Tired of Facing All of This

Due to Thanksgiving, Jon Brion’s monthly Largo show fell earlier in the month than usual, taking place on November 18, 2016.  It was just over a week after the US election that had many heads still spinning here on the left coast. Largo-owner Mark Flanagan introduced Jon by saying, “2017 is gonna be great.”  I wondered what on earth he could be talking about until he carried on a moment later, “We’re going to have benefits for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and celebrate Leonard Cohen.” As if I didn’t already have so much respect for that man just for creating Largo, I heartily applaud his grassroots efforts to effect change through the resources he has.

Jon came out on stage and said, “We all made it out, so that’s good,” giving everyone a big hint as to where his thoughts resided. He went straight to the piano and the night commenced as follows.

  1. Jon started with the usual instrumental on the Largo piano. Nice flow, mostly slow.
  2. He then switched the piano to tack and built heavy-handed staccato chords into “Knock Yourself Out” from I Heart Huckabees. He played the piano with a lot of force and punctuation.
  3. When he finished, he began his first long monologue of the night – he talked a lot at this show, maybe the most I have heard from him in one main stage show since I started attending regularly a couple years ago. I was only able to note a few things down each time he got talkative. Jon said, “If you see me stretching like a baseball player…” and explained that he had had a bout of tendinitis ten years ago which flared up again this week. Earlier in the day he had an injection to calm it down. Clearly disturbed by the national election results and national news, he also expressed that he was having, “Words and thoughts and tensions and worries for my fellow man.” I have to say, I am right there with him and this night of music would set off some of my own contemplative thoughts and sorrowful emotions. He then said, “Let’s take as many requests as we can.” Of course people shouted out for Leonard Cohen/Cohen’s songs, as it was also just over a week since Cohen died. Jon went into some comments about Cohen then. “What’s glorious about Leonard was his uniqueness in a world that celebrates it” (he then immediate implied that  most people don’t actually celebrate that.) “His commitment to what he thought was good was astonishing.” As to whether or not Jon was going to play any of Cohen’s songs tonight, he wasn’t, stating, “I’d prefer he was walking around in the world.” Then Jon started heading into political territory saying something to the point of, no matter what side you were in support of, “We’ve been watching a long slow train wreck.” Eventually, he got back to a request and encouraged people to singalong – melody or harmony, “If I play something where you know horn parts – sing it.” He played the suitably appropriate Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” including a swirling ending that turned into the Wicked Witch motif from The Wizard of Oz. Oh let’s please escape from reality.
  4. Jon noted the piano keys sticking down (same as last show). He played Randy Newman’s “Political Science” as a singalong, though fewer people knew the words to this than for the previous song; when finished Jon exclaimed, “God Bless Randy Newman!”
  5. Jon switched over to the Gibson acoustic guitar and started playing a riff – “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, but only got through the first verse and chorus and then abandoned it because people didn’t know the lyrics. He told an anecdote about a friend recording with Kenny Rogers and looking at Hot Tub Kenny Rogers for inspiration between takes.
  6. More requests were shouted at John. He played the Bob Dylan song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”  This was a delicate, well-handled performance of this song. I was sitting in front of Jon again and am still painfully identifying with the lyrics of this when I hear it, and now perhaps on a broader front, quite a lot of Americans may feel that things are over.
  7. Jon brought out the orange Gretsch and said, “If you occasionally hear the sound of a mouse in this guitar…” and then moved the tremolo bar, which was squeaking. He played The Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset” on it anyway, paying particularly attention to the tone, flipping switches and turning pedals on and off throughout. I also loved how he would sneak harmonics into this song in the middle of playing the chords. We all know he is ridiculously talented, but he manages to squeeze out guitar, lead, and rhythm guitar sounds all on one instrument, which still has me in awe, every time. That never gets old. Gosh I love this song, but is another one that I have a hard time hearing, particularly when Jon sings it, as it is so evocative — I become homesick for a place I’ve left.
  8. Still on the Gretsch, Jon launched into a rarely-played song from The Grays “Not Long For This World.” That was incredibly moving, depressing, and heavy, with lyrics such as, “And I’m tired of facing all of this, and I’m tired of waking, I’m tired of faking this, so I resign, I don’t need any more time.” I’ve borrowed a lyric for the title of this post, as thematically this song seems to encompass the whole evening and perhaps, most of the month of November, some might even say most of the year 2016.  I could feel the vibrations from the guitar music in the floor and through my chair and hitting me in the chest. Jon was working it out in the instrumental part of the song. Both here and on the piano, which he played fairly heavy-handed most of the night, I felt like he was trying to take some anger and frustration out of himself through the physical act of playing the music. Perhaps a drum kit would have been more satisfying. This set of three songs in a row, really brought my mood down to a level that I could not recover from for the rest of the night.
  9. He then headed back to the piano and played the “Theme” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When he finished he asked the audience if they wanted to take a break (having remarked on the fact that he was able to drink his Guinness through the evening and we had nothing) and get drinks, etc., and one guy said yes first and a bunch of people said no and then a mix of shouts followed. Jon then joked as he hammered his fist down onto the edge of the piano, “The dissent in this country!” He continued on with no break.
  10. There was a very stompy beginning of “Strange Bath” from I Heart Huckabees and he played the piano rather vigorously through the piece, almost ferociously attacking the keys. At this point, even though requests were being taken, I felt like we were more than ever hearing or watching Jon workout his thoughts and feelings, and yet since he was playing a bunch of comfortable old favorites, he could have been on autopilot. I find he often plays this piece when he is about to try to change the mood of the show and from the following song choices, that seems like a reasonable assumption.
  11. Jon turned on his old school drum machine (not sure exactly what to call it and unfortunately I deleted my stage set up photo that showed it from my camera before saving the photo to my computer). He set it to a dance beat to accompany him under the Roxy Music song, “More Than This,” which he played on piano and sang.
  12. Jon then played a request for the Jackson Five’s “ABC” but no one knew the verse so he abandoned that shortly after the chorus, saying something about not wrecking that song.
  13. He again asked for requests and someone in the audience asked him, “What do you want to do?” and Jon responded, “Curl up in a fetal position,”  and continued on to explain that wouldn’t be a good request for him to do. Instead he once again really sunk his fingers into the keys for his attempt at positive thinking, “This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies. “You don’t have to worry, all your worried days are gone, This Will be Our Year, took a long time to come.” I’d love to be able to believe that. At least I could be glad that he played this song that I like.
  14. Jon then had a request for Harry  Nilsson and played a medley of two of his songs “Good Old Desk” and then straight into “Me and My Arrow.” This brought home to me that I don’t know enough Nilsson songs and I had better remedy that.
  15. Jon pulled out the Gibson guitar again. Not sure why, he quipped, “I’m always in Space Jam mode.” He did some interesting finger picking style which turned into the Cheap Trick Song, “Surrender.”
  16. Then right into Prince’s “1999.” That song just seems so odd to hear 17 years after that year. We are as far on the other side of 1999 as Prince was looking toward it back when he recorded the song in 1982. Furthermore, to look back at where you were in that year and to have knowledge of all the things that have happened since, but  hadn’t happened yet back then, is slightly mind-boggling. This song was certainly a nostalgic and moving moment in the show for me, as 1999 was a fairly optimistic and forward-looking year, especially in comparison to the current one.
  17. Jon headed back to the piano to play what he called his “favorite song” and dedicated it to Michelle and Barack Obama, with apologies to anyone who didn’t like that, but he had to hear Joey(?) Ramone in support of George W. Bush, so (too bad for people who don’t like it). The song was the standard “After You’ve Gone” — check out link to see a version where Jon plays guitar while Fiona Apple sings about a decade ago. He played this one so solidly, loudly, and with stomping as if trying to exorcise all of the bad vibes or in order to be heard in D.C., I can’t decide which. He played it through one full time as an instrumental and then repeated and sang the lyrics.
  18. Encore. Jon commented, “That was my version of speed freakathon’s 3rd day. That was my version of show band.” I’m not sure why I wrote that down or what he meant, but I think it was after he teased “Superfreak.” Jon also starting talking politics again, a lot of which I didn’t take notes on, but one poignant comment was, “Let’s watch how our journalists and comedians are treated, if that gets questionable, our fears have reason.” (Just a couple days later, the Pence/Hamilton/Trump tweet happened — so let’s watch how are actors and musicians are treated too.)  After a slew of requests, Jon decided on playing David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.” You can’t go wrong with Bowie. Jon requested to the soundboard, “You can lay the reverb on pretty thick on the piano and vocal.” They complied. He used his drum machine again (forgive me if that isn’t what it is called) and didn’t even have to change the setting — he remarked how it was the same beat as “More Than This.” The audience sang along.
  19. To close, he played a medley of The Smiths songs “This Charming Man” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” I can’t think of a more appropriate ending.

