Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me At All

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Stage Set-up for Jon Brion’s Show on September 30, 2016

I closed out September 2016 at one of my favorite places to be, Largo at the Coronet, for Jon Brion‘s monthly foray into playing a show sans set list. Arrived to see a grand piano on stage, as was also the case at the July show, but this time positioned a little closer to the Largo piano. The grand piano featured heavily during the show, in fact he never once played a song on the guitar. There was no opening act for the show; Largo owner Mark Flanagan came on stage to introduce Jon, saying, “Thanks be to Jesus, Trump’s not in the house! Here’s Jon Brion.” Jon walked on and made an immediate remark on making “plans for the next Guinness.” The set progressed as follows.

Jon sat down at the grand piano and started with an ominous, haunted sounding piece, possibly “Showtime” and/or “A Dream Upon Waking” (or some combination) from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – if not those, then it certainly had a similar feel as those two pieces. I’m not familiar enough with all of his soundtrack music to immediately identify every piece. A cricket chimed in very loudly and noticeably as he was completing playing the opening number. Jon remarked that the cricket was, “On a tourist visa to the soundboard.” At the end of the song, Jon stopped to listen for the cricket, but all was quiet. Jon noted, “It would make him a good session musician — no noodling around between takes.”

The microphone that was positioned into the body of the grand piano was dropping down into it and Largo House Manager Michael came on stage to fix it. While this was happening, Jon played something he called “Pseudo Sonata for a Droopy Microphone.” Michael brought sand bags to adjust the balance on the mic and try to pull it up by placing them on the side opposite the mic, but that didn’t really work. Jon said, “Wow, it’s defying the sand bag – well, fuck it, that’s what I say.”

Jon started playing something very delicately which turned into “Same Mistakes” from his solo album Meaningless.  This had an extended instrumental section at the end as he clearly was enjoying playing the grand piano. He followed this up with “Norman’s Walk” from ParaNorman. Jon then began playing some sort of walking jazz number, hanging out on the high keys, until he plugged in a big ascending crescendo into “Walking Through Walls” from Meaningless.  He made excellent use of the piano on this number, expanding instrumental parts and emphasizing dynamics by playing very heavy to start and then pulling it all in close and quiet at the end. It was absolutely breathtaking to watch. I’ve borrowed one of the lines from this song for the title of this post. I’ve always felt like there’s a very powerful, confident, and strong attitude to this song;  it certainly gives me additional momentum and strength when it comes up on the iPod when I’m out running.

Jon then turned to the audience and said, “Let’s take some requests.” I didn’t hear anyone say it, but Jon played David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream;” maybe he was reading my mind again — I love that song.  Jon called up to the sound booth and asked for “some long slow quarter note delay” on the vocals for the song.  He continued his process of digging into the song and squeezing out multiple approaches and tempos in his arrangements, which he would continue throughout the night. The cricket started up again during this one and Jon pulled back and played more softly on the piano and quipped, “It’s important to allow other people time to solo.”

Well, following that thorough rendition, Jon remarked, “I’m going to have to think for a minute.” He decided on playing the “Theme” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He played his song “Row” from the same film, but it was fantastic to hear him play the full version including lyrics, instead of the short instrumental that is on the soundtrack. Some of the lyrics include, “In my bed almost dead and going over what was said… I talk to you, so tightly wound that the world we knew was not around.”

There was a shift after this song in which Jon Brion cranked his performance level up another notch. He started playing a song on the grand piano, but then reached around to start playing the Largo piano (set to tack) with his right hand, while his left was still on the grand piano playing the bass lines. I’m an average sort of piano player and I just can’t even wrap my head the idea of playing a second piano, behind my back. If I tried such a feat you might see smoke coming out of my ears due to my brain overheating from working so hard! I guess that’s what separates the pros from the amateurs. The song he turned out to be creating was Roxy Music’s “More Than This.” He also sang the lyrics and completed the song with both hands on the grand piano. During the song, the cricket started chirping again right after Jon began playing on the Largo piano and Jon smiled as soon as he heard it.

