I Am in Paradise

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Stage Set Up for Jon Brion’s April Show

DSC09921I can’t stay away from Largo at the Coronet for very long and so I was back there on Friday, April 28, 2017 to see Jon Brion. After a brief welcoming of the audience and introduction from Largo-owner Mark Flanagan, Jon strode onto the stage wearing fuchsia trousers, carrying a notebook, and clearing his throat. He sat down to talk to the audience. He had rapidly eaten some Japanese food right before the show and was feeling the burn of doing so. There was a lot of equipment set up on the stage that night: a rack of guitars, with a couple freestanding, a small drum set, the Largo piano — of course, two screens, synthesizer, and for the first time since I’ve been going to see him, a vibraphone. I was excited about that, as I’ve been wanting him to play some other instruments for a few months. Last month, we were treated to the celesta and now this month, vibraphone. These things make me happy, though referring to the contents of the stage, Jon said, “I brought a bunch of extra shit just to see if it would make things interesting; it just made things complicated.” Well, I for one appreciated the effort. The show went on as follows:

  1. “Cole Porter to Zeppelin Dark Piano Sonata Instrumental Style” This was the name Jon gave to his first piano warm up number, which he played in D minor on request from an audience member. The description of the piece is in the title.
  2. Moon River” Jon then played what he said, “Will be the vocal warm up song.” This commenced with him playing on piano while singing a lot of ooos and ahs as he warmed up his voice and cleared his throat of any lingering food obstructions. It then turned into a proper performance of “Moon River,” one of my favorites. During the song he turned on the synth sounds as he played piano and set it to pick up the notes from the piano and duplicate them in its output. He played through the whole song and then jazzed it up. At one point he looped in some cascading notes (think the beginning of “One Day More” from Les Misérables) and played it back, finishing the song off with some low notes on the MiniKorg.

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    Jon Brion’s Guitars

  3. Trouble” from Meaningless. There was quite a bit of down time between the previous song and this one. Jon headed over to the guitars and selected an acoustic Epiphone. He had the audience choose between guitar pick A and pick B by show of applause. Sebastian Steinberg was brought on for a bass solo while this was going on. Pick B was selected. There was some monologuing about picks, these were a couple old picks from the 40s/50s. Some guy shouted out that they sounded the same to him and Jon admired his honesty, but said that he could hear a difference and others could hear a difference. It was only a slight difference to my ears, with Pick B creating slightly more pop or fullness of sound. Jon commented on the state of the show said, “Think of the beginning of this show as a DVD extra.” And also, “The show is going to get more high energy and streamlined as we go along.”
  4. Same Mistakes” from Meaningless.  The arrangement of this song sounds really different performed on the guitar. Nice extended instrumental in the middle, but did I hear him navigate his way out of a wrong chord? That might be the first musical flaw I’ve ever heard him make or maybe my ears were wrong because I’m not used to hearing this song on acoustic guitar.
  5. Blue Moon” Jon commented that there are “some things I do at the studio but not live — we’ll be messing around with that.” As he was making various adjustments, he remarked, “This is the worst pacing of a show.” I haven’t seen the black and white Gretsch come out in a while and enjoyed hearing it on this song as well as “tape echo.”  Jon referred to it as “giving it a little Sun Records.” And it really was a proper echo, sounded fantastic.
  6. “At It Again” I thought this unrecorded song of Jon’s was forthcoming as he set up some gritty tones on his guitar. Toward the end of the song he had a pedal on the guitar that he pressed to fade the sound in and out as he was playing, which created a rhythmic pumping effect. Love this one. Will he ever record it?
  7. I Was Happy With You” was requested from the audience. I thought I heard Jon ask for a drummer, but no one appeared. He played this one on piano and sang, also adding the synth duplicating the piano again. There was a prolonged ritardando at the end of the song, slowing down so much that it sounded like he was playing a different song to finish.
  8. Strings That Tie to You” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Still at the piano, Jon said, “Let’s invite Andres to the party,” as he put Andres Segovia playing guitar on the screen on the right side of the stage. Then opera singer, Maria Callas was put on the left screen and Jon manipulated the sound. He changed the piano to tack piano as he began the song in earnest. As he finished, he held a long low note on the MiniKorg.
  9. Time of the Season” Zombies cover. Still on the piano, Jon encouraged the audience to, “Sing every word you know, sing every harmony you know.” The audience also got into the beat of this, stomping on the floor too. Good choice.
  10. Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” Bob Dylan cover. Jon got out his harmonica for this one and played it on tack piano. He shifted his position on the keys and went straight into the next song.
  11. I’ll Keep It With Mine” Bob Dylan cover. Gratifying couplet of these two songs.
  12. Theme” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Still on piano. The sound of this was encompassing and relentless. I started taking fewer notes at this point as I was wondering if I needed to take a break.
  13. Waterloo Sunset” Kinks cover. Jon headed toward the vibraphone and took a request for this cover. The link is to a rough video of Jon doing this same thing in New York last year. I was not as emotionally wrecked by this song as I was the last time I heard Jon play it and I take that as a personal victory. Maybe the novelty of the vibes helped. I’ve borrowed a line from this song for the title of the post, because it reflects how I feel about where I live and also my affinity for Largo.

