Nothing Ever Lasts

I was so glad to be back at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles on Friday, February 24, 2017 for Jon Brion‘s show after having missed January’s installment. It didn’t seem like there were going to be any guests that night (no note on the email from Largo that there would be special guests), but with Largo, you never know what will happen. As the lights were dimmed over the audience, owner Mark Flanagan came on stage to introduce John Mulaney and Nick Kroll, who came on stage to test out the jokes they would run at the Independent Film Spirit Awards being held the following day. You can watch a clip of their opening monologue from the event online. The best part of their whole shtick though was when they pretended they were introducing various artists during the ceremony and announced Joseph Gordon-Levitt and remarked that he would be bounding up to the stage wearing a fedora. It turned out he was actually at Largo and went running up and onto the stage (though wearing a baseball cap). In closing their set, I was amused by John introducing Jon Brion by saying, “Mercury is always in retrograde for him.”

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Stage Set Up for Jon Brion’s February Show

The stage was set up with a couple of movie screens and projectors, the miniKorg, synthesizer, and a few guitars. Jon took to the stage, set his beer down on the table near where he plays guitar and headed to the piano, played a couple measures and then went back to retrieve his glass and put it on the piano. He noted that he was actually the one wearing the fedora and proceeded to take it off and not wear it at all the rest of the night. He was wearing his turquoise trousers, a denim shirt, and a pin-striped coat. The first eight songs of the set were classic Brion. It was exactly what I’d put on a set list if I was making one for someone who wanted to hear a typical experience of him playing at Largo.

