Friday, December 18, 2015 found me back at Largo at the Coronet for the last Jon Brion show of the year. Surprise opener was actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis, who delivered a short, yet hilarious, set of new jokes.
As usual, Jon started off the show by playing a couple instrumental pieces on the piano. He began slowly with chords alternating between the treble and bass until he created a full sound; it was reminiscent to me of something from a Rachmaninoff concerto. The second piece felt like it could be the accompaniment to an old-fashioned murder mystery, perhaps a story by Agatha Christie featuring Hercule Poirot. The third piece started with a Hoagy Carmichael type of song, then he clearly performed part of the “Arabian Dance” from the Nutcracker Suite before launching into his own song from his album Meaningless, “Ruin My Day.” Next was a jazzy piano sort of number with broken bass chords and ascending chords at the end (it wasn’t anything I recognized).
Jon switched to acoustic guitar for a short time, playing a cool arrangement of “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” Then he moved on to a medley that began with “Jingle Bell Rock” followed by a couple more tunes that I couldn’t name, though the first of the two made me think of “Downtown Strutters’ Ball.” Then he played the song “Nothing Between Us” from his early band The Grays and which was on the album Ro Sham Bo. “So long, say goodbye we’re better off somehow.”
So he said goodbye to his guitar and headed back to the piano for the rest of the evening. He called out for bassist Sebastian Steinberg to join him and after waiting a minute and Sebastian not appearing, Jon began to play “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz. He then asked for a request and ended up playing “I Believe She’s Lying.” Does he play this song faster every time I hear him playing it live? It seems that way.
The next request was for “Peanuts’ Christmas,” which is actually called “Christmas Time is Here.” Sebastian arrived on stage to provide the essential bass support this song requires. Then they played an odd sort of jazzy/spooky/minor key version of “Jingle Bells,” with Jon holding his left hand on the strings of the piano creating an almost plucked sound from the piano as he played it with his right hand. Maybe Jon was inspired by the creepy Santa at the side of the stage? There followed a rolling version of “Caravan,” after which Sebastian left the stage.
Jon played a selection of three of his own songs, “Strange Bath” from the movie Punch-Drunk Love, “Knock Yourself Out” from I Heart Huckabees, and a request, “Here We Go,” also from Punch-Drunk Love. I’ve borrowed part of a line from this song for this blog post title, “The feeling that someone really gets you; it’s something that no one should object to; it could happen today…”. Speaking of Punch-Drunk Love, do you have your ticket for the movie screening in Los Angeles at The Theatre at the Ace Hotel with a live orchestra playing the score on March 5, 2015?
Then David Garza was introduced and Sebastian returned to the stage. David borrowed Jon’s guitar to play through “Blue Christmas,” the second time around doing his best Elvis impersonation while singing the verse (check the link for David’s performance of this song from a few years ago). During the song, Jon was using a guitar pick on the piano strings to create the sound effect of bar chimes. David then led a mash-up of The Police song “Roxanne” with the Christmas song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” — “Rudolph (You Don’t Have to Put on the Red Light).” They were joined on stage as the song began by Sara Watkins who played fiddle and provided background vocals. Her brother, Sean Watkins, then entered the stage and the group performed a cover of Bob Dylan’s “From a Buick 6.” Jon popped off stage briefly to grab a box of percussion instruments and chose to play a tambourine, cow bell, and the edge of the piano with a pair of drumsticks.
There was a request from the audience for another one of Jon’s songs from Meaningless, “Trouble,” for which Jon asked Sara to sing the lead vocal. Another request brought on a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” with Jon singing a verse and then David singing another verse and doing some moves like Jagger as he sang. The group then broke out into a jamming rendition of the bluesy “Keep It Clean,” led by Sean Watkins. After this song, David, Sara, and Sean all left the stage.
Jon took another request from the audience, this time for David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” Bless him for playing this song after my recent love affair with the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. After this song, Sebastian stepped off the stage again. However, after getting a request for Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” Jon called out, “Hey Sebastian, if you’re within earshot, I think you better come back.” Sebastian immediately stepped onto the stage with his bass from just behind the curtain in the wings. At one point Jon also incorporate the well-known introduction of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” into the song. Sebastian left the stage again on the conclusion of this song.
For the final song, Jon was playing another of his impromptu piano pieces (or something I didn’t recognize). I jotted down that he was pounding through a lot of chords and that it was leading somewhere. In my head, I thought, “Moon River,” and then unbelievably, about 20 seconds later he started playing “Moon River!” I love it when my musical planets are aligned with Jon’s, though I completely lost my composure in the moment. Yes, “someone really gets” me, though he doesn’t even know me.
For the encore, he went back to guitar and played just one song “I Was Happy With You.” But the night wasn’t over yet, as there was to be a performance in The Little Room featuring David Garza and Sean Watkins immediately after the show.