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    Vibraphone at Jon Brion’s April Show

  14. “That’s What People Do” an unrecorded song of Jon’s which may or may not actually be called that. It was requested from the audience by that name but after he performed it someone else shouted out, “What was that?” and Jon just said it was one of his but didn’t give the title.  He also was adamant that “It is not an anti-marriage and anti-procreation song.” That those things were fine for people who wanted them, but not to push others into those areas or judge them if they are not interested in such things.
  15. I Don’t Really Want to Know” 1950s song popularized by Eddy Arnold and Elvis.  Jon played this one on lap steel, which I’ve also never seen him play before. There were some crackling sound issues during this song that Jon tried to get around by shifting in his seat, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
  16. Tainted Love” Soft Cell cover. This old chestnut again.  Jon said, “We gotta throw this shit uptempo somehow,” as he began it. Jon played the song on it a little edgier than usual, using the orange Gretsch, but he seemed to be having trouble with one of the switches as he was bashing at it harder than seemed necessary and muttering a couple instances of “motherfucker.” The Gretsch was sent back to the rack right after this one.
  17. Piano medley of various songs, including: Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” Gary Glitter’s “Rock N Roll Part 2,” and Lovin Spoonful’s “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice, and finishing off on the piano with an instrumental I didn’t recognize.
  18. DRUM SOLO. Someone shouted out “drum solo” and Jon took him up on it.  He strode over to the kit, sat down, and played a little bit and noted, “Sounds like drumline.” So he then went on to play a very marching band/drum corps kind of solo. He finished the solo off by holding a cymbal wedged against his body and playing it with a stick that had a mallet on one end and a teardrop-shaped tip on the other and alternating sides of the stick. He began pushing on the cymbal to warp the sound while he hit it and played all across the top of the cymbal all while keeping immaculate time. It was so creative and amazing. Who knew you could get so many tones out of cymbal? Not me, but Jon Brion knew!
  19. Play the Game” Queen cover, on piano. Myself and a few others called that one out as a request at the previous month’s show. I’ll take it, even if a little late. Thank you! The link to Jon’s recorded version of the song for a Queen tribute album.
  20. You Won’t See Me” The Beatles cover. Jon wanted a singalong and someone shouted out “The Beatles”. He put a beat on the drum machine and went back to the piano to play this classic. The funny thing about this choice was that five days prior I was at a jam session of local musicians in which each person made a request from a list of about 100 songs that the group has chords and music written out for, in order for everyone to play on guitar and sing along. This was the song I chose. Thrilling to be on the same wavelength with Jon.

Jon said he was going to head over to the Little Room to play piano and so a crowd filled that space. Upon entering, the Little Room, Sean Watkins, David Garza, Sebastian Steinberg, and Dominique Arciero were all already on the stage playing and singing. They continued to do a set for the crowd and Jon never did make it to the piano. The songs they played included:

  1. Walk Away Renee” Left Banke cover, sung by Sean.
  2. Up” one of David Garza’s early songs, available on Eternal Tambourine. He played the mandolin on this one.
  3.  “Wicked” one of David’s songs from April Fool, he sang and played on his guitar. He referred to it as “music to order lots of beers by.” It had lyrics such as “No matter how much you give me it’s not enough.” (Beers?)  “Let’s get down and dirty, let’s get wicked.”
  4. Will the Roses Bloom” Sean took the lead vocals on this one.
  5. Stand By Your Man” Tammy Wynette cover, sung by David and with him starting off on the piano and switching to guitar on the chorus. First time I’ve ever heard this song sung by a man.
  6. I Fought the Law” popularized by the Bobby Fuller Four. Another one led by David.
  7. Lost to a Stranger” popularized Ricky Skaggs. Led by Sean.
  8.  I believe this is another one of David’s songs, a jazzy little number that starts, “Kiss me once, it’s shame on you” and also had the line “Show me a little mercy.” I’ve heard this one before but I can’t figure out the title. I thought it was “Show Me a Little Mercy,” but I’m not finding it online.
  9. Everyday” Buddy Holly cover. Jon should have brought the vibes in.
  10. Walkin’ After Midnight” popularized by Patsy Cline. Domenique Arciero joined in the singing.
  11. David played a teaser of the chords from “What I Am” on the guitar while they were working out what song they would finish with.
  12. “Exit Music” the group played an instrumental jam to close the show, which David called “Exit Music.”

