On Saturday, March 5, 2016, I attended a screening of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s film Punch-Drunk Love with the score played live on stage by Wild Up, the Wordless Music Orchestra, and composer Jon Brion. The film was shown at the Theatre at Ace Hotel . You can read about the film’s plot at the link above, if you have not seen the movie since it debuted in 2002. You can also see it on Netflix.
The orchestra was already in place on the stage as the audience filtered into the theatre for this sold out performance. The conductor, Ryan McAdams, and Jon Brion walked onto the stage right before the film started. Jon Brion created a robust, yet whimsical score for this film; at times it is light and soaring, at other times disjointed, percussive and brooding, but never dull. The attention to tone, which I find compelling in Jon’s monthly live shows at Largo, provides a cornucopia of ambiance in his film scores. Someone created a playlist of the soundtrack on YouTube, so give it a listen if you are unfamiliar with it. The orchestra played the music beautifully along with the film. Several times I wondered if the music was actually live as the sound seemed so flawless and I felt the need to look down from my seat in the balcony to confirm that the musicians were really playing.
It was fantastic to see Jon Brion playing along with the orchestra throughout the whole film using his setup of multiple keyboards. His talent as a musician was on display, yet in an understated way, as the film drew the focus of the audience. Yet, diverting my eyes from the screen, I could see him expertly switching between keyboards or playing with the right hand on one keyboard and the left hand on another that was at a right angle to the other one (as in the photo below). Joanna Newsom took the stage to sing a faithful and delightful rendition of “He Needs Me” at the corresponding scene in the film.
At the conclusion of the film, Jon sang and played “Here We Go” with the orchestra. This may be the best I’ve ever heard him sing this song and it was gorgeous to hear with full orchestra! I shot video (linked from the title) from the balcony and the sound came through well enough for a digital camera, but the picture is a bit wobbly as I had the camera fully zoomed in. There is not a lot of footage of Jon performing live, as Largo doesn’t allow video taping, so I was thrilled to capture one of my favorite songs of Jon’s on video. I especially love the lyrics for this song and have borrowed one of its lines for the title of this post. The song is well-suited to the story line of the film as the main character, Barry, must overcome his social anxieties to date, Lena, and each must accept the quirks of the other one (as strange as they are). I believe many people can identify with the message of the lyrics.
The performance was well-received by the audience, with the musicians receiving a standing ovation at the conclusion of the evening. A second screening of the film with Jon Brion, live orchestra, and guest singer Norah Jones, will take place at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn, NY on March 19, 2016.