Time for the monthly Jon Brion concert report! I certainly was not going to miss this one after last month’s incredible show. Back at Largo at the Coronet on Friday, June 24, 2016, I walked in the theatre to see all of the looping equipment set up. Back-to-back looping concerts, are you freaking kidding me? After having a rough day myself and still reeling from the repercussions of all the unbelievable things going on in our world, I was ready for this sanctuary — to be transported from all that by whatever Jon had in store.
There was no opener that night, but none was needed as the audience was enthusiastic from the start. Largo-owner Flanny came out on stage to introduce Jon, who soon appeared looking slightly rumpled in a dark blazer, blue shirt with tiny white polka-dots, and gray trousers. He addressed the audience, referencing all of the equipment on the stage, “The continued public experiment begins.” He headed straight for his safe place, the piano.
He commenced playing a piano medley that started with and continually returned to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” with short bits of things like the “Cantina” music from Star Wars stuck in there for good measure, also including Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, 2nd Movement. He then looped the piano and started playing on the miniKorg, messing around with tempo and style. He added some synth sounds to the mix and then started playing a jazzy piano style over the top. I felt like sometimes it worked and other moments it just sounded sloppy or maybe I am just not good enough of a musician to follow what he was doing properly. Whatever, it was fascinating. He remained at the piano and played a few measures of something else, commenting, “It’s pseudo-classical night.” Then he decided he wanted to get away from that and so abruptly began his song “Ruin My Day” from his album Meaningless.
Still at the piano he began to play in a style that one might call “tickling the ivories.” I have no idea what it was, but it eventually transitioned into a beautiful rendition of “Stardust.” There was a lot of playing around with the melody while simultaneously stomping the floor. He then broke into something with a quicker tempo at the end that I am also at a loss to name.
He got out his Guyatone guitar and looped some chords on it, then played lead and sang, “Why Do You Do This to Yourself?” He stayed with the Guyatone, but changed to a fuzzier tone, making great use of the tremolo, and playing for a minute or two before launching into “Same Thing,” which he recorded with his band The Grays back in the 1990s for the album Ro Sham Bo. Really appreciated him rocking this song, though he seemed to be having some tuning issues with this guitar.
As Jon began wandering around the stage looking at things, he remarked, “Let’s have another spectacular lull and see if I can get some of this crap working.” It was time to use his music samples and projectors. Jon started off with a reel that informed us about Percy Grainger and continued with a recording of him playing Irish Folk tune, “McGuire’s Kick,” which Jon put on a loop. The piano was switched to tack and Jon began performing and singing, “Stop the World.” Nice lyrics: “There are times when I’m doing well, then a voice deep inside will start, can anyone stop the world from beating up my heart?” I’ve used “Stop the World” as the post title, but it is really the whole phrase that I like.
Next it was time for a singalong as Jon turned to the audience and asked for requests. Remarking that there were a lot of high quality requests, he then began to play Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” on piano. Was that a high quality request or was he in jest? He kept it totally ’80s by playing a verse and chorus of Cyndi’s song “All Through the Night.” The audience wasn’t on top of the lyrics for this one and so he aborted the attempt, switching to trustworthy singalong favorite, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.”
Then he played what I will call transitional songs: first something on the piano and miniKorg, which I didn’t recognize. Then “Strange Bath” from I Heart Huckabees, which I find he often plays when he wants to change directions of the mood or style of music being played. He headed to the drums and looped them, then added in the piano, got a guitar and played a bass line and plays and sings a song possibly called, “Get Over Yourself.” Except he isn’t happy with the guitar tuning so he kicks off the bass line, but decides not to continue without it, saying he is “not going to take a bass-less out-of-tune guitar version.” He re-records the bass line and finishes the song. When he is done playing he hands that guitar straight off the stage to Bob Bruno.
With the remark, “Oh trustworthy 19th century technology!” Jon returns to the beloved piano and plays a furious flurry of notes and then his classic song, “Trouble” from Meaningless. This was the song that got me interested in seeing Jon, so I’m always grateful to hear it. Meanwhile, the front row was being continually blinded by the interrogation lamp set up next to the piano. Can someone do something about this lamp? The bulb hangs out of the shade and if it is just slightly tilted toward the audience it is burning our retinas away!
Slightly amused that Jon followed up a song with the lyrics, “There’s a conversation we’re about to have, and it’s full of twists and turns, half truths and vague concerns, from one who never learns to one who never learns, and I never learn,” with a song called “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime.” Jon provided the music for the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack, on which this song appears, though it is sung by Beck; the original is by the Korgis. This was another piece that he spent some time looping live, first on drums, adding in some prerecorded orchestra music on the left screen, playing piano, adding synthesizer, adding a sample of a guitar solo onto the right screen, and playing the miniKorg too. Jon masterfully made all these bits of music work together as he sung this song and stretched out the guitar sample at the end. This was another one of those moments of witnessing a genius at work — just watching in amazement at what he was doing. During this song, the vibration of the low notes on the miniKorg were cutting right through my body. Intense.
Jon spoke to the audience again, remarking, “Thank you for permitting me the freedom to publicly go through some half working gear.” Then he asked for requests for something that was either fun or interesting and worthwhile to experience. There were a lot of different requests, but the one for The Beatles sparked his imagination as he headed to the drums to loop them, added the bass, added the guitar, sang a few lyrics, and then ended up on the piano for “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey” from the White Album. Another epic looping moment! Also, one of those times when I really wanted to get up and dance, but that is not the done thing at Largo. Upon finishing, Jon called for another Guinness (his third) and delivered the best quote of the night, “The beer is the one thing that’s absolutely working tonight!”
Well, how to follow that up? With The Boss, clearly! Jon performed an acoustic guitar singalong of “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. Then he picked up a 12-string guitar to play a straightforward rendition of “Pay No Mind (Snoozer)” by Beck. This was followed by more requests shouted from the audience and a complete 180° turn in the music. Jon, noting that people were feeling Swedish based on requests coming in, began looping up the drums, synth, miniKorg, and piano to perform Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” with the audience enthusiastically joining in the vocals. He wondered how to wrap things up and finished with a gorgeous piano-only rendition of “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner, but played in the style of Fats Waller. Good call to whoever shouted out that request.
The audience loudly encouraged Jon to come out for an encore and he once again was open to requests. He performed a mellow “Famous Blue Raincoat” by Leonard Cohen on piano and miniKorg. So once again, Jon has provided an excellent night out of entertainment, despite some technical glitches, taking the audience on a roller coaster ride of popular music. I don’t know how he is going to top these last two shows come July (the gauntlet has been thrown).