I normally feel better after Jon’s shows. I felt worse after this one, probably from some combination of my empathy for him and his hand troubles (I’ve had something similiar — tenosynovitis in both my wrists in the past), as well as feeling a general downheartedness at the turmoil our country is in and seeing how that was affecting Jon. Toward the end of the show Jon also said something along these lines, for someone such as he who loves music so much, that it was difficult to be able enjoy and find solace in it. I sincerely hope that by having to play for the Largo audience that he found some pleasure in it and was able to offload some of the concerns that were weighing him down.  The good news is that Flanny is true to his word and fundraisers for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are already scheduled for the first weekend of December.

#tbt #JonBrion 11/18/16

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But How Lucky Am I?

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Disco Ball at the Echo

I wasn’t supposed to be going anywhere on the night of Wednesday, November 2, 2016, but I found myself blessed with a spare ticket to go to The Echo to see to up-and-coming L.A.-based band Starcrawler and dynamic Long Island, New York  band The Lemon Twigs, play a sold out show. I only heard about both of these bands about a month before this concert. A friend saw The Lemon Twigs perform at Amoeba (check out four songs showcased in one video at the link) in October and after seeing some video clips, I decided I wanted to go to the show at The Echo, but it was already sold out.  Luckily, on the afternoon of the show that same friend had another friend who turned out to have an extra ticket, and after miraculously arranging a last-minute babysitter, I was in!  I had bought The Lemon Twigs’ new album Do Hollywood a few days earlier and had played it a couple times before the show and was super excited to hear the band play live.