You could tell from the stage set-up that he was planning on having a guest and it was at this point in the show that Jon announced, “Ladies and Gentleman, Mr Sebastian Steinberg is in the house.” Sebastian brought his double bass on stage. Jon always kicks it up a notch when he has someone else he can play off of and this was no exception! The pair begin to play “Take the A Train” and Jon can’t hold back his delight at Sebastian’s performance.  Jon comes so much more alive when there is another talented musician around to perform with him. After the song, Jon said, “Our official cover, bass solo – Sebastian Steinberg. Audience by you.” One of those moments when I was wishing that Largo was not a seated venue so that I could start dancing as my body was overflowing with the rhythm of the music. The duo then launched into classic R&B song “Fever” with Jon drumming on the piano with some sort of makeshift drumstick and playing the bass notes of the piano with the other hand. Sebastian started off plucking his bass but then switched to his bow halfway through, as they perform a highly rhythmic and groovy version of this song.

Then Jon dusted off an old song of his that I don’t think I’ve ever heard before, “Please Stay Away From Me.” Some lyrics include, “Another trying day, if you don’t get your way, …begrudgingly you must admit, cause you’re starting some shit, by throwing a fit…Please Stay Away From Me.” “You never feel quite whole when you don’t have control…I know whose will will be done and that all of God’s creatures are one.” I cannot find an existing recording of this on the Internet, so if anyone knows of one, please comment.

Jon then asked the audience, “What do people want to hear us do together?” They play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and suddenly it gets really percussive from both of them, with more piano drumming and Sebastian thumping on his bass. Jon again does the double piano playing trick which you can see and hear in the brief video clip posted by Largo. Another request is called out and Jon said it was going to be, “Thelonious Monk style – I’ll do a little intro first.” It turns out to be Cyndi Lauper’s  “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” heavy on the jazz improvisation. I’m getting weary of this song being requested as it has been played multiple times in the last year, at least this time it was nearly unrecognizable for the most part as they were mostly improvising, adding bits of the melody and chord structures in here and there. Jon did that droning, humming thing that he sometimes does when he is concentrating on playing (I say droning because it reminds me of that sustained note you hear as the undercurrent from the drone on bagpipes). I am so curious as to why he does that. Is that extreme concentration and he can’t help it? He’s not humming the melody of the song. Is he trying to hold the key of the song? Next up was another request, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” delivered as a beautiful, fairly straightforward rendition without any fireworks. This song has gained some sentimental value for me over the last year, so I it was special to hear him playing it.

Jon then asked Sebastian, “What do you feel like playing?” Sebastian responded, “Dominoes, at home with my cat.” Anyway, Jon suggested some “wacky thing,” which turned out to be “Caravan.” During the song Sebastian said to the audience as the pair were driving dissonance into the heart of the piece, “Is it making you uncomfortable? It ought to be.”  Jon then put the tambourine in the piano on top of the strings and played Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” with the audience singing along. So many songs to choose from, why does he keep playing this one? Though he skipped it last month, he played it at both the June and July shows. I know everyone can sing it, but surely there are other songs everyone can sing?  Then, as he finished that one, he transitioned straight into Harry Nilsson’s “One.”  Is this a re-play to make up for last month’s lack of voice when he tried it out then? It sounded good on the grand piano. He included a “Pink Panther Theme” tease at the end of the song.

Jon called out for “some super heavy slapback on the vocal mics, dryer and louder, zero feedback and longer delay, louder return.” Then he taped over the strings inside the piano with duct tape and played “Blue Moon.” At some point he calls up to the booth, “You got all tasteful – don’t.” I was involved in a musical revue of Rogers and Hart in high school, so I know this tune pretty well.  Jon skipped the bridge of the song and someone (not me, though I noticed it right away) shouted out about Jon missing the bridge of the song and Jon responded, “Elvis skipped the bridge.” Therefore, the link is to the Elvis cover of the song. Then, he performed one of my favorite songs on the piano by The Beatles, “Sexy Sadie.” Ok, that made up for GJWHF and “Tainted Love;” I was very happy with that selection! That link is for just 30 seconds of the song because the YouTube minders do not seem to allow The Beatles songs to be posted or to remain posted on the site. Jon played a request from one of my friends, “I Wanna Be Sedated.” The audience sang along but forgot the line that goes, “Just put me in a wheelchair get me to the show; hurry hurry hurry before I go loco.”  As the song came its conclusion, Jon played a teaser of “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

