Robyn Hitchcock, Grant-Lee Phillips and Jon Brion — 4/1/11, Los Angeles, CA (Largo at the Coronet)
Let me just start off by saying that there’s no way I’m going to do justice to this show, so definitely go check out my friend’s always-interesting site for many more details (which may or may not have a Brion-ian tinge to them…you be the judge). I should be able to muster at least a few paragraphs, though, so here goes nothing.
Messrs. Hitchcock, Phillips and Brion were three of the leading lights at the “old Largo,” the much-beloved space on Fairfax Ave., that became known in the late 90’s and early Aughts as a destination for quality singers, songwriters and comedians. I never had the good fortune to see one of the trio’s performances there and I’m not sure if they have shared the stage together since Largo moved to the Coronet Theatre in 2008, but I do know that they are all plenty busy with production gigs, film work, touring and the like. At any rate, this show was billed as “Together Again, At Last,” so I feel pretty safe in assuming that it had been a while since they’d all had a chance to make music together. Bill Rieflin and Sean Nelson filled out the band by lending their talents on percussion and harmony vocals, respectively, as they had the previous night at Robyn’s show in the Little Room.
As for what you get musically when these three oddballs, er, individuals get together, it was by turns expected (some lovely renditions of their own songs), unexpected (who knew The Doors would come up as or more often than Dylan or Bowie?) and just plain wacky (several meandering jams, one of which Robyn tried to coordinate with several audience members seated near the front who would yell out things like “Bingo!” and “FF”). And somewhat amazingly, there weren’t even any allusions to April Fool’s Day!
Robyn and Jon can meander with the best of them, so it was left to Grant to play as much of a “good cop” role as existed in this trio setting. For example, it was he who, after one particularly extended passage, got the group back on track by suggesting that the audience might like to hear “a singalong.” And though we, the aforementioned audience, didn’t necessarily nail it on The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renée,” at least the set was back on a more concrete track, if only temporarily.
Of the three, I was definitely least familiar with Grant’s material. So it was a treat for me to hear some of his songs, including the lovely “Don’t Look Down.” Another highlight was his cover of The Church’s “Under The Milky Way.” Even though Grant remained seated for the vast majority of the evening, on account of a recent Achilles’ tendon injury, he had a unquestionable presence when he took the lead.
I’m not sure what else I can really add that would help someone get a better feel for this show, especially if they hadn’t seen Jon or Robyn perform before. Largo is Jon’s home turf—almost literally—and for this show, as with his monthly solo gigs, he had the full complement of gear he uses to perform his musical mad scientist act. That means two video projectors, loop pedals, various synths and other doohickeys and even a vibraphone, most of which were deployed at some point or another. And Robyn, of course, is one of the great eccentrics, combining psychedelia with folk and blues and rock to create his own singular musical pastiche.
It all made for a show that I’m definitely glad I had a chance to see. Certainly it might not be for everyone (and at times I very briefly considered whether I was among that group) but it’s ultimately difficult not to savor the opportunity to see three fantastic singer-songwriters do what they do best. It’s these types of unique collaborations, which almost always produce something unique, that help make Largo what it is. And certainly make it a place I’ll keep coming back to, as often as I possibly can.
Here was the complete setlist, as best as it could be tracked, with the lead vocalist in parentheses as indicated:
Queen Elvis (RH)
—Robyn, Grant-Lee and Jon “reunite”—
She’s At It Again (JB)
Strings That Tie To You (JB)
Little Moon (GLP)
Susan Little (GLP)
I Often Dream Of Trains (RH)
Simple Twist Of Fate [Bob Dylan] (RH)
—Smoke On The Water [Deep Purple]/”precious metals” improv jam—
Don’t Look Down (GLP)
Quicksand [David Bowie] (RH)
Strangest Thing (GLP)
Same Mistakes (JB) (started and restarted)
Dismal City (RH)
—My Wild Love [The Doors]/”bingo-A-FF” improv jam—
—Well Well Well [John Lennon] improv jam—
Knock Yourself Out (JB)
I Feel Beautiful (RH)
Under The Milky Way [The Church] (GLP)
Full Moon In My Soul (RH)
Blue Suede Shoes [Carl Perkins] (RH)
John Wesley Harding [Bob Dylan] (RH) (aborted)
—”F-sharp 7″ improv jam—
—”Riders On The Moose” improv jam—>
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer [The Beatles] (RH)
Walk Away Renée [The Left Banke] (GLP)
Saturday Groovers (RH)
Back Door Man [Willie Dixon; made famous by The Doors] (RH)
Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard [Simon and Garfunkel] (RH)>
Ashes To Ashes [David Bowie] (GLP)
*Opening act: none