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Opener Starcrawler: Henri Cash on Guitar and Arrow de Wilde on Vocals

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Arrow de Wilde

Opening for The Lemon Twigs was local band, Starcrawler. Though still a teenager, Starcrawler’s lead singer, Arrow de Wilde, has a dramatic stage presence that’s a mixture of punk confidence, feigned paranoia, cut-loose rocking, and a hard-as-nails attitude, embellished with erotic overtones. She’s also the daughter of photographer Autumn de Wilde, who was on hand shooting the show (not daunting at all to be taking pictures with a little digital camera while a pro is at work nearby). Their music is fast and frenzied and the songs are short and to the point –half the show is Arrow’s personality and performance. On guitar, Henri Cash, blazed away, adding limitless energy and searing momentum to the band’s onstage performance. Austin Smith powered through the songs on drums and Timothy Franco was on bass. I didn’t keep track of their set list, not being familiar with any of their music, but I did grab a quick photo of the handwritten list while it was on stage. I’m not sure if they played all of these songs, as the set seemed shorter, but maybe they played a few back-to-back and I didn’t catch it. Here is a video clip of the last two songs they played from that show.

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Starcrawler’s Set List

The Lemon Twigs are fronted by brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario, who are both multi-instrumentalists, songwriters, and singers. In fact, on their new album Do Hollywood, the pair play nearly all the instruments and contribute most of the vocals, with producer Jonathan Rado adding some parts, Sam France contributing background vocals on a few songs, and touring band member Danny Ayala adding vocals on one track. Danny was on stage with the brothers at The Echo, ripping it up on the keyboards and providing well-matched backing vocals. Megan Zeankowski was cool as a cucumber on bass, à la John Deacon of Queen, solidly and efficiently laying down the low end with her no-nonsense approach, while the brothers  would hop, high-kick, and romp around the stage when singing lead.

The concert began with Brian on lead vocals and guitar, while Michael was on percussion and backing vocals, as the group played through original songs from their new album Do Hollywood.  They started the show with the first song on the album, “I Wanna Prove to You,” an endearing salute to unrequited love, which is crafted like a 1960s teen idol megahit. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a cover of a 60s tune that you somehow missed hearing earlier in your life. While having its own distinct sound, the tune is indicative to what follows on the album. Here there are odes to past musical styles encompassing the 60s and 70s, glam rock and power pop, and all your favorite iconic bands synthesized and transformed into something wonderfully delectable and irresistible. Listening to The Lemon Twigs feels like you are somehow listening to both the past and the future simultaneously.

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Brian D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs Sings “Haroomata”

The song “Haroomata” (link to video from this show), begins with gorgeous, drawn-out harmonies over pretty, melancholic piano, but is driven into an explosive tempest of drumming, chords, and vocals on the brink of shouting.  The Lemon Twigs explore this interplay of slow and fast tempo and the juxtaposition of soft and loud music through a few of the songs on their album, creating a truly compelling listening experience. This is one of those tunes that feels a bit like riding a roller coaster– sometimes you’re slowing chugging uphill, sometimes you’re whizzing down it, and others you’re in the loop-the-loop unsure of when you’ll be right-side up again. The Lemon Twigs won’t leave you upside down for too long — they spin through chaos for just the right amount of time before finding resolution.

The Lemon Twigs are planning on releasing a 6-song EP early next year that includes a few of the new songs they played at The Echo. The first of these new songs performed that night was “Why Didn’t You Say That,”  which Brian referred to as a “a slightly more dance-y one” (than “Haroomata”). While Brian is the more subtle performer of the two brothers, he has a sincere vocal delivery that is equally adorable and charming and complements his captivating stage presence.

Now on to the trifecta of Brian’s songs. “Frank” is a masterpiece. It may not feel as immediately accessible as some of the other album tracks that give the listener instant pop gratification, but it is one of those pieces whose beauty is revealed over multiple plays. On the album, it opens with a long instrumental section comprising drums, bass and keyboards, which blooms into an even fuller sound, before cutting back down at the entrance of Brian’s delicately sung verse.  Once again we feel the ebb and flow of the music in waves of musical texture — swirling, clamoring, grooving, and expanding, then pulling inward and quietening, yet never losing complexity. Some of the peaks and valleys of this one are lost in the live performance, where they are lacking the added instrumentation, yet the core of the song is maintained and is nonetheless moving.

