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Sunday, December 10

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Review Mon Mar 12 2007

Review: Jon Brion @ Steppenwolf, 3/9 & the Hideout, 3/11

Do you have any idea how lucky we are to live in Chicago and have had the chance to see Jon Brion thrice in less than nine months? After years of being tied to a weekly residency in Los Angeles, he's now graced our city with three excellent performances that have astounded crowds. Known more for his work with others than his own, he's had an opportunity to show our city what all the fuss is about. Whether at Steppenwolf or the Hideout, Jon Brion is simply an extraordinary live performer. Read below for reviews of his two shows this past weekend.

Sporting a beard and dressed in a seersucker suit, Jon Brion entertained a sold out Steppenwolf crowd with a mélange of originals and covers during a nearly 2-hour performance on Friday evening. Apart from the first song, he began with his own music. Material from Meaningless, film scores, and other projects he's been involved with were highlighted during the set's first half-hour. The live sample-looping that makes Brion's one-man show a wowing experience (and has a tendency to create technical issues) gave an extra depth to "Same Thing" and "I Was Happy With You" that thrilled the audience.

While he does have plenty of original tunes, the appeal to many during a Jon Brion performance is the fluidity he displays when playing other people's songs. Whether it's mashing "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" with "Lithium" or playing "Back in Black" in the style of Fats Waller, his encyclopedic knowledge of musical arrangements is ever-present and gives even die-hard fans of an artist a new perspective on music they've heard a thousand times. He twice drew from standards made popular by Billie Holiday - "Me, Myself, and I" and "You Don't Know What Love Is" - and even performed the latter the way he'd envision it sounding on the White Album.

Closing the show was a beautiful rendition of Elliott Smith's "Happiness" followed by a Prince medley and then inviting two supposed novice pianists to accompany him through "Stop the World." At this point, Brion made fun of the painstaking process of forming a band by saying it should be as easy as standing on a stage and asking who wants to play. If only it were so easy, right? Maybe it's easy to carry two people through a song if you're Jon Brion, but mere connoisseurs of music probably shouldn't attempt such lofty dreams.

At Sunday's intimate Hideout set, Brion (wearing the same outfit as Friday) began with Holiday's "Foolin' Myself" on piano and then jumped right into medleys with a little bit of Ennio Morricone's theme to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and The Beatles' "Tell Me Why", along with a few others.

Much like Friday (or any of his shows, for that matter) there was no set list and Brion asked for requests throughout the night. When the flurry of titles didn't match his mood, he motioned for more until he heard something that fit him right then. Sometimes he'd spend a minute figuring out an arrangement, such as for "I Believe She's Lying" and his inventive medley of the second side of Here Come the Warm Jets, and at other times he'd launch right into the last thing he heard, like playing "Maple Leaf Rag" not two seconds after someone yelled out for Scott Joplin.

At the piano where he seemed to be most comfortable, Brion played "Life on Mars?", "More Than This", "Dayton, Ohio 1903", and "The Love of My Life So Far." Capping off the set were medleys of the Bee Gees and half of Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets. Even though it was amazing, the latter dragged on a bit too long toward the end. For the encore, he finally relented to one audience member's "Day Tripper" pleas and then teased with it in 7/8ths. Following it was a prog-rockish "Famous Blue Raincoat" and two early Fleetwood Mac songs before a Punch-Drunk Love piece. To end the evening that put jaws on the floor, he picked up a ukulele and introduced the last tune as an old Irish song - "The Boys Are Back in Town." With help from the audience on choruses, it marked the end to an excellent evening from a great musical mind that we'll hopefully be lucky enough to see again at some point soon.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


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