicks off the tune. It beckons and hooks and pulls you in, and on this night, I realized what else it signifies: It's the musical embodiment of the butterflies in your stomach before a big moment, when you don't know whether to throw up and/or jump out of your skin. Here we go, indeed.

In the days since the show, I've been listening to the studio version of the song on a loop again, and I've been surprised to learn those treasured notes are not as prominent in the sanctioned recording. It's all over the live rendition, so if you must hear it, drop me a note, and I may be able to hook you up. *wink*

Update: Oh shit, it's on YouTube!

"Strangest Times" followed in a wordless, jazzy version, and thus ended the first piano segment of the evening. On to the guitars!

Jon picked up an acoustic Epiphone and unfurled a long intro. I wondered if (1) he was getting a feel for the instrument or (2) he was simply working his way into a song. Eventually, "It Looks Like You" poured out, in an intimate-sounding reading and with an extended outro. Granted, it's been a while since I've heard the song performed, but I think it was one of my favorite versions in a long time. Regarding the aforementioned radio mic: It was yet another moment I wish I could take photos at Largo. Jon was perfectly framed, planted firmly in the chair while simultaneously stretching up the microphone for those cooing notes. I hope Lincoln got a shot!

Jon adjusted the light to shine on his notebook for a newish song. Earlier in the evening, Jon had commented on David Bowie's gift for writing midtempo rockers, and this one definitely qualified for the category. I liked it -- the song kicked along at a good pace, and I enjoyed the overall progression of verses. I look forward to repeat airings.

By the way, Jon's first turn on guitar offered a surprising glimpse at the crowd. First of all, sitting nearly front and center was another fan taking notes. Honey, if you're reading this, drop me a line and we can discuss outlining strategies. Would you believe my JB gig journal kinda looks like long division? Also, the note-taker's companion (?) appeared to be asleep during the set. That's cool -- I'm pretty sure some of my friends (who will remain nameless) have done the same.

Onward! A fellow (a new regular, if I'm not mistaken) sitting a couple of seats down from us was clearly prepared for the first call for requests, as he bellowed "I Believe She's Lying" with no hesitation. Jon went for the 12-string, and to be honest, I don't have any other notes on this track. Alas, my favorite Halloween request ("Bela Lugosi's Dead") once again went nowhere, but at least I tried. Also, it turned out this would be Jon's last turn for the night on acoustic guitar.

Instead, he headed back to the piano for "Over Our Heads," delivered without any synths whatsoever -- not typical. However, he soon fired up the electronics, fiddling with a synthesizer and a beat machine, along with the MicroKorg and the Chamberlin. I had to laugh aloud when I finally realized his choice: "People Are People" by Depeche Mode. I especially loved how he worked in Martin Gore's portion (that lighter, ethereal lift if you're unfamiliar with the tune). This is not the first time I've heard Jon do this song, but I'm always amused when he covers titles from my junior high years.

Depeche Mode was only the beginning as Jon launched into one of the stream-of-consciousness medleys he does so well. I caught Beethoven -- but only because the man sitting next to me commented on it. Stephanie said it was "Rite of Spring"? She also said the next tune was something along the lines of "Popcorn," but I'm sure she'll clarify in the comments below. I for sure caught "Funkytown," a longtime favorite at Jon's shows, then he went into a song I don't know, and he wrapped up with "Walking Through Walls," complete with a nice synth complement under the piano and Jon's feet providing the rhythm track. Again, it's been a while since I've heard this, but this sounded fresh again to me and Jon eschewed the sometimes overlong treatment. It too may have been my favorite performance of it in a while.

Jon picked up the black and white Gretsch for his sole electric track of the night. He went heavy and fuzzy for "She's At It Again," one of his original tunes. It's not like I need to be reminded that Jon is fantastic on guitar, but it doesn't hurt to get the memo from time to time. However, the song might've gone a bit too long for my liking, especially when the piano tunes never felt too far extended at any point.

Jon asked for requests again and went with "Short People," albeit asking for our participation. I don't know this song very well, and as we soon discovered, neither did most of the audience. However, from my seat, I could hear one guy with a solid hold on the song, and this being Los Angeles, he had pretty good pipes too. At least the rest of us knew to join in on the refrain.

Jon was committed to the singalong, particularly multipart harmonies, so we next tried the BeeGees' "How Deep Is Your Love." Mere notes into the song, Jon stopped to remark that only women appeared to know the tune, so we switched to what he called a "girl key." In our early days in the United States, my family owned a handful of records, and like all good Americans (and resident aliens) at the time, that included the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and I listened to it all the time. Unfortunately, I don't remember most of the lyrics anymore, but I contributed when I could. It also doesn't hurt to sit next to a degreed musicologist with a lovely voice and piggyback on her sweet tones.

To restore gender equilibrium, Jon led us to "God Only Knows" and we were golden again. I definitely like it best when we all sing together.

Jon took a quick break, then returned for an encore and asked the audience for a classic rock track. Someone in the middle requested the dreaded "Freebird," which Jon could not resist. Without realizing it, I let out an "oh no," and because of my proximity to the stage, Jon immediately responded, "Oh yeah" -- and away we went. Honestly, I don't know the song very well, so it's not quite as loathsome to me, but I hate it as a cliche. However, Jon treated it with all the seriousness he poured into the Billie Holiday opener, as he played with the mellotron and the MicroKorg to build up the track. I hope the requester got his money's worth.

Jon closed with "Knock Yourself Out," as forthright and guileless as can be -- then bade us good night. This evening we saw no guests or pyrotechnics, but in fact, it might've been one of the most charming performances I've seen in a while. Let's do it again in a couple of months.

-- I Must Have That Man
-- Lady Stardust
-- Here We Go
-- Strangest Times
-- It Looks Like You
-- new song
-- I Believe She's Lying
-- Over Our Heads
-- People Are People/Beethoven/???/Funkytown/???/Walking Through Walls
-- She's at It Again
-- Short People
-- How Deep Is Your Love
-- God Only Knows

-- Freebird
-- Knock Yourself Out

See also:
» the subject now in question
» i go for it every time
» i'm younger than that now


Stephanie Conn said...

Flashback to my childhood.
And thanks for the vocal review. I nod back to your review prowess.

Stephanie Conn said...

OH, and the Freebird Fantasia also included a snippet of Goldberg Variations (Bach), no?