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Brian D’Addario on Guitar and Megan Zeankowski on Bass for The Lemon Twigs

Brian introduced this song by saying, “The next one is a more fun one.” Indeed, “These Words” is easily a favorite on the album, combining some honest lyrics with an excellent arrangement of music. “These words, these words serve only to fill up a hole.” These very words I am writing are filling my own hole, which grows in my memory as I move further away from an event, and so I write these words in an attempt at making something ephemeral eternal. The instrumental break in this tune is one of the highlights on the album and it sounds equally great live, maybe better in my opinion, because the electric guitar part shines so brightly. And has an ascending scale every been used so excellently in a song before as in the middle of the last chorus of this one? I also really enjoyed watching Michael’s drumming on this song (and others). I don’t really have enough knowledge of drumming to speak of it in a meaningful manner, so I won’t, except to say that the changing of tempo and the particular attention to the tone coming off the drum kit really completes this song for me.

Brian took over the keyboard and sang “How Lucky Am I?” while Michael and Danny headed to the main microphone to sing the backing vocals. I’ve borrowed the line from this song as the title for this post, because it is how I felt about being able to attend the concert. This is a beautiful song; both live and on the album the melody is supported solely by the piano accompaniment and harmonies. Stylistically, Brian’s melodies, depth of  lyrics, and musical complexities are highly appealing. I’m truly looking forward to hearing more of his songs.

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Danny Ayala of The Lemon Twigs

At this point in the concert, Brian took up residence behind the drums and Michael strapped on the guitar, ready to take over the lead. They played another new tune, “Night Song” that will be on next year’s EP, including Danny playing some stretches of calliope-sounding keyboard passages worthy of Ray Manzarek. Danny is clearly a pretty skilled musician and I wonder how his role in the band will progress with time, regarding playing on the EP and on future albums.

Michael is very different in character as a front man than Brian. Michael punctuates songs with high kicks and split leaps, he pushes the vocals hard, and feels no compulsion to hang with the melody at all costs. There are only a few people that I’ve seen play live that I feel are made of music, where the music so fully inhabits their bodies that the instrument is just like another appendage and their whole beings seem to get lost into a song. Chris Thile is a good example of one of those people. Multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion often appears to be a person possessed by music too. I think Michael D’Addario looks like another one. I’m not saying he has the same genius as these two men, for that, time will tell. The fact that he is 17 years old and is already so musically accomplished just fills me with so much hope for the future. He may not have the cleverest lyrics yet, but life experiences and a little more maturity will lead him there. Then, I think we are all going to see something truly amazing. He radiates raw potential and that is one of the exciting things about this band.

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Michael D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs, Mid-Kick

The next song performed at the concert was “Baby, Baby,” a tune with a very catchy refrain and what I refer to as a Beatles ending — you think the song is over and then there is a completely different extra section tacked on — “waiting on you, waiting on you.”  Then it was time for another new one that is expected to be on the EP, a rocker called “So Fine.” Very curious as to how the musical accompaniment will be arranged on that one in the recorded version.

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Michael D’Addario on Guitar and Megan Zeankowski on Bass for The Lemon Twigs

Then Michael went on to sing their single “As Long As We’re Together” (link to official video, which was notably directed by Autumn de Wilde). This is the hit. This song should surely find a broad audience to appreciate it; it has a lot of singalong appeal. When Michael performed this one live, he really got into the feeling of this song, though it seems that he needs to be wary that his vocals don’t get too ragged when he is going all out. Here is an area where he can grow — finding mastery in creating a powerful and emotive vocal performance without trashing (or sounding like he is trashing) the vocal cords. This song is another fine example of playing with spareness and fullness in instrumentation.  Again, I am not a drummer, but Brian’s drumming on this song has so much of a Ringo Starr feel to it, that it immediately felt at home in my heart.

As the concert came to a close, Jonathan Rado was introduced and appeared very briefly on the stage and the audience was told to essentially ignore him while a brief clip was filmed. Not sure what that was all about. The band then performed their final song of their set, another new one for the EP, “The Queen of My School.” This is a another catchy number.

The audience pretty much demanded an encore and I’m not sure if the band had anything planned. Only Brian and Michael were on stage to perform the bonus song, a cover of “There’s a Place” by the Beatles (click on the link for video from the show). That was a pleasant surprise to be able to hear a live version of one of my favorite early Beatles songs.

I don’t feel that I can express enough how exciting it is to listen to this band’s music. It is fresh, yet feels familiar, exciting yet comfortable. I listened to no other music for the first two weeks that I had their album Do Hollywood, such that my kids were starting to sing along to both lyrics and instrumental parts. Here is a band we could all agree that we liked! If this is the first time you are reading about The Lemon Twigs and would like to experience more of what they sound like live, please check out this professional concert footage from the band’s recent performance at Le Bataclan in Paris, France.

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Michael D’Addario and Megan Zeankowski of The Lemon Twigs

Memories Always Start ‘Round Midnight

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Largo Stage Ready for Jon Brion’s October Show

Jon Brion cooked up another show for us at Largo at the Coronet on Friday, October 28, 2016. A very special guest was promised and of course rumors abounded. Turned out to be actor and comedian Adam Sandler, who was on hand to try out a slew of new material. He read off many sheets of paper and had a keyboardist in tow to back him up on some of his comedic songs. Some stuff was hilarious and had me laughing hard, some stuff didn’t hit, some was just too much information and not to my taste. His set was like an encapsulation of his movie career to be honest — a few well-done movies with both touching and hilarious moments and some just playing too hard on the broad comedy to be appealing to me. Adam’s set lasted about an hour and then the audience had a short break before Jon took to the stage. Here’s a photo taken of Adam Sandler that night from Largo’s Instagram account.