  1. He played his usual piano warm up with some tightly placed chord sequences to get started. Upon completion he said, “Those guys (Kroll and Mulaney) got the jauntiness out of the way, I’ll go right into Dirgeville to start.”
  2. Jon started playing on the MiniKorg with his left hand and the Largo piano with his right hand. It began as nothing immediately definitive, yet it had an instrumental I Heart Huckabees sound for about a minute or two and then he transitioned to the song from the movie soundtrack, “Over Our Heads.”  In these times that find a person world weary, one might find comfort rather than anguish in this passage, “Think your troubles are so serious; well one day you’ll be so long gone; ’cause nothing ever lasts; it all gets torn to shreds; if something’s everlasting; it’s Over Our Heads.” I’ve taken a line from this song to use as the title of this post.
  3. Jon then switched to tack piano and played “Meaningless” from his album of the same name. He choked slightly while singing an early line in the song. Afterward, he commented on that, “Had a little saliva go down the wind pipe at the beginning of that one.”
  4. Jon then moved across the stage and picked up the orange Gretsch guitar. He began to fiddle around with pedals and tones, played some chords descending down the neck, and made maximum use of the tremolo bar and vibrato. This was an impassioned and grungy version of “’Round Midnight.” Halfway through he knocked off the heavy fuzziness and played a more clean, unaffected style. When he finished singing he returned to some intense playing for the solo section, putting every part of the guitar in use, and spending quite a lot of time exploring the song, as we’ve heard in the past. There was effective use of harmonics and picking the strings in non-traditional locations, but bending strings with the right hand  – what?! – amazing ingenuity throughout his performance of this song.
  5.  Jon accepted another Guinness delivered from Pete. He took a request from the back of the room for Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” the first one that was shouted out. Jon played the song as a fingerpicking version on acoustic guitar and as sort of a singalong – the audience mostly singing the chorus and leaving Jon to remember the verses. He sped up the tempo toward the beginning of the song announcing, “Let’s get this groove cooking a little more.” He also changed the key a step higher a couple times during the song.
  6. Back to the piano for Bowie’s “Life on Mars” with full singalong from most of the audience. Simply gorgeous and of course this is such a fantastic song if you are accomplished enough to be able to play it, as Jon incontrovertibly is, it is always going to be a winner.
  7. Again the change to tack piano and Jon put his harmonica holder around his neck for “Knock Yourself Out” from I Heart Huckabees.
  8. Straightforward piano. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindTheme.” I sat back and enjoyed this one, basking at its understated beauty.
  9. Jon started fiddling with the synthesizer and it made some blooping robot/computer noises like you might have heard in a 60s or 70s Sci-Fi movie. Jon commented, “That’s what it sounds like in my head when I’m staring off into space.” Heavily paraphrasing here – he went on to mention something about if you ever see him in Starbucks and he looks like that, then that is what is happening. He then said, “I’m gonna discipline some machines that are disobeying” and started adjusting knobs relating to the video projector/looping thing (is that the technical term…ha!) “Let’s see if we see the smiling, talented face of Jo Jones.” Nope, but we could hear something as Jon noted, “Projector is down.” As the drummer Jo Jones appeared on screen, Jon said, “This man makes me happy.” Jon played a bass line on the MiniKorg and then also began playing piano and stomping his feet. He performed a cover of The Smiths song, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” Adds orchestra on screen superimposed over Jo Jones – it is Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question.” He played part of the song with just MiniKorg, then switched to piano, and then began scratching the video sound, with the synthesizer looped in, extending the ending.
  10. Piano alone and his original song “Please Stay Away From Me.” He sings so high on this one — it’s a soft, tender rendition despite the plea of the song.
  11. After three slow songs in a row, Jon said he’s going to “Wake us up with this guy!” Any guesses? He’s resurrected Mr. “and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4” Drummer Man whom we last saw in December and Jon assigns him to the left screen. An older guy playing Spanish guitar goes up on the right screen. Jon has his left hand on piano and creates synth sounds with the right. Also, an old banjo bluegrass type of band with F.D. Roosevelt sat in the middle goes to the left screen. Jon played on the MiniKorg and sang “Gigantic” by The Pixies. He pulls off a hard stop to this song where he slammed his hands down on the decks running the videos, stopping them instantly. He removes his coat when the song is over.
  12. Next, a return to piano for Fats Waller’s “Alligator Crawl” with lots of stomping and humming from Jon. Beautiful and delightful on piano and a relief to the wall of sound created on the previous song.
  13. Jon them commences some random piano playing that turns into the standard, “Night and Day.” Amazing interpretation of this; a gorgeous rendition. Jon makes full use of the range of notes on the keyboard and feels the intensity with more stomping and seemingly random humming. He would throw in a flurry of notes and then back off and simplify, making a strong use of dynamics. This one song was worth the price of admission and was one of my highlights of the evening. This is a song I know pretty well from listening to it multiple times back when I was younger and didn’t have a lot of music in my collection (the link for the song goes to the version I listened to sung by the amazing Ella Fitzgerald). I absolutely adored what Jon did with his interpretation of the song. Once again I posit, I could listen to him perform stuff like this every single night and not tire of it.
  14. Still at the piano, he played his song, “Here We Go” from Punch-Drunk Love. Another beautiful performance and the vocal was spot on.
  15. Jon asks for another round of requests. Somebody said the national anthem and Jon got that look on his face (the light bulb turns on, eureka!). He started off with “Hail to the Chief” on piano, but in a minor key and adding as much dissonance and cringe-worthiness to it as possible, but some really complex sounding lines. Then he added on “The Star Spangled Banner” and I wrote “grim as hell” in my notes. A few touches of the tune “America” from West Side Story where the lyrics would be “I like to be in America, okay by me in a America, everything free in America, for a small fee in America.” Then he squeezed in some strains of “Over the Rainbow,” then transitioned back to the national anthem, and bounced over to  “Hail to the Chief” and back to “the rockets red glare” part of national anthem, and finished the medley on “Hail to the Chief.” Was that cathartic for him, I wonder?
  16. He then played one verse and chorus of the Cheers theme song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” with the audience singing in full voice. Largo has a bit of a Cheers feeling to it, with many friends and familiar faces appearing at repeated shows and a general camaraderie even among strangers.
  17. A few random bits of songs are played as people make more requests. Jon teased us with just a couple bars of each song: “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Bali Hai” and some others; I couldn’t keep up on the notes.
  18. Then a somewhat regular attendee shouted out “Rite of Spring” as a request and Jon went to the front of the stage pontificating. I think Jon was on his third Guinness by this point. He was ready for the challenge and created a masterpiece before our eyes. I’ve detailed as much as I could about what he is doing, but it in no way can measure up to the aural experience of the thing.  Jon sent up “The Rite of Spring, Part 1″The Adoration of the Earth,” by Stravinsky on the left screen. He sat down at the MiniKorg and piano and used the MiniKorg microphone to warp the sound of his voice. He continued on to compose what felt like was a movie score to our current political climate. He generated some lyrics off the top of his head, such as, “I hate everyone of those gay-baiting, Jew-hating bastards…maybe by spring some of them will go away….Fuck Trump…it’s all I can think about every day.” Crazy synth playing was looped in. He played more of a proper version of “Over the Rainbow” on piano with lots of descending bass notes with the left hand on the beat. For a moment it felt like he was playing against everything that was bothering him, fighting a political battle with music. The duct tape came out and was stuck across some piano strings in the middle. More manic synth was added.  He’s created a plucking sound from the piano which blended well with the orchestra on screen (which was at about the four minute mark in the song). So much tension issued forth from the stage. At one point Jon was holding piano strings down with his left hand to maintain the plucking sound. Then he let the orchestra take over. You can’t help but feel that you are watching a genius at work when he is in this mode — he was immersed in the music and electric in his actions. Next up on the right screen, men singing. The other screen was stuck alternating between bowing on double bass and french horns playing. He created bursts of noise with the video decks, so briefly, almost pulling the music out of  the context of musical notes, so it was more like individual, staccato tones and not cohesive music. Then he continued matching the sound of the orchestra on the MiniKorg, while improvising on piano with his right hand to guys snapping a la the Jets in West Side Story, who were superimposed on the left screen. While his feet were stomping the beat,  Jon  played a purposely skewered version of “Over the Rainbow” on piano with both hands. Next he added a cool visual to the right screen, the “Solar Do-Nothing Machine.” At this point Jon started repeating “Number 9” into the microphone, after which he was scratching and whizzing the video decks around. Then he put a guy playing piano on over the top of the orchestra video on the left screen (the snapping guys were gone by this point). Screen right was changed to a different orchestra. He alternated on a fifth interval on the piano with his left hand as he slowed down both of the replacement videos to match the keys on the videos to the pitches he was playing. Then he played “Over the Rainbow” on piano with the orchestra on and then the piano guy on. Soon he transitioned into a straight jazz piano version of the song and turned everything else off. Then it was back to the original “Rites of Spring” orchestra on screen, with Jon playing thunderous piano on the bass keys along with the orchestra. He stopped the videos. Jon finished with the last line of “Over the Rainbow” on just piano. “If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can’t I.” It was an incredible on-the-fly composition, even if he has played parts of it before. He said “thank you” and headed straight off stage at the end and the house lights came up promptly. I was flooded with the feeling that I had witnessed something astounding and struck by the ephemeral nature of Jon’s performance pieces. Nothing ever lasts, indeed.
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I Carried On Just How I Came

