Thursdays, April 21, 2016, Largo at the Coronet hosted a show titled “Sweethearts,” featuring musicians Susanna Hoffs, Jon Brion, Greg Leisz, Paul Bryan, Chris Bruce, Abe Rounds, and Sara Watkins. With all of these talented musicians on the bill it seemed to be the making of an excellent concert. Then, that afternoon news broke of the death of music legend Prince. The Bangles had famously recorded a song written by Prince, “Manic Monday.” How would the news affect this concert and the song choices, if at all? Well, as much as Jon Brion and Greg Leisz tried to blast the show into the stratosphere with their stellar playing, the flow of the show felt disjointed and rough. It was perhaps hampered by the amount of time taken between songs with musicians coming on and off stage, and seeming to take a longer time than usual in changing instruments, tuning, and adjusting settings. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad they take time to tune and I appreciate that shows there can have a looser feel than ones with musicians who play together regularly (and have techs to ease transitions). This show had some nice highlights and started kicking into gear at the end, but it was lacking that overall Largo magic and vibe that elevates the mood beyond all other issues of the day. I guess they can’t all be phenomenal.
Comedian Steve Agee did a short opening set, playing for laughs mostly on the topic of aging, and including being stoned, the wonder medication Preparation H, and how it feels watching his other friends become parents (to a baby named Gary). He had some funny moments, but nothing that had me falling out of my chair with laughter.
The music part of the show had a classic country feel for much of the evening. It kicked off with Paul on an acoustic Gibson, Greg on his usual pedal steel and Jon playing a Fender. Susanna joined them on stage to sing a cover of the Everly Brothers tune “Walk Right Back.” The group was then joined on stage by Chris on bass and Abe on the drum kit, while Susanna grabbed her classic Susanna Hoffs Signature Limited Edition Rickenbacker. They busted out into a solid and fresh version of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” with Greg Leisz on guitar. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen him grab a guitar and then he goes and delivers a delicious solo, much to his credit. This was one of the best songs of the night and it being the second song in, I was hoping the rest of the evening would rock this hard. But then the group rolled into a ballad first recorded by the Everly Brothers, “Love Hurts” and it felt like the energy fizzled out. They returned to Neil Young again for a cover of “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” with Jon taking a cool solo.
The rest of the band left the stage apart from Jon and Greg, who played a couple songs, starting with Jon singing a song that has been recorded by Evan Dando, “Why Do You Do This to Yourself?” in which Greg played a beautiful pedal steal solo. The two then performed a straightforward cover of Bob Dylan’s song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
The other musicians returned to the stage along with Sara Watkins, who sang a short song by Rodney Crowell called “Above and Beyond (The Call of Love)” with Paul Bryan providing some nice complementary vocals. Jon had his big orange Gretsch out, which frankly we don’t see often enough in his solo shows. They reached back for another classic tune, this time covering Buddy Holly’s “I Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” This time Paul was playing bass and Chase had switched to a Fender and was doing some nice supporting work on it. Well, I certainly was feeling the lyrics of this one and appreciated the song choice.
Again the musicians left the stage, this time leaving Sara Watkins alone playing her Gibson guitar dubbed “Pat.” She’s starting to promote a new album that will be released on July 1, called Young in All the Wrong Ways (check out her Pledge Music page at the link). She introduced the next song by talking about waking up on New Year’s Day and driving into the desert when no one else is out on the highways yet. She feels like the desert is a renewing place and thus inspired her song, which has a beautiful line, “All that doesn’t matter dips away and the wonder takes my hand.” The band came back out, minus Susanna, to join Sara on another new song called, “The Truth Won’t Set Us Free.” A couple of the lines that struck me included, “Who’s to say the way that life’s supposed to go,” and “We are bound up in a world that took 20 years of making and the truth won’t set us free.”
Susanna then joined the band again as Sara left the stage and they rocked out on The Bangles song “Hero Takes a Fall.” That was a totally hot version of that song and I thought the group were getting into their stride. They followed it with another tune from The Bangles, the big hit, “Walk Like an Egyptian.” Susanna usually plays this song when she is at Largo, so it wasn’t a surprise. Sara returned to play fiddle on the number. Of course, this song totally rocks, even if it has a kitsch quality to the “dance move” that accompanies it. The outro contains one of the tastiest little guitar licks ever written and the band broke it down in stunning fashion that night.
Susanna announced “one more song” at this point and I was thinking, “Wait, what? We are finally getting going now.” Susanna began singing the line, “I can’t disguise the pounding of my heart…” and with those words she could no longer hold back the pain in her heart as she scrunched her face up tight and the tears started rolling down her cheeks. The group was playing Prince’s song “Take Me With U.” Jon assisted with some of the lyrics during the song as Susanna struggled to get through it and it ended with her back facing the audience, Abe singing the final lines, and the whole audience on their feet before the song was finished. The house lights were brought up promptly and doors opened the moment the song was over as there was clearly to be no encore. In honor of Prince, I used one of his song’s lyrics, on a theme I’ve been trying to give more respect to lately in my life — connection, as this post’s title.