Jon entered the stage and headed straight to the piano as usual and played warm ups on the high notes. There was a circular seat in place of the usual piano bench, which looked like a drummer’s chair. He then transitioned to a jazz standard kind of thing that I didn’t recognize. Parts of it sounded like a sped up version of “Everything Happens to Me.” There was a problem on the piano with one of the keys (13th or 14th from the left end – possibly the G as Jon mentions later about daring to play a song in the key of G – as well as one of the keys next to it). Lincoln subtly slipped a Guinness onto the edge of the piano during this song. Jon discovers it at the end of the song and says, “This is certainly for me; this bodes well for two or three songs from now.” The rest of his set was as follows:

  1.  Jon played an unrecorded song with the likely title of “You’re Someone Else’s Problem Now,” of which I was certainly feeling some affinity when listening to it. “Everything I did for you is out of love, take for instance running when you called.”
  2. He switched to his 12-string Yamaha and sang and played “She’s At It Again.” That was hot. I love this song on electric guitar but he keeps demonstrating how good it is on whatever instrument (we heard it on a grand piano in July).
  3. Jon called up to the sound booth, “If you have some old Sun Records-style slap back you can turn it way up – like egregiously.” He then played his song “One More Excuse to Cry.”
  4. Jon pulled out the Gibson and adjusted the tuning pegs. He began by playing heavy on the bass notes and then launched into the song “Same Things” from The Grays.  I I caught some eye contract from Jon during this song and wondered if he was noting me doing the same thing — here we both are again at Largo. Attending these regular performances are starting to feel like the movie Groundhog Day, but with the time loop on a monthly scale rather than a daily scale. I’m beginning to wonder which of my life priorities I need to examine. I guess I’ll keep attending Jon’s shows until I figure it out.
  5. Jon switched back over to the Largo piano and fiddled around with the two sticky keys. He played a Jaws teaser on them. Then he switched to tack and started the bouncy “Knock Yourself Out” from I Heart Huckabees. The line from the song, “It might be a test or it might not be anything you need to worry about,” is constantly challenging my perceptions. Check out this version if you want to see a little more of the magic of Jon Brion.
  6. Perhaps in honor of Adam’s visit, Jon played “Punch-Drunk Melody” from the movie Punch-Drunk Love, which Sandler starred in. Check out this recently released clip about Jon’s inspiration for some of the music behind the movie.
  7. He played that piece straight into his song “Here We Go,” from the same movie.
  8. At this point Jon turned to the audience and asked for a request. A regular Jon Brion show attendee was first off the line with his request and so Jon played, “Love of My Life So Far.” Jon put duct tape on the piano strings to modify the sound for this one.
  9. Jon then headed back over to the guitars and pulled out the orange Gretsch electric guitar. A half-whispered, but still audible “yes” escaped from my mouth, because awesome sounds are usually forthcoming when he plays that guitar. I worried momentarily of having my hopes dashed as he was having some trouble getting the settings to be where he wanted them. He remarked,“We might have lift off.” And then as he fiddled around with pedals and switches, “This is a big professional show.” He played “‘Round Midnight,” including a haunted ending. He pushed everything out of that guitar, finding every workable nuance to that song. There were a few moments of eye contact on this song too, when he wasn’t absolutely absorbed in the music. It felt like he was declaring, “So you want to see what I can do with this guitar? THIS is what I can do!” This song was my highlight of the night, even if the vocals were overwhelmed by the guitar. I was sitting up front and maybe the sound was better balanced further back in the room or maybe my ears were messed up from my head cold. I’ve used a lyric from this song as the post title.
  10. He returned to the piano and asked for more requests. Without indicating which one he had chose, Jon said, “Sing along if you know it” and played Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” Well, I’m pleased anytime I hear him cover Bowie. I couldn’t hear that many people singing, though I was trying to against my sore throat. Jon (and therefore the audience) messed up the verse: “Make me baby, make me know you really care, make me jump into the air,” instead, he sang a line from first verse again.
  11. Jon asked for more requests. That night he seemed intent on the audience singing harmonies. Someone yelled “Let It Be” and Tom Waits is also requested. Jon quipped, “It would be funny to hear people singing harmony on the Tom Waits song.” He teased part of “Let It Be” in his best Tom Waits voice.
  12. Well, he settled on an old stand-by, the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” for the singalong. The audience wasn’t the best I’ve heard, after an initial start that was okay, they were all over place tempo wise and lyrically. I turned to a friend and whispered, “This audience sucks” and she said something like “Don’t be so judgy,” which resulted in my having a nearly uncontrollable case of the giggles for the rest of the song, which I tried desperately to stifle. I blame the cold medications I was on and my lack of sleep the night before — a few hours before the show started I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to attend, so I took maximum doses of all available potential remedies.
  13. After a little bit of mad pianist playing, his next song was another one of his unrecorded originals, “Please Stay Away From Me.”
  14. Jon commented on his, “Public quarrels with the physical abilities of inanimate objects.” He decided to perform some Queen as it was being requested regularly throughout the night. He said, “Let’s give it some proper Live Aid energy.” He played, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” dropping the “Is this the real life” section and beginning at the piano intro to “Mama, just killed a man…”. During the a cappella middle section of the song he walked across the stage to get his Guinness from the little table where he plays guitar, then sat back down to finish out the song where the piano joins back in.
  15. He immediately followed that up with an exuberant version of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” The audience almost redeemed themselves.
  16. For the encore Jon said, “I’d like to bring it down a bit with this next request.” The lights on stage are dimmed in response and Jon plays his song “Trial and Error” on piano.
  17. One final request from the audience, Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town.” While Jon was working on readying the guitar for this one and picking out a rhythm, I got “What’s the matter with the clothes I’m wearing…” in my head based on the rhythm Jon was playing. Then I couldn’t get Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” out of my brain and was singing a counterpoint of that in my head while everyone else was singing “Boys…”.

