Friday, November 13 was a heart-wrenching day in the world as we learned of the terrorist attacks in Paris, but particularly for music lovers who sadly learned that one of the attacks took place at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan. One of my friends had attended an Eagles of Death Metal concert in California only a couple weeks earlier, so this made it feel even more unreal. I was greatly disturbed and angered by these attacks, but already planned for the evening was Jon Brion‘s monthly show at Largo. I had mixed feelings about attending a night of entertainment in the wake of these events, but as Largo has so often proved an antidote to distress and sadness, I was opened to what Jon had to offer. I am pleased to say that he did not disappoint. It was great to feel like I was on the same wavelength as Jon. Every single song choice seemed to be the right choice in the moment. His handling of the whole evening was perfect. It was exactly what I needed and once again the magic of Largo helped to assuage the pain and grief of that day.
Comedian Neal Brennan opened for Jon, thankfully taking a moment to acknowledge the horrible events of the day. It felt like once he had done this, the audience then had permission to laugh and enjoy the show. I am not going to say too much about his routine, other than it was pretty entertaining and I would be happy to see him on stage again.
It is sometimes difficult to describe what Jon is doing on the piano when he first sits down and is improvising or linking one song you may or may not know to another and adding clever transitional music in between. When he came on stage he started off on the piano and played what seemed like a lot of random notes, almost like a child playing on the piano, but yet the notes hung together and played off one another in a seemingly related manner. I don’t know if he was aiming for it, but there were a few moments of the first piece that sounded like a disjointed version of “Rhapsody in Blue.” The second piece began with a carillon cacophony of notes before transitioning to an old jazz style and eventually evolving into “Moonlight Serenade.” This progressed into Jon’s song, “Ruin My Day“from his album Meaningless.
Still on the piano, playing slowly, quietly, with both hands covering a narrow range of notes, he switched the lever on the piano to change the tone of the notes, creating traditional Chinese music-like tones. This evolved into a despondent song, an unrecorded song known as “Stop the World” (check out this recently posted version). Lyrics included: “There are times when I’m doing well, then a voice deep inside will start…well how can anyone stop the world from beating up my heart…how many times will I call it quits.” This one really resonated with me.
After playing this song he took a moment to talk about Eagles of Death Metal. He first found out about them when he visited a friend who was working on the sound on the first Eagles of Death Metal album, as they were recording the album not too far away from Largo (I believe Jon used the words, “just down the street”). He also talked about how thankful he was to be able to do what he was doing (performing for people) and his appreciation for the audience attending the show. He talked about the camaraderie of musicians and how, “everyone who does it has kinship with everyone else” who does it. He then performed a slow, thoughtful, laid-back version of the song “It Looks Like You” on guitar, a song on Evan Dando’s album Baby I’m Bored, which he had also played last month.
Continuing on guitar, he began playing a jazzy number, with some nice use of harmonics. Started off seemingly as an instrumental, but it was just a long lead-in to the lyrics for “Foolin’ Myself,” a song originally recorded by Billie Holiday.
Jon headed back to the piano and teased a little bit of “Take the A-Train,” but ended up playing a Buzzcock’s song, “You Say You Don’t Love Me.” Next was another Jon Brion original from the film soundtrack of I Heart Huckabees, “Knock Yourself Out.”
Then, Jon got chatty while taking out the duct tape to mute the piano strings, including referring disparagingly to most drum solos, stating, “I love good drum solos; that’s the problem.” He made a quiet exception toward backstage to Griff (I had spotted Griffin Goldsmith, drummer for Dawes, in the lobby earlier). Jon launched into “Meaningless” from his album of the same name, including an extended ending with an Inspector Gadget Theme Song type of pattern hammering through the bass notes.
He then asked for a request, played a lot of chords as if he was working something out, and then sang “The Girl I Knew (Would Make Fun of You)” with some switched up lyrics, “The girl I knew would see right through you.” Immediately after that he played “Strange Bath,” also from I Heart Huckabees. This is such an interesting number and I feel he used this here as his own scene transition music, as he switched from playing heartfelt songs from within himself to audience singalong time.
He chose some pretty popular songs for the singalongs, staying safe with Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” The Beatles “You Won’t See Me” (link is to Paul McCartney performing the song live), and back-to back David Bowie songs, “Changes” and “Space Oddity” (the latter of which he asked the audience to perform “slow and exultant” or as he joked, “in the Italian musical notation, Alfredo Exultante”). These choices hit my personal feelings on the head.
He switched to guitar to play “Tell Me Why (Can’t Understand You)” by an “old L.A. band.” After the song, he expressed his thanks again for our attendance and remarked that, “The sound is nice up here” (on stage) and how good it felt when, “there’s a few hundred people making sound at you, especially in harmony.” He closed the set with a song recorded by one of his former bands, The Grays, “Same Thing.” “And I’ll be doing the same things…so here goes nothing.” I’ve borrowed the lyric from this song for the title of this blog. Maybe he didn’t mean it this way, but after the news of the day, I felt he was proclaiming, we will continue to live our lives on our terms, despite others’ drastic attempts to disrupt our way of living. This theme is also in “Meaningless,” with the lyric,”Liberty raised her hand to us as if to say, ‘It’s OK, live today, live today.'”
He received a standing ovation at the end of the concert that went on for several minutes. I thought perhaps Jon wasn’t going to come out again, but the audience was clearly so appreciative of the night’s music, that Jon returned to the stage for his version of “Stairway to Heaven,” in which he splices in samples of many other songs. Unlike the linked recording, this version was all strictly on piano. He was clearly spent by the end of the evening, having lent so much of himself emotionally to the night. And as much as he showed his appreciation for the audience, this audience member has a huge amount of gratitude for Jon’s effort that night.