Our Lives Are Valuable Too

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Stage Set Up For Jon Brion’s December Show

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindTheme
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. It Looks Like You” song recorded by Evan Dando with Jon. Jon’s played this one a few times this past year.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Same Mistakes” from his album Meaningless, played on tack piano.
  15. I Have a Little Dreidel” on piano, a brief teaser of this one that Jon referred to as the “ignition remix.”
  16. Drummer guy is put on screen again and the tempo is sped up for “Misty Mountain Hop” as Jon covers Led Zeppelin on piano.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.”
  21. 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.
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You’ll Be Back

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Largo Stage Set for Paul F. Tompkins Hogs the Covers

I was looking for something to do on a Saturday night (December 3, 2016) and at the same time was hankering for an evening at Largo, when some tickets became available for the previously sold out performance of Paul F. Tompkins Hogs the Covers.  I snapped one up quickly and headed out the door to my favorite venue in L.A. The stage that night was packed with more musicians than I’d ever seen on there at one time, including a horn section.  The Largo stage was spruced up for Christmas and the anticipatory atmosphere was invigorating. Paul had organized an entertaining show with some cool guests and covers of songs that ranged from poignant to amusing, popular tunes and songs from musicals. The band was led by Eban Schletter. The set was performed as follows:

  1. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”  cover of Brinsley Schwarz’s song popularized by Elvis Costello.
  2.  “No Children” Mountain Goats cover. Paul welcomed Aimee Mann to the stage to help him with this duet.
  3.  “Emperor’s New Clothes” Sinead O’Connor cover and then directly into the chorus of “For What It’s Worth,” originally by Buffalo Springfield. Paul had prefaced this by saying it was dedicated to 2016.
  4.  “Unworthy of Your Love” from the musical Assassins. Paul performed this duet with Rachel Bloom.
  5.  “The Rocky Road to Dublin” an Irish folk song. Ted Leo joined Paul for this one.
  6.  “Skyfall” Adele cover
  7.  “That’s Not My Name” The Ting Tings cover. Open Mike Eagle with the assist.
  8.  “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton, sung through a megaphone. I’m using this song title for the post title, because I keep going back to Largo.
  9. Over at the Frankenstein Place” from Rocky Horror Picture Show, with Maria Thayer.
  10.  “Five Years” David Bowie cover
  11.  “After the Gold Rush” Neil Young cover
  12.  “Somebody to Love” Queen cover
  13.  A song from Adding Machine, the Musical
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Largo Stage with Christmas Decorations

You Hear That Sound

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Postmodern Jukebox at the Microsoft Theater

Had to take a break from blogging for a little while, but now that I’ve made it through December 2016 intact, I’m happy to recount a fantastic concert I attended back on November 25, 2016. On the day after Thanksgiving I headed to the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles to experience the juggernaut that is Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox. For the uninitiated, PMJ, as it is abbreviated and affectionately known, consists of a flexible roster of musicians taking modern hits and playing them in various musical styles that were in vogue at some time in the past. Songs are performed by strong vocalists, a few of whom you might recognize from past seasons of the popular show, American Idol. It all began as a fun way for pianist Scott Bradlee to get out some music on YouTube — over time those videos went viral, receiving millions of views, and the group has gone on to tour the world and has released a plethora of albums.

The host for that night’s concert was the enthusiastic Mykal Kilgore, who first appeared on stage as the band rocketed through the opening instrumental version of Europe’s “Final Countdown.” With so many singers rotating on and off the stage and so many different covers, the best way to tackle the show’s details is to just list them out. Please take some time to check out the links to the original PMJ videos and some of the live versions from other concerts.