There were a lot of Jon’s unrecorded songs played that evening. Is this a glimpse at a forthcoming second album? Fans remain ever hopeful. Interesting to note that this was the first show in a while when has not played one single song from his first album Meaningless. One final photo from Largo below — of Jon playing guitar while his Guinness glass distorts the view of his hand.

#lastnight yet another beautiful night with #JonBrion 📷 10/28/16

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Down on Cahuenga

I was at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, CA  on October 27, 2016 to see Jonathan Kingham and Glen Phillips. The show was scheduled for 7pm, but didn’t start on time, giving a chance for the crowd to build and allowing some time for socializing. This was a pretty low-key show put on by two easy-going singer-songwriters for an attentive Thursday night crowd.

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Jonathan Kingham Performs at Hotel Cafe

Jonathan took to the stage and announced, “I’m kind of the appetizer. This song is about food, more about fried chicken, hot chicken.”  I don’t know if those guys didn’t eat before the show or maybe they ate something delicious prior to the show, but the banter touched back to food a few times that night. That first song was called “When Daddy Gets Home.” Jonathan has a smooth, subdued style of singing that he accentuates with no-nonsense rhythmic guitar playing, that make his tunes easy to listen to.

He made a point of promoting Glen’s new album throughout his set and mentioned the many ways you can listen to an album these days, commenting, “Sometimes I stream Glen’s new album on Bluetooth.” Jonathan introduced his song, “I Keep Finding New Ways to Love You” and then dedicated it to Glen’s album, “Because each track is finding new ways to love Glen.” I would certainly agree with that, though perhaps “I Keep Finding New Ways to Respect You” would be more fitting, in this instance. He then played a cover of Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step,” a tune that is a regular feature of his live performances and includes freestyle lyrics during the dance break. Check out the song link for video from this show where Jonathan weaves in some words about audience members, the venue, and again promotes Glen’s album.

Jonathan received a request for his song “She’s So California” and he explained the story behind it — that it originated because he saw a woman who was about 10 years older than him, with big hoop earrings, big hair and so blonde while in Nashville. Clearly she was from out of town. He said to his friend, “We got to write a song about her.” The song is on his album Smooth Out the Lines and this gave him an opportunity to promote his own work, “I have a record in the back in the Muppet booth.” Jonathan finished out his short set by having Glen join him on stage to sing harmony on his song “Grace,” which is also on Smooth Out the Lines.

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Glen Phillips Performs at Hotel Cafe

Glen then took over as lead as he began his set with Jonathan providing additional support on keyboard and backing vocals. Since this tour was about promoting Glen’s new album Swallowed By the New, tracks from the album featured heavily in the set. The album is succinct and has the clearest through line of any of Glen’s work. It is a reflection and an exploration of his thoughts and emotions upon the end of his 20+ year marriage. Each song is perfectly placed on the album in a meaningful order that builds on and evaluates the subject of changing relationships. I went down a similar path to Glen, less than year after him, and have found his songs a source of comfort and guidance, though at times uncomfortable to listen to as the truth was so on the mark. Glen’s set included the songs:

