The show was opened by comedian Kumail Nanjiani who was trying out his monologue in advance of appearing on Saturday Night Live. There’s a nice round-up and link to the video of his monologue here courtesy of Vanity Fair.
When Jon appeared on stage he noted “I’m going this way” and headed straight to the piano, as usual for the start of the show.
- The first piece he played began in a melancholy mood, transitioning to a light melody with a fast interplay between the right and left hands. He then slowed down to a chord-based theme, ending with notes ascending the range of the piano.
- “Strings That Tie to You” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Piano with synthesizer twiddling sounds over the top which he then looped. He played a fairly standard version of this one, briefly changing to tack piano during the bridge.
- The more equipment on the stage the greater the likelihood for technical difficulties, so it seems with Jon’s shows. Assistant Pete was called to the stage as Jon noted to the audience regarding the video running on the right screen, “We’ll leave that fine video up there; give you some entertainment in the meantime. It’s educational!” Meanwhile words such as mnemonic and language appeared on the screen with definitions and drawings to illustrate their meanings. Jon then quipped, “I’m a fan of dead air, so this is my favorite moment of the show so far.” Jon set up a video of a man fingerpicking guitar on the left screen. He began playing on the piano with his right hand and the miniKorg with his left hand as he launched into Harry Nilsson’s song “One.”
- Next, Jon headed toward center stage, picking up his black and white Gretsch and stating, “Let’s see what this does.” He fiddled with the settings and began playing some nasty little noises which turned into the heavy, slow burning, unrecorded “At It Again.” Note, this Gretsch was currently minus both the B and E strings.
- Jon chose to head back to the “19th Century Technology,” aka the piano, and introduced Paul Cartwright on violin. The duo performed Jon’s astute song and crowd favorite, “Here We Go,” from Punch-Drunk Love. Upon completion he remarked, “I just had one evil idea so given how it’s going — I’ll do that later.” This is foreshadowing the 12th song on this set list.
- Jon decided it was singalong time and the audience was game as always for David Bowie’s “Changes” — which was almost a simultaneous request between myself and another audience member sitting near me. Definitely some good harmonies happening in the crowd that night. Paul headed off stage after this song.
- “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” — cover of a Steely Dan song played on piano. Afterward, Jon beckoned for further refreshment, “I have a request for more Guinness as I intend to be drinking tonight.”
- “Play the Game” — cover of a Queen song. I’ve been loving this song so much since hearing the version Jon recorded. When finished playing he addressed the audience, “I’m starting to sense a theme, so we’re going to go with it. Let’s take more requests and have as nice a communal time as humanly possible.”
- “Same Mistakes” from Meaningless. Again on piano, I just sat back and enjoyed this one.
- “Stop the World” unreleased original Jon Brion song. When setting up the song he referred to the right screen, “We’ll leave some video on their just ’cause.” It continued on to show an old film with terms about computing, such as Boolean logic, nanosecond, and pattern recognition, followed by one on how to assemble an Eames Lounge Chair. On the left screen, Brad Mehldau provided piano accompaniment to Jon’s song.
- “Knock Yourself Out” from I Heart Huckabees. Aptly played in a seemingly thematic sync with the video on the right screen of the “Solar Do Nothing Machine.”
- “When I said I was going to do something dangerous and stupid this was one of the moments I was referring to.” Jon then headed over to the drums and played a very familiar drum beat, the one that belongs to The Beatles’ song “Tomorrow Never Knows.” He put that rhythm on a loop and moved to the piano where he played that high repeated chord sequence in the song and some additional chords that were all looped in. Next he picked up the orange Gretsch and added a bass line using the lower strings. The effect of the building music appeared to power the man. He became bolder with each addition, demonstrating it physically by kicking a buzzing amp, as well as a chair. Then he brought his full attention to the guitar, playing it heavy on the tremolo bar. Down on his knees playing the melody on guitar, completely consumed in the music, one single man channeling the brilliance of all four Beatles and George Martin, the sound full and all encompassing. Still on his knees, he wrenched hold of a microphone and sang some of the lyrics. Then, forget about the microphone, he appeared to be singing into the guitar pick-ups and in the next moment his mouth was on the guitar strings while he appeared to effortlessly bring forth an epic solo on the guitar. He continued down to the floor in a rapturous finale of the guitar portion. Then moving back to the piano and layering more of that on to the mix. He hit a low rumbling note and cranked the volume on the synth sounds. He added someone on the left screen who may or may not have been Robert Plant, as well as a boy playing drums. Jon’s fingers danced their way through a variation of the song’s melody on the high notes on the piano. He added orchestras to both the left and right screens. I felt enveloped by a wall of sound that was so powerful that I wondered if my body might burst into a million molecules at the excess of it. Or the whirlwind of music would lift me into the air and spin me around in its fervor. The experience was absolutely unparalleled. The drums, the bass, and the original piano were still looped at this point too. There was one last addition to a screen — of three women singing an indecipherable song. The master finished at the piano with full chords constructing the melody. I have seen a lot of performances in the last few years, but I have never before witnessed something so incredible as Jon becoming one with this song. It was the best performance of his I have ever seen and one of the top musical performances of anything I have ever seen in my entire life. How to follow that? With a total change of pace by calling up a guest artist.
- John Wickes of The Records was called to the stage and appeared with an acoustic guitar. Jon introduced the song as one of his favorite songs of all time, “In the pantheon of great songs written about people in the music business by a musician,” with John Wickes adding, “About the perils of the music business.” “This is the song we had a hit with after firing the manager.” Jon Brion accompanied on piano for “Starry Eyes.”
- “Teenorama” John explained the song was about a 20-or-so-year-old guy wanting to date a 17-year-old girl and that the song had been taken out of context on the Internet to suggest a much larger age gap. You couldn’t help but image that when listening as he sang the lyrics. Jon again joined in on piano and backing vocals.
- Jon concluded the main stage show with Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” and again an audience singalong.
Then all the smart people headed to the Little Room because we all knew the amazing night was going to continue. It certainly did so with Jon on piano, Paul joining in on violin, and Jacob Scesney, saxophonist-about-town and often a player with Postmodern Jukebox, taking over the Little Room stage.
- Ok, I can’t even read my notes on the first song, but it was “JAUNTY!”
- “I Wanna Be Sedated” — Ramones cover with the audience in full voice.
- “Waterloo Sunset” — The Kinks cover, more singing along with the audience.
- “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” – with Jon in gorgeous piano playing mode and Jacob giving it the sexy saxophone treatment, this was an absolutely spine-tingling rendition of a classic jazz standard. After, Jon asked for requests and there was some banter with an audience member about The Turtles and a song being “sterile.”
- “I Ain’t Me Babe” — Bob Dylan cover and another singalong.
- “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” — Neil Young cover.
- “Take the A-Train” with the piano, saxophone, and violin it was off the rails amazing!
- “SNL Closing Theme (A Waltz in A)” Performed as a nod to Kumail who was off to do SNL and because Jacob was right there and able to blow the house down on the sax — what a way to top off an incredible night. Finished off in style. Amazing!