  1. Bad Romance” Lady Gaga cover, sung by Ariana Savalas while Sarah Reich tap danced
  2. Bad Blood” Taylor Swift cover, Aubrey Logan sang and played trombone
  3.  “Thong Song” Sisqo cover, sung by Blake Lewis. Mykal introduced this one by saying, “What do you get when you mix the swagger of Frank Sinatra with the eternal cool of Justin Timberlake? You get my man, Mr. Blake Lewis.” During the song, Sarah appeared on stage and danced around with giant feather fans. When it was over, Mykal remarked, “That was rated PG-13!”
  4. Juicy” Notorious B.I.G. cover, sung by Maiya Sykes. Prior to the song starting, Mykal told the story that when Maiya was young, she purchased her first hip hop CD and her first jazz CD and thought, “These are both so great, I wish they could be combined.” Supposedly, the result is this number.
  5. Hey Ya!” Outkast cover, sung by Sara Niemietz, with a little help from Mykal Kilgore. She was introduced as, “Sweet as sugar candy, she will rock you like a hurricane.”

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    Sara Niemietz

  6. Bye, Bye, Bye” ‘N Sync cover, sung by Aubrey Logan, Ariana Savalas, and Sara Niemietz

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    Ariana Savalas, Sara Niemietz, and Aubrey Logan Sing “Bye, Bye, Bye”

  7.  “My Heart Will Go On” Celine Dion cover, sung by Mykal Kilgore. Before filling every space in the huge Microsoft Theater with his vocals on this song, Mykal acknowledged the musicians behind him by saying, “If you believe in giving credit where credit is due, clap for the band.”
  8. Ride My Pony” Ginuwine cover, sung by Ariana Savalas, with assistance from audience member, Jim.
  9.  Medley, Sarah Reich was back to tap dance to a medley of songs, such as “Charleston,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “In the Mood,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Sir Duke,” and “Uptown Funk,” with Blake Lewis joining in with some beatboxing.
  10. I Will Survive” Gloria Gaynor cover, sung by Sara Niemietz
  11. Halo” Beyoncé cover, sung by LaVance Colley

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    LaVance Colley

  12.  “All About that Bass” Meghan Trainor cover, sung by Sara Niemietz, Maiya Sykes, and Ariana Savalas. After this song Mykal said, “We are in L.A. and this is a huge show and you guys are pretty freakin’ rad.” He then welcomed Scott Bradlee himself to the stage (Scott does not appear at all the shows on the tour.) Scott takes a moment to recap the PMJ journey over the past year.
  13. Piano Medley, Scott Bradlee. After remarking, “There’s a piano on the stage that looks lonely,” Scott gets the audience to shout out the names of different artists and then plays this piano medley, including Hall & Oates, George Gerschwin, David Bowie, Billy Joel, and Prince. Link to video I shot from that show. Apologies for video quality and the guy in the audience behind me who kept talking.
  14. Chandelier” Sia cover, sung by Puddles. We were treated to back-to-back songs by Puddles “The Sad Clown with the Golden Voice.”dsc08839
  15. Royals” Lorde cover, sung by Puddles, with Sara Niemietz and Ariana Savalas providing backing vocals.
  16.  “Give it Away Now” Red Hot Chili Peppers cover, sung by Aubrey Logan, including one-handed cartwheels!

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    Maiya Sykes Singing “Creep”

  17.  “Creep” Radiohead cover, sung by Maiya Sykes.

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    Cell Phone Flashlights On During Creep

  18. Sorry” Justin Bieber cover, sung by LaVance Colley with Maiya Sykes and Aubrey Logan. Mykal introduced the band: Dave “Sexy Van Gogh” Tedeschi on drums, Adam Kubota on bass, Jesse Elder on piano, Jacob Scesney on saxophone and clarinet, Michael Cottone on trumpet, Lemar Guillary on trombone, Ben “The Sax Guy” Golder-Novick on saxophone and clarinet.

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    The Band: Dave, Ben, Jacob, Michael and Lemar

  19. Roar” Katy Perry cover, sung by Mykal Kilgore. Everyone is out on stage by this point. In appreciation of the many talented musicians performing that night, I’ve borrowed a line from this song for the title of this post.
  20. MmmBop” Hansen cover, led by Sara Niemietz and Kenton Chen
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PMJ Founder Scott Bradlee on Piano with Adam Kubota on Bass