  1. The Next Day” from Mr. Lemons. After this song they took a minute to figure out why the keyboard and guitar were not in tune with one another. Glen told the audience, “Somehow our keyboard got transposed.”
  2. Leaving Oldtown” from Swallowed By the New. I love this one straight-up solo acoustic and while the treatment on the album is beautiful and musically exquisite, it feels like it is trying too hard to pull at the heart strings.
  3. True” from Winter Pays for Summer
  4. California Wasted” from Toad the Wet Sprocket’s album New Constellation. Before beginning the song, Glen and Jonathan were trying to figure out what key the song was meant to be played in. Glen noted in explanation, “This is the first night of the tour.”
  5. Baptistina” from Swallowed By the New. Glen prefaced this song by describing how it was inspired by a podcast (Apocalypse!) which discussed how an asteroid was responsible for killing the dinosaurs paving the way for the rise of mammals — though recent information had come to light that the asteroid responsible was not, in fact, from the Baptistina family of asteroids. Anyway, Glen said, “I was thinking how wonderful catastrophic change can be.” He then went off on brief a tangent about Richard Dawkins.
  6. All I Want” from Toad the Wet Sprocket’s album fear. Prior to starting the song Glen said, “Thank you for joining us on this auspicious occasion.” Jonathan commented on how he felt large behind his small keyboard. He grabbed his guitar to play along on this one. When the song ended, Jonathan left the stage to get a drink and Glen, noting he stopped drinking alcohol a few months ago, became wistful for kombucha. “I would go to bars if they had kombucha.” He also talked a bit about gluten-free diets and said, “The most L.A thing you can ask for is a non-alcoholic gluten-free beer.” Glen plays the next five songs solo.
  7. Gather” from Winter Pays for Summer
  8. Rise Up” from WPA’s album Works Progress Administration, one of Glen’s bests songs, one of my favorites, and so continually relevant.
  9. Better Off Here” from Options, link to video from this show. This is a song he wrote to submit as the theme song for a TV show (it wasn’t chosen), though he can never remember which show.
  10. Gimme Sympathy” Metric cover available on Glen’s album Live at Belly Up
  11. Always Have My Love” from WPA’s album Works Progress Administration. Glen references “endless songs that have this riff,” (the starting riff to “Always Have My Love”) and asks for someone to make a compilation and send it to him. He references that he has also heard it used by Coldplay and Chris Stapleton.
  12.  “Amnesty” from Swallowed By the New, Jonathan returns to the stage to perform this powerful song.
  13.  “Grief and Praise” from Swallowed By the New. Glen references the book Die Wise, by Stephen Jenkinson, as another source of inspiration and jokes that the title sounds like it should be pronounced using a German accent. He noted,  “This is the last song he wrote before finishing the album…I put everything I hadn’t said into this song.” He also gave a shout out to The Sandman comics, noting they changed his life. For me, the lyrics of this tune ease my worries about change.
  14. Criminal Career” from Swallowed By the New. After this song someone in the audience mentioned Bernie, which had Glen off on a political tangent. This is one of those tunes that wasn’t as immediately enveloping as a few of the others, but a slow cooker that becomes more appealing every time I hear it.
  15. Walk On the Ocean” from Toad the Wet Sprocket’s album fear
  16. Go” from Swallowed By the New. Glen introduced this one by commenting, “Lighthouses are one of those few things that say, ‘I love you, please go over there.'” This is the first track on the album and one of the most raw lyrically. I’m not fond of the album’s music arrangement and prefer hearing it stripped down live. The emotion with which Glen sings it live is pretty potent, especially the first few times I heard him sing it last year as the content was clearly so fresh. He appears to be on a happier track personally these days and the frailty which was previously imbued in live vocals has given away to stalwart acceptance in his performance.
  17. Held Up” from Swallowed By the New.  Glen encouraged some clapping and stomping and accented words by the audience. This tune is a departure stylistically from most of the songs Glen has written, but certainly a welcome addition to his repertoire.
  18. Train Wreck” from Abulum. Beginning his encore, Glen wondered out loud what to play and a few people, myself included, shouted he had to play “Train Wreck” because “you’re on Cahuenga” — the venue being located on the street that is name-checked in the song’s lyrics, “She turns tricks down on Cahuenga, and tells herself it’s research for her next greatest role.” I’ve used a snippet of the lyric for the title of this blog, because when am I ever going to have a chance to use that one again?
  19. Retrograde” James Blake cover available on Glen’s album Live at Belly Up.  Check out the link to the simply divine cover Glen made of this one in a gymnasium a couple years ago.

 

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Glen Phillips Performs “Retrograde” at Hotel Cafe

 

 

Life is Change

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Largo Stage Ready for Robyn Hitchcock, Emma Swift, and Guests

On Sunday, October 9, 2016, I was back at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles to see the one and only Robyn Hitchcock, along with some special guest musicians. Opening the night was Robyn’s current partner in crime and lovely Australian import, Emma Swift.

Emma’s set was short and she played a few of the songs she had done when she was at Largo in June (see previous post “There’s No Derailing Destiny“). Her first song was “Seasons.” When she finished she mentioned the presidential debate that we were all missing and stated, “I’m with you!” She pulled out her pretty cover of the Gram Parsons song, “Brass Buttons,” as well as remarking on her attire,  the “flared pantsuit onesie I am wearing — I am Graham Parsons spirit animal.” She further remarked that perhaps it needed more bedazzling.

