Friday, February 26, 2016 found me back at Largo at the Coronet for Jon Brion’s monthly show. There was no guest to open the show, just Jon coming on stage, sitting down on a chair, and introducing himself saying that if the Irishman was there (referring to Largo-owner Mark Flanagan) he would say something like, “Get your knickers in a twist,” [here’s Jon Brion]. Then, as if he’d accidentally sat in the wrong seat, Jon hopped up and moved over to the piano, where he is clearly most comfortable easing into things.
He started off playing some sweet jazz modulations which turned into some stormy sounding chords. This segued into his song “Strange Bath” from I Heart Huckabees, immediately followed by “You Learn” from the same soundtrack. He finished the medley with the song “Magnolia.”
I was pleased when he began to play “Ruin My Day,” from his album Meaningless, which I was hoping he would play that night. I noted down the line “you regret how we never connected,” because connection between people is something I have been thinking about a lot in my daily life. I was yet unaware of how this theme was about to play out. He continued on the piano with a few tightly placed improvisational chords. Then switched the piano tone, and performed “I Was Happy With You,” ending with an extended piano jam. I’ve borrowed the title of this song for the title of this blog post.
Jon then switched over to playing an old Gibson acoustic with a missing pick guard. In slow ballad fashion he sang the song, “It Looks Like You,” which has been recorded by Evan Dando with Jon singing background vocals. As the song unfolded, I realized Jon’s blue eyes were on me while he was singing, but it seemed to move beyond just looking at me, but that he was singing directly to me. I’ve sat in the front row before and I haven’t ever noticed Jon looking down at the front row that much. Then he put on a capo and started messing around with a few simple chords, but not quite playing and I thought to myself, “Is he about to play ‘Trouble‘?” The answer was yes. This is the song that originally brought me to Jon Brion, so I always love to hear it live. Once again, I felt like Jon was singing directly to me. Not just singing to me, but interacting and responding to my reactions. This was the most intense connection I have ever felt between myself and a performer. This continued for the rest of the evening, whenever he sat down and played guitar. It felt pretty darn special to have Jon choose me as his focus point.
He switched to a black and white electric guitar to play some improvisational stuff. He started with a lot of vibrato and played around with the pedals focusing closely on tone for each passage he was playing. He morphed from a sort of surf guitar sound into the song “Round Midnight,” which was played heavy on the overdrive.
Jon then moved back to the piano and invited requests from the audience. After a cacophony of calls for various songs he grabbed onto Thin Lizzy’s song, “The Boys are Back in Town.” Next up he took the request for “Sesame Street,” by playing that well-known theme song. He followed it with “Linus and Lucy,” the Vince Guaraldi Trio tune made famous in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Then there was a whirlwind version of boogie-style “Sesame Street” mashed up with “Linus and Lucy.” At one point he was playing the rhythmic bass line of “Linus and Lucy” with his left hand with the melody of “Sesame Street” in his right hand. My brain was astounded by the difficulty of him playing these two songs together like this, even though my ears were hearing it happening from the stage. The audience thoroughly enjoyed this nostalgic trip to our collective childhoods.
After more requests from the audience, during which Jon seemed to have difficulty extracting something he wanted to perform, he played what he deemed “Prince and Rachmaninoff” and proclaimed, “This is the Purple Rain Piano Concerto.” Next up Jon played and sang a cover of The Smith’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”
Jon moved back over to the guitar and invited his friend Steven up to play pedal steel. Jon had one of his notebooks out on a stand and remarked to Steven that the song had the chords A, B, E, and F#m in it and “none of my usual diminished bullshit.” He strummed his way into the moving song “Go Ahead and Break My Heart.” This song is yet to be recorded and I am eager to get my hands on that one, it is so gut-wrenchingly sad, with lyrics: “Go ahead and break my heart, don’t care if you do, but could you wait until the night is through.” Once again, I felt that connection as Jon sang directly to me. All the people in the room behind me might have just as well disappeared.
Again a call for requests and Jon sang and played on guitar a light version of “Paper Moon.” Next he played a fragment of a song that began with “Sipping on a coke and rum” and started monologuing about artists taking music from other songs. He demonstrated this by deftly transitioned into a part of “Mr Tambourine Man,” which in turn became a full version of the Beach Boys “Don’t Worry Baby.” This included the crowd attempting to sing along but faltering as people weren’t as familiar with the lyrics after the first verse and chorus. He played one more on guitar, a cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” What a beautiful interpretation he played of this poignant song choice as a relationship unravels, but we are left with a spark of hope with the closing lyrics, “Strike another match, go start anew, and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” I appreciate Jon covering the theme of changing and busted relationships during this set.
He moved to the piano to play “Meaningless,” a song from the album of the same title that had been requested multiple times that evening. He asked for more requests but apparently was not hearing anything that struck his fancy. He announced he was going to take a left turn and then played a lovely rendition of “As Time Goes By.” (And the correct line is “Play it Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’,” not the often mistaken “Play it again, Sam.”) I was hoping a nice selection of jazz standards would follow, but when he finished the song, Jon said good night and left the stage.
After much applause and cheering, he returned to the stage for four more singalong songs that he played on guitar. These included a sweet version of the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” a surprisingly well-sung version (though I will reiterate what I have said before that Largo has one of the best singing audiences of any venue I’ve been in) of del Shannon’s “Runaway,” and a romping version of The Mamas and The Papas classic “California Dreamin’.” How blessed we all are to be in L.A. singing this song in the winter.
He closed the show by playing a soft, counseling version of the song “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” Well, it felt like advice to me (“I’m never going to stop the rain by complaining, because I’m free, nothing’s worrying me”), as once again, he was singing right to me. I learned in my theater training (in what seems a different lifetime) that the audience is as important to the performance of a play as the actors and exist in a reciprocating type of relationship. This holds true in live music too. I felt honored that Jon was singing so much to me, whether it was because I am an animated, appreciative audience member, because I was planted right in front of him or for whatever reason, and I hope that he got as much out of the experience as I did. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to notice you just a little bit above and beyond the rest of the crowd to make you feel special and that was how I felt that night. Music truly connects people. Thank you, Jon Brion!