What else can I say? Another fun evening at Largo getting to see some talented musicians. Totally fulfilling.

 

 

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Find Where I Belong

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Stage Set Up for the April Watkins Family Hour

It had been a while since I last attended a Watkins Family Hour show and with the addition of a couple guests I wanted to see, it was a no-brainer to head up to Largo at the Coronet for the show on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. I will jump right into the set list and the recap of the concert.

  1. Sara Watkins started the show off with an fiddle tune (no name check), with Sean Watkins quickly joining in on his guitar.
  2. Love Needs a Heart” Jackson Browne cover. The pair talked about how they had recently been in Canada for two weeks with Jackson Browne, so they decided to play one of his songs that he had co-written with Valerie Carter. Sean started playing the intro on the guitar and then stopped. Sara explained, “I sing it in a different key than Jackson does,” as Sean changed the position of his capo.  They went on to perform a lovely rendition of the tune. When the song finished Sebastian Steinberg walked all the way across the stage carrying his upright bass and exited on the other side. It seems someone indicated he wasn’t needed for the next song. Sean joked, partly alluding to Sebastian’s long gray hair and beard, “That was Father Time that was paying us a visit to remind us that time passes.”
  3. Not sure of the title of this next one, but it was (a new?) one of Sean’s with a repeated line “I can still write you a song.” After the song, Sean explained that there were a lot of murder ballads in bluegrass music, but he would have difficulty writing one since it wasn’t exactly “write what you know.” He said, “I could imagine myself doing a little light stalking, that’s as close as I can get to a murder ballad.”  Sebastian came back on stage and noted that on the set list he was meant to play on the third song but that was, “Bullshit.” Then he went on to express, “I wouldn’t upset Sean, you might be subjected to some light stalking.” Special guest Joey Ryan of The Milk Carton Kids was then introduced. There was a lot of banter on whether or not they would play the following song as they hadn’t had a chance to properly rehearse it. Regardless, they managed to create an enjoyable performance.
  4. Price to Pay” Lucinda Williams cover, Joey on guitar, with Sara singing the lead and Joey and Sean providing supporting vocals.
  5. Wayfaring Stranger” American folk song.  Joey remarked that he just met Jon Brion ten minutes ago and he requested for him to come out and play on this song. Joey asked Jon if he could embarrass him with a story and Jon responded, “I’ve been embarrassed before,” essentially giving him the go ahead. Joey told a story about how he used to see Jon’s show somewhat regularly at the old Largo location. He mentioned how there was one time when “one guy in the audience” (presumably Joey), requested a Kinks song repeatedly. Jon wasn’t playing it and eventually said that he wasn’t going to play that song. Joey said to the present audience, “He persisted. He was warned, but he persisted.” So “the guy” shouted out, “You don’t know it.” The response from Jon Brion was to play a medley of the whole album (that that song was on), except skipping the one that was requested.  Joey said it was one of the best things he’d ever heard. Anyway, the group then played “Wayfaring Stranger” with Joey on banjo and Jon fiddling around with his guitar and amp in the back and if he ended up playing anything at all it was barely audible.
  6.  Next, Joey played a new song that he wrote. He prefaced it by stating, “Everyone’s down on what’s going on. I’m more of an optimist…this song taps more into the bright side.” It starts off so, “It’s a good day to be alive…the sun is shining bright today,” but gets more warped as it goes along talking about women with coat hangers in back alleys, for example, and “I saw Lady Liberty kick off her shoes and run.” Joey exited the stage after performing this one.
  7. Walk Away Renee” Left Banke cover. Sean and Sara gave a prolonged explanation about the A.V. Club, before Sean sang this one which he chose to sing when he was visiting the A.V. Club. The good news is his original performance is available at the link. Sebastian and Jon exited the stage and we were left with just Sean and Sara.
  8. DestinationNickel Creek song from A Dotted Line. Sean said, “We enjoy playing this as a duo,” then realizing how that sounded he quickly added, “It works.” Not that they had any problems with the other guy (Chris Thile) who usually plays it with them.  Sara started off the song playing her ukulele and deftly switched to her fiddle for the ending. Borrowed a line from this song for the title of the post.
  9. In Spite of Ourselves” John Prine cover. Pete Holmes and Valerie Chaney were welcomed to the stage and they told the story of their recent engagement, when Pete proposed in a hot air balloon over the Santa Barbara wine country. The story was divulged over a walking bass line provided by Sebastian Steinberg. At one point, Jon Brion sneaked onto the stage with a couple of drum brushes and played some rhythm on the side of the upright bass, later moving over to do the same on the top of the piano. Pete and Valerie then sang the duet of the John Prine song with Sean, Sara, and Sebastian providing the musical accompaniment.
  10. Deportee” cover of a song written by Woody Guthrie.  Willie Watson was the next guest to the stage, singing this song with support from Sean, Sara, and Sebastian. During the song, Jon Brion joined on stage to play guitar and mid-chorus Joey Ryan returned to the stage to join in with harmony. Willie is quite the find if you like old school folk music. He sounds like he could be a Guthrie. Introducing the next song, Willie said, “This has been by far the most comical Watkins Family Hour I’ve ever witnessed. Well, that’s all over now.”
  11. Gallows Pole” traditional folk song, link to a different concert where Willie sang this song live. He also played the harmonica on this one.
  12. My Baby Left Me” a song written by blues singer Arthur Crudup and popularized by Elvis, link to a different concert where Willie sang this song live. Willie was joined by Sebastian on this song. Willie headed off stage after this one.
  13. Caroline No” Beach Boys cover, sung by Sara. Before starting this song Sean mentioned that he is borrowing a bass harmonica from Jon and that the first time he had heard one it was on the song “I Know There’s an Answer,” which is also on the Pet Sounds album. Jon played guitar on this one, but his volume was so low in the mix I had to really concentrate to hear what he was doing. At the end of the song the other musicians left the stage for Jon to perform a couple songs.
  14. “Trial and Error” Jon played on piano and delicately sang one of his own songs.
  15.  “I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” Jon played a jazzy rendition of this song on piano with varying dynamics and swift changes in the manner of approach and pace so that at moments Sebastian, who was playing along on bass, seemed to have difficultly keeping up with him. Thankfully there were many more moments of beautiful synchronicity to make this one of the highlights of the evening.
  16. Like a Rolling Stone” Bob Dylan cover. Everyone came back on stage for this tune which included an audience singalong and closed the main stage show.

