Monday, December 28, 2015

i'll be a rock 'n' rolling bitch for you

To mark my 11th occasion of seeing Jon Brion's Christmas show at Largo, everything was back to normal. That is, seats were claimed, friends were greeted, baked goods were presented. All was right in the world -- and to all a good night!

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, December 18, 2015: The annual Week Before Xmas in Los Angeles went well, with my third visit to Doug Loves Movies' 12 Guests of Christmas (thanks again to the kindness of strangers with extra tickets). The only slight downside: Since Christmas fell on a Friday, Jon's show was earlier than usual, which meant I couldn't take in the Watkins Family Hour or Largo's usual end-of-year treats. Still, I made it to the two marquee events.

Upon entry, you could see Jon's ultraspare setup: the always present piano, a few chairs, and a couple of microphones. I don't think a guitar showed up until Jon took the stage. But before we got to Jon's entrance, Flanny brought out a surprise guest: one Zach Galifianakis! As I understand it, Zach drops in at Largo from time to time, even now that he's a movie star, but his appearances are rarities and treats when they happen. He tried out a very short set, then made way for the headliner.

For the first several tracks, Jon stuck to the piano for maybe an improvised song, and even "Punch-Drunk Melody" started out with a long, wandering lead-up before it landed on the tune we know and love. "Ruin My Day" was the first straightforward tune of the night before Jon went back to another song I can't ID. However, I can report he threw his full body into it, with his feet keeping the time and responding to the notes.

Thus ended the first piano portion of the evening. Jon's shows have always evolved, even during his time at Fairfax, but in my opinion, his shows at the Coronet have become more populist. I don't mean that in a snobby way, but with a wider swath of fans to please, he sometimes goes for jokier moves. He's always tuned to "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window" and "If I Only Had a Brain," but they both became legitimate numbers tonight and garnered giggles and smiles. In the first nod to the season, he then went into a little bit of "Jingle Bell Rock" in a semi-fingerpicking style, before delving into "Nothing Between Us." I often request this oldie from Jon's catalog, so I was glad he got to it himself. Also, that might've been the first time I've heard it on acoustic guitar.

Jon asked for Sebastian Steinberg to join him, but Sebastian took longer than expected to arrive. In the meantime, Jon punched out a very fast version of "I Believe She's Lying." Speaking of, not going to lie -- I think I prefer the acoustic version of the song because it doesn't drag along excessively.

Sebastian's official arrival began with Jon returning to the piano and the Peanuts Christmas theme, with Sebastian leading Jon through chord changes -- imagine that! I can't even guess at their seconds song, and I only list "Caravan" as the third tune because I heard them name it. "Caravan" was actually proceeded by Jon thinking aloud as he worked out the tempo and shifts to get to the performance he wanted. I didn't understand a word of it, but it was interesting to hear, and the final product was rollicking and well-paced. The duo finished up with three of Jon's own titles, including a request from our friend Sarah two seats down for "Here We Go."

The next friend due up was David Garza, who grabbed the guitar. They turned over the reins to him, and give him credit for trying to stick with the holiday theme. He went with "Blue Christmas," kind of honky-tonk style, complete with one of the most remarkable hand-offs I've seen between musicians. At Largo, you see all kinds of artists playing together and sharing the stage, making room for each other's solo turns and encouraging one another to get in a few bars. Sometimes they'll tap each other on the shoulder or nod their head in encouragement. This night, I saw David slowly shift to playing rhythm guitar, then Jon jump into his solo without so much as a glance between the two. I mean, maybe this happens all the time when you've been breathing each other's musical fumes for so long, but it struck me as the concert equivalent of a no-look pass, culminating in an alley-oop.

David next tried that delightful mashup of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Roxanne," but truth be told, he didn't carry it off as well as earlier performers. Give him points for the attempt, though, and for convincing Sara Watkins to join the group.

One Watkins was not enough, so Sean took his bow as well, his own guitar in hand. They hit a Dylan song, which was marked by Jon playing percussion on his Guinness glass, no piano at all, then a request brought up Jon's "Trouble," with Sara on vocals. Though we hardly needed the reminder, Sara's voice is indeed quite lovely and even preferable to Jon's, and her violin was a gorgeous standby for the synths on the official studio version. Great -- now that I'm listening to the original again, I'm painfully reminded of how badly I want a follow-up to Meaningless.

The next request brought "Beast of Burden," which I've heard the Largo crew do before, but it's always a ton of fun as each performer tries to out-camp one another with their best take on Mick Jagger. Jon gave it a shot, but David gave it everything else for maximum effect.

For Sean's tune, they chose a traditional title that's been covered by both Lyle Lovett and the Raconteurs apparently. Of course, I know this only because I Googled the lyrics -- there's no way I would've know that on my own.

Jon asked Sebastian to remain onstage for the last couple of tunes, requests for "Moonage Daydream" and "Since I've Been Loving You." Then it was Jon by himself for a long, languid take on "Moon River" and the encore/closer of "Happy With You."

The party continued in the Little Room, with the David and the Watkinses and special guest Gaby Moreno. Rumor had it Jon might join them, but we didn't stick around long enough to find out. Please feel free to drop me a line if you can add to the report.

See you in 2016.

Zach Galifianakis opener

-- piano
-- Punch-Drunk Melody
-- Ruin My Day
-- ???
-- How Much Is That Doggie in the Window
-- Jingle Bell Rock
-- Nothing Between Us
-- If I Only Had a Brain
-- I Believe She's Lying
-- Christmastime Is Here *
-- ??? *
-- Caravan *
-- Strangest Times
-- Knock Yourself Out
-- Here We Go
-- Blue Christmas **
-- Rudolph (You Don't Have to Put on Your Red Light) ***
-- From a Buick 6 ****
-- Trouble ****
-- Beast of Burden ****
-- Keep It Clean ****
-- Moonage Daydream *
-- Since I've Been Loving You/Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies *
-- Moon River
-- Happy With You

* = with Sebastian Steinberg
** = with Sebastian Steinberg and David Garza
*** = with Sebastian Steinberg, David Garza, and Sara Watkins
**** = with Sebastian Steinberg, David Garza, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins

Ghosts of Christmas past:
» let your heart be light
» i'm offering this simple phrase
» it's been said many times, many ways
» with soul power
» it's the end of the things you know
» you could say one recovers
» a really good time
» the things you do to keep yourself intact
» i've heard a rumor from ground control
» strangest times

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