I was extremely excited for weeks prior to the concert date to see The Lemon Twigs play The Constellation Room at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA on February 6, 2017. However, when the day of the show arrived my excitement had plummeted. Feel free to skip down another paragraph if you want to avoid my complaints or read on to see how one’s state of mind can affect the enjoyment of a show.

My son had a school function that evening that I needed to attend, so I was leaving for the show a lot later than I normal would like to for a general admission show. SoCal was experiencing another big rainstorm and I was not thrilled about driving the 30+ miles to the venue in the downpour. Plus, I was developing yet another cold (my fourth of the winter) and was just transitioning from the sore throat stage to the runny nose and sneezing stage. On arriving at the venue I was reminded of something I don’t like about the place, which is the over the top security, including separate entrance lines for men and women, bag search, a metal detector wand scan, and a pat down. I seriously do not like being treated like criminal when I am going out to enjoy an evening of music. Of course, being so late, by the time I was in the room the place was packed (I’ve gone to many shows rather early to wait in line to be at the front, so I can’t really begrudge people their positioning who got there before me). I made my way into the middle of the crowd, but was still behind people who were taller than me. That wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t also been holding their phones over their heads to take photos and videos. The tallest guy just to the front left of me recorded almost the whole show with his phone above his head. Thanks, dude. Between the opener and The Lemon Twigs sets a guy with a big fro of hair decided to stand right in front of me to be next to his friends who had arrived earlier.  So it is pretty amazing that I was able to take any shots of the band (when I take photos I put my camera up to my face so I am not further blocking people behind me). #RantOver

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My View During Much of The Lemon Twigs’ Set