Jon says, “I’ll do a few of mine while we close out.” He’s true to his word, playing three of his songs: “Hook Line and Sinker” from Meaningless, “Over Our Heads” from the I Heart Huckabees soundtrack, and his unrecorded song “That’s What People Do.” He leaves the stage and doesn’t return for an encore, finishing the show right at midnight, which he has been doing regularly for the last several shows. Though the renditions of many of the songs he performed that evening were truly satisfying, ending without an encore after such stunning performances felt odd. Alas, true to Jon Brion to leave us wanting more.

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All This Love is Still Here

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Glen Phillips at Levitt Pavilion

Glen Phillips officially released his new album Swallowed By the New last week and is currently touring around the country in support of the album. I was able to catch him playing a free concert at the Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena, California on September 17, 2016.  He played a selection of songs from the new album, mixed in with work from his solo career, and some of the popular tunes from his band Toad the Wet Sprocket. Glen was supported at the concert by Michael Eisenstein on guitar, Abe Rounds on drums, Khäsy Modisette on background vocals, and the album’s producer, Paul Bryan, on bass.  The set list was:

1. “The Next Day” from Mr. Lemons
2. “California Wasted” from New Constellation by Toad the Wet Sprocket
3. “Leaving Oldtown” from Swallowed By the New
4. “True” from Winter Pays for Summer, Before starting the next song, one of his big hits in the 1990s with Toad, Glen remarked,  “This is from my previous incarnation and current incarnation…I’m full of Saturday night energy…it might get electric.”
5. “All I Want” from fear
6. “Baptistina” from Swallowed By the New, video from the show. Glen explained briefly in the intro about the Baptistina asteroid that crashed to earth and killed off most of the dinosaurs. Except NASA has claimed it was not a Baptistina asteroid that caused the E.L.E. and the origin of that particular asteroid is still a mystery. Perhaps he should write a follow up to his song as They Might Be Giants did with “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?” to correct the science posited in “Why Does the Sun Shine?“.
7. “Gather” from Winter Pays for Summer
8. “The Easy Ones” from Swallowed By the New, video from the show
9. “Amnesty” from Swallowed By the New
10. “Grief and Praise” from Swallowed By the New, video from the show. I caught a Glen’s introduction to the song where he explains the inspiration for it.
11. “Criminal Career” from Swallowed By the New, watch the video at the link for a funny bit before the song where Glen says, “I wanted a dog barking there” in place of that heavy guitar accent in the song and that by not having it like that on the album, “I missed an opportunity for greatness.” Borrowed a line from this song for the title of the post.
12. “Go” from Swallowed By the New, link to video from show. One of the enjoyable things about seeing a live Glen Phillips solo show is that he chats to the audience more than he does during Toad shows and you never know what is going to pop into his head that he is going to say into the microphone. That night it was, “I wanna go play Whac-A-Mole. It’s been a long time. Is there a good Whac-A-Mole parlor near here?”
13. “Walk on the Ocean” from fear
14. “Always Have My Love” from W.P.A. by Works Progress Administration
15. “Held Up” from Swallowed By the New, link to video from show.
16.” Sir Duke” Stevie Wonder cover, video from the show.
17. “Don’t Need Anything” from Winter Pays for Summer

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Glen Phillips at Levitt Pavilion

This Is All Happening Right Now

dsc07857As the full moon rose over the Hollywood Forever Cemetery Masonic Lodge on Friday, September 16, 2016, I eagerly waited in line with a few friends to see Dawes celebrating the album release of We’re All Gonna Die. The show had sold out on the day the tickets went on sale. I thought I was going to miss out on this one, but I managed to score a ticket the week of the show. There were quite a few people attending the show who were on the V.I.P. list and I must admit feeling a little like I was crashing a private party while there.  The concert itself had a strange sort of vibe, with dedicated fans mixed in with the band members’ families, friends, a few celebrities, and hipsters at every turn.