A few of the musicians felt like playing more that night, so the Little Room was open for part 2.

  1. I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground” traditional folk tune.  Willie Watson led this one, playing his banjo with Sara and Sean backing him up.  Link is to a version of this that Willie played recently elsewhere.
  2. Leaving Home” Charlie Poole cover. Willie sang this one too and I must reiterate how his voice is so perfectly suited to these old songs. He left the stage when the song was over.
  3. Miss the Mississippi and You” Jimmie Rodgers cover. Sara sang the lead vocal on this tune and Sebastian joined in on bass with Sean still on his guitar.
  4. Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan” traditional Gospel tune.
  5. Broken Headlights” from Retrospect, Joey Ryan came on stage to play one of his original tunes. This was the one song I wanted to hear him play if he decided to delve into his back catalog, so that made me pretty happy.
  6. Joey sang a new song of his, possibly called “Mourning Again in America.” It included lyrics such as: “Fell asleep with the TV on, finally feeling like I belong, woke up to a funeral song, everything I knew was gone.”
  7. Crime of Passion” performed solo by Bhi Bhiman, a friend of Joey’s who was in the audience. Sara called him up to the stage and Bhi decided to do this one after hearing the talk earlier on the main stage about murder ballads.
  8. 9 to 5” Dolly Parton cover. Sara introduced this one and sounded like she was inspired to sing this tune after having recently been watching TV in her hotel room while on tour. Sara, Sean, and Sebastian played on the song, with Jon Brion joining in on piano and eventually getting out his guitar thumb pick to add the rhythm of the typing sound that can be heard in the original version. It was a fun way to end the night.
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New Watkins Family Hour Poster in the Largo Courtyard