the loud bassoon concert scene


Jon Brion @ Largo, Los Angeles, USA
9 April 2004

Jon Brion at the Largo … one of the requisite stops on your LA Hipster Checklist™. He's a musical Mozart, capable of playing any instrument and probably playing any song you could request – perfectly – whether he's ever heard it or not. His regular Friday night shows attract a self-selected in-crowd that has nothing to do with Sunset Strip shenanigans … rather, the sort of folk who realize that yes, it is still cool to like Jellyfish, and it never wasn't.

Largo is a chummy place, despite being completely dark – literally, no lights on except for the bar and the stage. Perhaps the audience is so hip and so famous that the low lighting is required to keep everyone anonymous. So for the purposes of this review, I'll speculate that the night I went, in attendance were: Fiona Apple, Lacey Chabert, Fred Dalton Thompson, Dennis Hopper, John Currin, former Cruiser Eddie Wilson and/or Michael Paré, Will Friedle, Linda Cardellini, Busy Phillips, Peter Gallagher, and Gallagher. Probably not accurate at all, but at least I had the feeling that I was hanging with my kind of people.

Brion's shows are improvised – he plays what he feels like playing, spontaneously, on whatever instrument he feels like. The novel twist is that he essentially uses the stage to create on-the-fly demos! He'll sit down at the drums and crank out a beat for awhile, to the point that you're thinking, "Sure, he can play, but what the fuck?" But he loops it so that the drums play back over the speakers, whereupon he picks up a bass and lays down a bassline – so things start to get interesting. Then, guitar and/or piano, until finally you're listening to a full band, invisible to the eye but impossible for your ears to miss. It's ingenious, and few but Brion could pull it off.

Watching the songs take shape and then being there for the sudden, unexpected moment when the looped tracks – which were created from scratch right before your eyes a moment ago – catch fire, is a rare experience indeed. Even if you're a musician – even if you're a good musician, who records music all the time – Jon Brion still makes you want to give it up for good, 'cause you couldn't do it better.

Now, being a "good musician who records all the time," I must admit I was fidgety through some of the set, simply because I felt like the show was little more than a tight demo session played off like a magic show. To non-musicians, it must seem unfathomable how talented Brion is, and especially exciting to bear witness to music being born. Having done what Brion was doing on stage thousands of times, but without an audience present, I was simultaneously envious, daunted, and a bit nonplussed. No, I couldn't do it like he does it, but I could do it.

But that's about me. The show was terrific; even with a few pints of beer in him, he manages to crank out note-perfect songs with impossible attention to detail. High point of the show: responding to an audience request for Prince, he launched into "Little Red Corvette," which is easy enough to do, except that he had the in-the-moment savvy to throw his vocal through a harmonize so he could pull off a quasi-Prince sounding squeal, which tore the place apart. Moments like this made it worth fidgeting through the solo drum interludes, certainly.

He's not an especially strong singer, and he looks like he ought to be playing Paul McCartney in an LA production of Beatlemania, but what he does is all Jon Brion. Alternately channelling the bold spirits of '74 Randy Newman, '78 McCartney, '36 Gershwin, and '91 Michael Penn, he's a pop music Magic 8-Ball, and all you have to do is ask the question.

Review by "Lindy" Lohan