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Dawes Album Release Concert at the Hollywood Forever Masonic Lodge

There wasn’t an opening act for this concert. Dawes took to the stage to play through the new album, not quite in order, with one song from each of their previous albums mixed into the set. Despite being in a small space, it lacked the feeling of intimacy of the Hotel Cafe show I’d seen only a month earlier. While still playing to a high standard, there was little banter from front man Taylor Goldsmith and he seemed to be driving the band to get through the songs in a timely manner, apart from when he was having difficulty figuring out which cords to stick into his rotation of guitars. Drummer Griffin Goldsmith was on point per usual and aggressively attacking the kit, perhaps to put paid to rumors that the drums weren’t live on the new album. Bassist Wylie Gelber looked relaxed, but kept things steady throughout the night. Sometimes the bass seemed loud in the mix, so for me it was a good chance to hear how the bass line underscored the songs.  It was nice to see flashes of energy from keyboardist Lee Pardini, who appeared to be enjoying every moment.  I was a little sad to see Duane Betts gone from the live line up, as I thoroughly enjoyed his performances in past shows, but guitarist Trevor Menear seems to be a better fit for the shift in music style that came with this album.

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Guitarist Trevor Menear Joined Dawes on Stage

Since I’ve had almost a month to listen to We’re All Gonna Die, I’d thought I’d also share some of my thoughts about each new song. There have been varying opinions on the latest album, which is a departure from the guitar driven, Laurel Canyon musicians-style sound the group has been known for. One can speculate on the divergence from this path the band has steadily tread over their first four albums. There’s always going to be some change in style when bringing in a new band member (this is their first album with Lee Pardini). There are seven songs that include writing credits to the album’s producer Blake Mills (who I think is fantastic, by the way). Blake has worked with Alabama Shakes and Dawes just toured with them — a few of the new songs feel like they’ve borrowed from the Shakes’s playbook (or maybe that was Blake’s playbook). Some of the songs have a more mainstream pop rock take than you might expect from Dawes and others play around with timbre and syncopated percussion, but for all the hubbub in the music press and comments on social network sites, honestly, it isn’t that drastic of a changed in style (it’s not thrash metal or gangster rap)!  Set was as follows:

  1. One of Us” I like this song and feel that it was a fitting choice to open the show and the album with. From the first fuzzed up, loud, bouncing notes in the intro to the fuzziness on Taylor’s vocals, this song announces that things are going to be done a bit differently on this album. This music clearly belongs in the Twenty-Teens and not the 1970s. Its careful arrangement holds that feeling of at least coming from the Dawes that released All Your Favorite Bands, even as it pulls away from noodle-y, lengthy guitar solos that are peppered through their previous albums.
  2. We’re All Gonna Die” Taylor addressed the audience prior to beginning this song, “It’s nice to see you all here in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where we release our new record.” Quite an aptly chosen venue given the title of the album. The beginning lyrics of this song might explain the straightforward, well-worn performances that were given that evening. Are the band members perhaps a little travel weary?  Maybe it was the venue? Does it feel more solemn playing a show in a building inside the gates of a cemetery? Consider the first 16 lines of this song that acknowledges the search for the inspiration and enthusiasm of younger days to apply to one’s current state of mind. The songs lament of “we’re all gonna die” hits on the fleetingness of life and suggests that a good deal of the things we worry about really don’t matter in the end. So this band has tweaked their sound — doesn’t matter — we’re all gonna die!
  3. Roll With the Punches” This one feels like a Dawes song, with Taylor’s typical, narrative lyrics and a beginning with a simple musical accompaniment on the verse before launching into a fuller instrumentation during the first chorus. Specifically, it harks back to the third track on their last album, “Don’t Send Me Away.” The lyrics could perhaps describe the next chapter of the story begun in the earlier song.
  4. If I Wanted Someone” from Nothing Is Wrong. Prior to this song, Taylor noted, “Only one short year ago we were in this very room putting out another record.” Was this album pushed forward to follow up on the success of the last record and tour, i.e., strike while the iron is hot?
  5. Picture Of a Man” Mandy Moore joined the band on stage for background vocals,  though I couldn’t really hear her in the mix. Mike G. added additional percussion. This is the one song on the album I haven’t been able to get into at all. It doesn’t do anything for me.
  6. Roll Tide” Griff sings the lead vocal on this one. It is one of my favorites on the album, but I’m a sucker for a good ballad, I dig the bass line, and I like the string arrangement on the album.