The opener was a band formed in 2014 and hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, Savoy Motel. I’d never heard of this band before so what follows is my initial reaction to them at the concert, with no experience of their recorded music. The band is comprised of four members playing funk-imbued rock, who each add their own skills to the group, yet I didn’t feel the sense of cohesion that is evident with more established bands. Mimi Galbierz on rhythm guitar was front and center and was a personable representative of the band while talking to the audience and introducing songs. On guitar she was the queen of barre chords, though her vocals seemed too soft and under powered for the music that was being played. I am not sure if that was due to her voice or the sound mix or both. When bass player Jeffrey Novak took over lead vocals, his sound was clearer, though still with a mellow style (see their song “Souvenir Shop Rock“).  Drummer Jessica McFarland established a solid, steady beat throughout the night — her style of playing being fairly straightforward rock, with few changes of tempo or fills to embellish the songs and not much tempo variation among the set of songs. As her playing was fairly repetitive, she could have looped a few measures and sat out the rest of the song and it wouldn’t have sounded any different.  Her voice sounded pleasing and unaffected and I wished she would have come to the front of the stage to sing at least one of the numbers. Lead guitarist Dillon Watson certainly knew his way around his instrument and was a fantastic player, providing some blistering solos and long jams to the songs, though at times I felt it was almost too much and he should have held back a little to let the songs breathe more. Their song “Good Enough to Eat” that they played at the show, seems pretty representative of their style. Overall there are many desirable components to this band, but I feel they could make a few minor adjustments, such as tightening up the vocals when they are all singing together, to take their music to the next level. And I might just be being extra picky with my constructive criticism because I was under the weather and feeling like if I was out then I wanted to see something extraordinary; some people around me commented that they thought the opener was really good when their set had finished.

On to The Lemon Twigs and I perked up a little when they came on stage as I was eager to see them, but I was starting to feel quite tired physically. I wrote about this band when I saw them in November (see “But How Lucky Am I?” for full details).  I maintain what I wrote earlier about this band. “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.” I’m still thoroughly enjoying their album Do Hollywood a few months on and I am itching to get some new recorded music into my ears.

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Brian D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs

The constant touring since I last saw The Lemon Twigs has improved the band’s on stage performance and the music seems tighter, especially when Brian is on lead vocals. When Michael steps up to the front of the stage I still get the feeling that anything can happen at any moment. I do so appreciate the richness and many shades of timbre Michael finds in his voice. My wish for him is that he would be careful that his performance tricks do not interfere with his delivery of a clean and in-tune vocal or send him off track on guitar. He feeds off the energy of the crowd and gives back what he is given and sometimes it feels like he is pushing his vocals too hard, and this makes me concerned as I don’t want him to damage his vocal cords (no nodules)!  I’d like to see him find that happy medium, which I think Brian already has accomplished.

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Michael D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs

While still promoting their Do Hollywood album on this tour, it is clear the band is already looking to the future, with a few new songs, as well as covers being included in the set list. Supposedly an EP will be released in the summer containing some of these gems. Definitely much more fun to hear the band in concert now that I have listened to the album many times and am more familiar with those songs. I absolutely love what this band is doing musically and continue to be excited about what the future holds for them. Here is the set list from the show.

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    Megan Zeankowski on Bass

    I Wanna Prove to You” from Do Hollywood, Brian starting off on lead vocals and guitar with Michael on drums and backing vocals. Danny Ayala on the keyboard and backing vocals and Megan Zeankowski on bass. I’ve linked to my favorite live performance of this song, when they played on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

  2. Haroomata” from Do Hollywood, link is from their previous show I saw at The Echo in November.  I borrowed a line from this song for the title of this post.
  3. Why Didn’t You Say That” unreleased song, link to a video someone took at this show
  4. I’ve Begun to Fall in Love” a cover of an R Stevie Moore song. Michael’s monitor went out, so while that was being fixed, Brian sang this one and played it on his guitar by himself.
  5. Frank” from Do Hollywood, Brian’s masterpiece. Amazing that they can capture the expansiveness of this song with just their four instruments and voices. This song begs to be played with a full orchestra.
  6. Love Stepped Out” cover of a song by Brian and Michael’s dad, Ronnie D’Addario
  7. These Words” from Do Hollywood, this one really got the crowd going and had the audience singing along
  8. How Lucky Am I?” from Do Hollywood. After this song, Brian heads back to the drums and Michael goes to the front of the stage to sing lead vocals and play guitar

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    Michael D’Addario and Danny Ayala During “How Lucky Am I?”

  9.  “Night Song” unreleased song
  10.  “Baby, Baby” from Do Hollywood
  11. Everything I Am” a cover of a Box Tops/Alex Chilton song. No one has posted video of this on YouTube, so the link is to the original version.
  12.  “As Long As We’re Together” from Do Hollywood
  13.  “So Fine” unreleased song
  14.  “A Great Snake” from Do Hollywood
  15.  ENCORE “Queen of My School” unreleased song

I would have loved to stay after the show and have the band sign my album, but by this point I was so tired and I figured I didn’t want to risk passing the cold I had on to any of the band members. It looks like they are moving on to play some larger venues, so maybe my chance for this has completely passed. Check out tour dates for The Lemon Twigs, they are playing some big festivals in the next few months, including Coachella and Bonnaroo, and open for Phoenix at the historic Hollywood Bowl on June 15, 2017.