Once again to Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles for a Jon Brion show on December 23, 2016 — the real “Last Show Before We Go” on the main stage before Largo closed during the holiday period. There was quite a lot of heavy rain that day in L.A. and I don’t think the audience turnout was what it should have been for this show. There was practically a river flowing down the sides of La Cienega. Upon entering the theatre, I was pleased to see some equipment set up on stage, including two movie screens, sampler, miniKorg, and a small selection of guitars.
A Very Special Guest was advertised for this show and that turned out to be Bobb Bruno of Best Coast. He was dressed in his creepy/sad rabbit costume that he has worn at previous Largo performances and played just two selections for the crowd through drumming and sampling. The first was something ambient and mellow. The second was a selection of Christmas-themed samples, which was as close as it got to an acknowledgement of that upcoming holiday all night. That piece started with sleigh bells and turned into “Wonderful Christmastime,” followed by parts of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” He headed off stage pretty quickly afterward with just a quick wave, as if there merely to fill an obligation.
Owner Mark Flanagan came on stage to introduce Jon and said, “Because of your new president, we’re going to fight like fuck. A few of you are thinking, ‘What is this Irish guy talking about?’ … Irish guys get shit done!” I’d like to reiterate how much I admire Flanny.
Jon seemed to be in good spirits as he took to the stage, though immediately referring to Flanny’s comments with, “What he said,” as well as referencing certain swing states as the “New Floridas in the north.” He started right into the set at the piano as per usual. The rest of the night felt like a “greatest hits of Jon Brion shows of 2016,” with Jon largely playing songs we’ve heard at shows throughout the year, but always in a thoughtful and captivating way. The set was as follows:
- Piano song, more of a song than the usual modulating warm-up kind of thing he does, but I didn’t recognize it. A little more upbeat than usual and with Jon stomping the beat throughout.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind “Theme”
- He played an unrecorded original song, possibly titled “You’re Someone Else’s Problem Now.” He started this number by off by playing quite loudly on the piano, though eventually settling into this brooding, mid-tempo number. “You’ve gotta know I’ve taken hits protecting you…it’s a big amount of work and my time is better spent on myself.”
- “Over Our Heads” from I Heart Huckabees. He started this one off fiddling with the MiniKorg, then added piano and vocal effects through the MiniKorg microphone. This was pretty cool, giving the song an even more ominous weight to it. This performance was one of my favorites of the night.
- Jon changed to a small guitar and noted, “All the old guitars are more unhappy than usual.” He continued on with something about the typical excuse would be the weather (torrential rain that night). He states, “I fear they sense incoming totalitarianism.” Loud noise/feedback emanates from the guitar/speaker in response. Jon confirms, “That’s a yes.” He then plays “Hail to the Chief” on guitar (link to random musician playing that song on guitar, in a similar spirit to what Jon did). When finished Jon requested another Guinness and quipped, “I’d like a little personal feedback control.”
- “It Looks Like You” song recorded by Evan Dando with Jon. Jon’s played this one a few times this past year.
- He switched to that weird Yamaha that was once a 12-string but now seems to be 6. He apologized to the audience, “Sorry you had to stand in this weather…hope there is value in whatever is happening tonight.” Then played, “Why Do You Do This to Yourself?” Indeed. It was actually a pretty uncomfortable evening driving in the rain and then walking the streets before the show, dodging massive puddles and splashing from passing cars, certainly had me questioning what I was doing. It all felt like a sort of initiation, into what, I’m not sure, perhaps the Hardcore Largo Attendee Club.
- One of my friends wanted to hear Jon’s song “I Was Happy With You” and so I was happy for her that he played it that night. I think this was the first time I’ve heard it done on piano rather than guitar (or some combo). I love this aspect of his show, where he takes songs you are used to hearing one way and finds something new in it by changing the instrument or the approach.
- Time for Jon to make use of his audio/visual samples. He started by showing an older woman singing opera on one screen which lead into his song “Strings that Tie to You” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He also incorporated an older gentleman fingerpicking guitar on another screen, the MiniKorg, and piano, while he delicately sang the song.
- “Fantastic Voyage” David Bowie cover from his album Lodger. First time I’ve gotten to hear Jon cover this as I missed the January 2016 concert when he last played it. Couldn’t resist borrowing one of Bowie’s lyrics for the title of this post. Amazing how much the lyrics of this song currently ring true.
- Jon then spent some time extracting requests from the audience, eventually holding out on them over “Moonage Daydream” or “Purple Rain” and trying to get the audience to cheer for their favorite, which seemed to be slightly more in favor of “Purple Rain.” Then remarking that this was the “Electoral College of requests,” he played Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” Once again using the A/V samples, he put up video of a guy drumming on a snare and shouting “and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4,” with a guitar player superimposed on it, with an orchestra playing on other screen, Jon played the piano and sang, with reverb on vocals (he messed up the second verse lyrics, again), finished the song with the MiniKorg, and plowed straight into the other option.
- “Purple Rain” – Jon doesn’t know all the lyrics of this trademark Prince song (me neither), but a guy in the audience sitting behind me provided most of them. For as many people as seemed to want this song, not many people knew the lyrics of the verses.
- “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” cover of the song originally by The Korgis. In a re-creation of this song that Jon performed earlier in the year, we get Jon once again on MiniKorg and piano, the orchestra on screen, Clapton on guitar on screen, and two ladies on a porch swing singing, “Four Marys.” Once again the master artfully blends all of these pieces together to create an incredible atmosphere around this already dense piece.
- “Same Mistakes” from his album Meaningless, played on tack piano.
- “I Have a Little Dreidel” on piano, a brief teaser of this one that Jon referred to as the “ignition remix.”
- Drummer guy is put on screen again and the tempo is sped up for “Misty Mountain Hop” as Jon covers Led Zeppelin on piano.
- Jon brings out the orange Gretsch guitar. I feel like Jon knows that some of us really love that one and it felt like he was approaching it as a gift to us. He said, “Now we’ll go nice and concise.” He played one of his classic covers, The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.” Check out this performance earlier in 2016 where Jon played this song on vibraphone in New York (poor video quality but the sound is okay). Still waiting to see him on vibes at Largo. This is an example of what I’m talking about when I write about him changing up songs.
- He stayed on the Gretsch for a cover of the apropos “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which included the audience singing along. Nice fuzzy ending on the Gretsch.
- Back to screens and piano, a percussion group is featured on one screen, Percy Granger playing “McGuire’s Kick” on another, and also a guy singing in another language (maybe French) goes over the top of the group . Jon duct taped the piano strings and played on those muted keys and on the MiniKorg for another one of his regular covers, Roxy Music’s “More Than This.” He closed out the main portion of the show with this song.
- For the encore, we heard an unrecorded Jon Brion original that has been getting played over the last few shows, “Please Stay Away From Me.”
- To finish, Jon played a favorite Fats Waller classic, “Alligator Crawl.” I’d been feeling nostalgic over the previous week, playing lots of old Christmas carols and listening to a lot of classic jazz standards on CD, including this very tune. Jon finished right on midnight.