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    Wylie Gelber of Dawes on Bass

  7. When My Time Comes” from North Hills, the audience was into the spirit of this song at the concert. Clearly a fan favorite.
  8. Less Than Five Miles Away” The bass was dominant on this song at the live show. Another song that demonstrates the cleverness of Taylor’s lyric writing, encouraging the listener to consider the many different ongoing stories in the lives of thousands of people that are within a short distance of your location. A mellow, rhythmic, and seemingly unstoppable accompaniment, rolls along below the melody lines, as if you are bumping along catching snippets of stories as you drive along the streets of the city. I’ve chosen the line, “This is all happening right now” for the blog title, because this post outlines just one more story that can happen in the city.
  9. Most People” from Stories Don’t End. Taylor followed this song by announcing, “Our record’s for sale, so if you’re liking any of these songs, it came out today.”
  10. For No Good Reason” Check out the link to this song, which is of just Taylor singing it and playing it on guitar. This is one tune for me that is most beautiful when stripped down to its essence. The flow of the lyrics and the story they tell feel overwhelmed by the musical arrangement and faster tempo on the album version, like it is trying too hard to be something that it is not. I think this is a prime example regarding some people’s displeasure with the album. The lyrics name check nearby Culver City, which got a cheer when it was mentioned, though the line there is a downer, “An actor was found dead today in his Culver City home; and with no evidence of foul play, it seemed he’d acted on his own.” After the song finished, Taylor remarked on it, “I appreciate your relationship with where your from…doesn’t matter if someone died!”
  11. Quitter”  I just love this funky song. For me, this piece marks where they have best used the new music style to their advantage. It has one great line in the refrain too, “You’re gonna have to quit everything, until you find one thing you won’t.” I don’t care a jot if this “doesn’t sound like Dawes,” it sounds awesome.
  12. All Your Favorite Bands” from All Your Favorite Bands
  13. When the Tequila Runs Out” This was the song they led with when they announced the album and is considered their single. Taylor’s cautionary comment relating to this tune was, “When the tequila runs out, go to bed or something else — don’t drink a bunch of champagne!” I have to admit to being taken by surprise when I first heard this one, before I had heard any of the other new material, but the tune has grown on me with repeated listening. Probably the most commercial sounding and the least of a stretch lyric-wise, intimating the details of a wild party, it is the kind of tune I can imagine becoming a popular party/celebration/cover band kind of song.
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    Lee Pardini of Dawes

    As If By Design” This is such an unusual song which brings to mind the sound of the carefree island music embodied by Jimmy Buffett having been mashed together with an excellent, but down on his luck piano player, performing in a piano lounge where most of the people aren’t listening. It is such a strange gem of a song and here we get to experience Lee’s playing shine. Just make sure you are one of the people who is paying attention.

Following the concert, many attendees gathered in the large adjoining room (one can hardly call it a lobby) to mingle. Staff was in no hurry to kick out the concert-goers and I am always appreciative of being able to take a few minutes to chat with friends at the venue when the show is over. Eventually all of the band members were out in the crowd to find their own friends and family to greet.

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Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever

This Is Where I Belong

August 29, 2016 was Jon Brion‘s monthly show at Largo at the Coronet. I’m going to keep this write up pretty to the point, since Jon has already had another show since this one!  Also, it was one of the more mellow shows of Jon’s lately as he wasn’t feeling well.  Nick Kroll opened with a hit-and-miss stand-up routine, before Jon appeared on stage wearing the turquoise trousers and a pair of red polka dot socks (Jon always has some colorful, patterned socks on). He stumped me with a lot of the instrumental music he played that night. Here’s as much of a set list as I can put together.