It was a nice surprise to see musician Jamie Wyatt join Emma on stage to perform a delicate space-themed song she wrote called “From Outer Space.” They had only practiced together backstage at Largo and commented that it was “gonna be loose,” but Emma’s harmonies were spot on and the duo’s voices blended perfectly.  Emma sang her song “Woodland Street” to which Jamie provided a few licks and embellishments on her Fender guitar. They followed it with “Bittersweet” and in case we didn’t get the point from the song, Emma stated afterward, “I sing bleak sounding songs for happy people.”  Emma asked Jamie to stay and play on the next one, though she may have never heard it, and they performed a cover of Rowland S. Howard’s “Shivers.” The simple chord changes on this one make it easy to pick up and so it was a fine cover.

The pair left the stage and Robyn came on, announcing, “It’s an emotional day for many reasons, so I’ll kick off a song.” He played a seemingly suitable, somewhat new song, “I Pray When I’m Drunk,” including lines, “Some things you change, some things you cannot change, all things are strange.” Robyn was in a talkative mood that evening, frequently commenting between songs and sometimes straying off on amusing tangents. Robyn is a big fan of John Lennon and this concert happened to fall on the anniversary of Lennon’s birthday. Immediately after the first song Robyn paid homage to his hero, stating, “In honor of John Lennon’s birthday, we’re keeping slap echo on my vocal for the whole show.” He then launched into his song “When I Was Dead” from his album Respect. Note the Beatles sounding intro on the recorded version!

Prior to his next song, Robyn said, “This song was requested for the show I did last night in Tuscon,” which got a laugh. He asked for “a nice dismal reverb on this one” and commenced playing “A Skull, a Suitcase and a Long Red Bottle of Wine” from I Wanna Go Backwards. Robyn asked for some Lennon slap on the next tune and said that the song was “set during the first slaying in Magnum Force and it’s about my mother.”  The song was one I loved the lyrics of so much the last time I saw Robyn at Largo, “Light Blue Afternoon” from Norwegian-only release Tromsø Kaptein.

Emma joined Robyn on the stage as the slap was taken off and Robyn called for reverb, requesting from the soundboard, “Make us sound like we’re in a cathedral; and can you make this [his guitar] sound like an acoustic guitar with digital delay.”  He played “Glass Hotel” from Eye with Emma singing harmony. Robyn then mentioned how he and Emma went to Canada and met with Norman Blake of Teenage Fan Club to produce new single, “Love Is a Drag,” which they then performed on stage. Robyn then introduced Jon Brion, who took his place at the Korg keyboard. Robyn asked for “Lennon Harrison reverb” and announced they would play the “B side,” the song “Life is Change,” which I think is a perfectly suitable and timely title for this blog post too. Jon scooted over to the Largo piano for the next tune. Robyn talked about how the next song was developed from a Lennonism and when it was questioned that it was really developed because of Morrissey, Robyn backpedaled to say, “They both creatively exploited their own unhappiness.” That song was “Queen Elvis” from Eye.

At this point Emma left the stage leaving Robyn and Jon alone for a couple songs. Before the first one Robyn advised Jon, “This is very predictable.” Jon responded with “Will I need welding googles?” Robyn replied, “Depends how bright my magnesium is.” They then perform “My Favorite Buildings” from I Often Dream of Trains. At the close of this one and after asking for “Lennon slap echo back for this one,” Robyn said of the next tune, “This is about a lost planet. Actually it’s escaping. It’s escaping from classic rock, escaping from Dadchella” (a reference to the Desert Trip festival that was taking place that weekend in Indio, CA). The song being referred to was “Adventure Rocketship” from Ole! Tarantula.

Robyn then introduced Benmont Tench and commented that they were “crossing the border into John Lennon.” At about the same time, a mirror that had been sitting on top of the piano falls down onto the keys as Benmont sits down. Eerie timing.  They play Lennon’s “Isolation.” Then the gentlemen were joined on stage by Paz Lenchantin on violin and backing vocals and they performed Lennon’s “Mind Games.” The next song, Robyn introduced as “By me, triggered by Lennon.” They played his song “Somewhere Apart” from the album Element of Light. They close the main set with a cover of The Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” When Robyn forgot the words for the third verse, I helped him out with the lyrics from the audience.

For the encore, we got to hear Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” with Jon Brion doing his marvelous rendition on the piano. He’s played that one before. Benmont was on the Korg and Robyn on his guitar and lead vocals. This is my favorite Lennon song, so of course I was pleased to hear it live.  All the musicians were on stage for “#9 Dream,” and I saw something I haven’t ever seen before, which was Jon struggling with a song. He and Benmont ended up switching places part way through, so Benmont was on piano, seemlessly providing the backbone of the song,  and Jon adding adornment on the Korg. Following all those Lennon tunes, Robyn introduced the final song by joking, “I do a pretty good Robyn Hitchcock,” and the group concluded the evening with his song “Olé! Tarantula.”

John Lennon also has played an important role in my life, ushered in by discovering the music of The Beatles right around the time I became a teenager. I then spent about two years listening almost exclusively to The Beatles and that experience would forever influence the kind of music I consumed. When I was on my trip to New York in August, I was able to visit the John Lennon Memorial site at Strawberry Fields in Central Park. About a week later, Emma and Robyn did the same thing! Here’s my photo of the Imagine mosaic with tributes from some fans in honor of John.

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