  1. He started off playing something that sounded strangely familiar at times, but I couldn’t place it. He was bouncing around different notes on the bass line, then onto something more solemn, then lighter jazz. Continuing ino a full sound with lots of notes, then quiet. Beautiful use of dynamics and style transitions. A lot of warming up. When he finished he announced, “Tonight’s disclaimer is I can barely speak – getting over a bronchial thing.” He sounded like it too. I had bronchitis last year and it was exhausting and lingered persistently until I hit it with a full load of drugs. I have to give him credit for even performing that night. He then noted, “I’ll be mildly dazed.” Perhaps he was already on the course of medication.
  2. Lots of chords and light singing of “ohs” (clearly a vocal warm up) into “Here We Go” from Punch-Drunk Love.
  3. Flourish up, change to tack piano and into “Meaningless” from his album of the same title.  Does he play this song differently every time? The beginning seemed different.
  4. He plays something short and beautiful and then requests coffee.
  5. He switches to a different tune. I feel like I know it again, but can’t figure it out: Da de dum dum, da de dum dum. I think he said something like, “Coming out of the cave. Checking around.”  He asks how the audience is and gets a lot of cheers back and responds, “I’m happy for you, if you want to stay in that mood I suggest you don’t turn on the news.”
  6. He asks for requests as he sits down with his guitar. He settles on Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” but advises, “We absolutely positively have to do it as a singalong. If you can sing harmony and sing guitar parts you can do the guitarmony.” He’s having trouble getting the guitar to stay in tune.  “I’m going to tune a little more because Tom Scholz would want it that way.” Well, the guy who requested the song sitting not too far from me sang most of the lyrics, but not so much the rest of the audience until the chorus. During the song, Jon was still having difficulty with the guitar and remarked, “Time for a neck reset.”
  7. Lola”  by the Kinks, audience singalong with Jon continuing on the guitar.
  8. This is Where I Belong” by the Kinks and this is the final song on guitar for the night. “I can’t think of a place I’d rather be, the whole wide world doesn’t mean that much to me.” This is how I feel about Largo when I am there and given that Largo is one of my favorite places on the planet, I’ve used the title of this song for the post title.
  9. Back over to the Largo piano for “Moon River.” He played a full instrumental version, then sang the lyrics and then extended it instrumentally at the end. Such delicate singing on the vocals. This is one of my favorite standards and I am so glad whenever Jon plays it.
  10. Switches to tack piano and plays “Knock Yourself Out” from I Heart Huckabees.
  11. Slightly different, longer version of the “Strange Bath” tune from I Heart Huckabees. Seems like he plays this at nearly every show.
  12. Voices” — I was astounded to hear his gorgeous cover of the Cheap Trick song, which is on his album Meaningless. I’ve been wanting him to play this song for a few months now and have shouted it out at previous shows during request time. So pleased to hear it live. This was the highlight of the night for me.
  13.  He played a short song that I had no idea what it was, but has lyrics, “The best believe me – just leave it all to me.”
  14. Singalong of “For No One” by the Beatles.
  15.  “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” was requested and I believe that was what he played here on piano (it was definitely an old standard), but I am not that familiar with the song.   At one point in the song he said, “Ethel Merman got it right.” He was stamping his feet a lot to this one.
  16. Maple Leaf Rag,” but he starts out playing it too fast. He stops and adjusts tempo talking about what Scott Joplin advised in the playing of ragtime and says “It’s about the syncopation.” Plays it straightforward for a minute. Then says, “But fuck it, he’s not here” and kicks up the tempo significantly.
  17. He plays Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” beautifully, then turns it into a rag. Classic Jon Brion moment.
  18. Finds some duct tape to put across the piano strings and plays Harry Nilsson’s “One,” remarking at one point, “The one person filibuster.”
  19. “We’ll do one nice and easy.” “Here’s one of mine I heard (requested) earlier.” Plays “Strings That Tie to You” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. “I hope you forgive my lack of larynx, but I appreciate you’re here.”
  20. He gets a shouted request for “Let’s Get It On” (Marvin Gaye) and puts everything into playing it. It is an unbelievable performance.  He collapses on stage afterward in a slight comedic manner, though plausibly because he has been completely drained of energy.
  21. Jon received a big ovation at the end. I think the whole audience is appreciative of his dedication to the evening even though he was under the weather. Surprisingly, he comes back on stage for an encore, performing “Everything Happens to Me.” Perfect.