November 30, 2011
Los Angeles, CA
Where do I begin? If I start at the beginning, at our old stomping grounds on Fairfax, they’ll know how old we are.
If I attempt to talk about the extraordinary shows. . . Neil Finn. . . Fiona Apple. . . Aimee Mann. . . Jon Brion every Friday night. . . I won’t be able to name them all. I’d forget to mention someone who should never be forgotten.
Speaking of someone who can never be forgotten, I would like to bring up Elliott Smith. I used to watch him transform on your stage. He may not have wanted to perform, but you had a gentle way of reminding him how much he needed to. It went from not being sure whether he’d get on stage to being hopeful that it may not come to an end. Those were special nights. And, in addition to Elliott Smith, you offered us the space to experience the deep friendship between Elliott Smith and Jon Brion. It seemed as if they felt, on some level, that they were the only ones who understood each other. Jon had a way of “being” with Elliott that seemed to put him at ease, or at least make him feel significantly better. And Elliott had a way of sparking a look of pure admiration and awe on Jon’s face when he’d sing “Say Yes” with his eyes closed. This kind of experience can’t happen everywhere. The moments that “happen” at Largo happen because you’ve created, and consistently provide, the space and tone that are required for them to occur.
We’ve had a long history, you and me. And I only have good memories. But tonight, you outdid yourself. I was having dinner before the show at La Cienega Sushi, across the street. They’re really nice people and the sushi is great. They’re next door to the strip club and they have a sushi roll called “Spicy TT.” I fucking love that place.
Anyway, I was having sushi (and maybe some sake) and the power went out. The blackout spanned a couple blocks. There was an awkward pause as everyone waited to see whether the lights would come back on. When it became clear the power wasn’t going to come back on, the first thing each person in the restaurant said was some version of, “but. . . The Watkins Family. . . at Largo. . . oh no”
I did my best to assure everyone that the show would go on, without power. They humored me, hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy, but also wondering just how much sake I had drank. They were convinced enough to play Frogger across an unlit La Cienega Boulevard, to see if you’d do it. They wanted you to pull it off, but it was hard for some to imagine.
You reminded them, and all of us: music pre-dates electricity.
You are one place that can confidently continue a show without electricity. The musicians who play at Largo can actually play instruments and sing. Your acoustics are great. You look beautiful in candlelight.
I do owe you an apology though. I’m sorry for using that photo at the top of this letter, without permission. . . but I know how you feel about cameras, so I’ve never taken a picture of you. Truth be told, you are the only place I’ve never felt compelled to break a “rule.” No cell phones. No cameras. No electronics. No talking. Do you have any idea how much I despise the concept “no”? No, you wouldn’t because you’ve convinced me to agree with “no” at Largo.
I remember a time, at the ol’ Fairfax home. . . I was sitting at one of the tall bar tables, along the side of the room. “Two drink minimum” – as if that’s some kind of challenge we might not enjoy. There were some friends quietly talking at the table behind me. It happened from time to time throughout the show, but I was immersed in the music nonetheless. “Are they bothering you?” the voice of Flanagan came in from behind. That’s the thing about you, Largo, and Flanagan – you don’t have rules just for the sake of having rules. Flanagan wasn’t going to kick them out for an occasional whisper during the show. He just wanted to make sure they weren’t interfering with anyone else’s experience. There’s a difference between “rules” and “respect”. Largo is about respect.
I watched people enter your courtyard and bar this evening, somewhat uncertain. Their steps were cautious. They were quiet, with frequent bursts of giggles, sounds reminiscent of a childhood sleepover. But, as time went on, they realized you were serious. The show tonight would happen, by candlelight, and they’d always remember it. The volume in the bar increased by 10 decibels. People ordered drinks and celebrated. Inside the theatre, David Garza was playing piano as people enthusiastically absorbed every ounce of candlelight and music you shared with us.
Whose idea was it to invite John C. Reilly tonight? That Watkins Family’s?
It was a really good idea.
When Fiona Apple walked on stage tonight, she scanned the room, with a “yep, this is right” smile. “Isn’t this amazing?” Sara Watkins asked Fiona. “Although, it’s kind of weird to be able to see everyone out there,” Sara continued, alluding to the irony that the musicians could see the audience better without electricity than with it.
“Yeah, I was thinking about that. . . ” Fiona replied, standing in the dark alongside her family of brilliant musician friends. “But I was also thinking – and you guys don’t know this,” she said as an aside to those of us in the audience. “This is actually what it’s like when we hang out. It’s just like this.” “Welcome to our living room,” Sean Watkins chimed in.
Please tell Fiona that we do know. “It’s like being a fly on the wall” I quoted when I wrote about one of Fiona Apple’s previous shows at Largo. Whether the lights are dimmed or the power’s out completely, there’s a feeling Fiona, The Watkins Family, and their extended family create that makes you feel like you’ve been invited to the dinner party. We get to sit there and experience what happens as their talents, playfulness, humor, and sounds intertwine.
I also greatly appreciated the “bear” theme tonight. It made me feel as if you and your kind musician friends had been reading My Travel Tales and knew how important bears are to me. Everyone sang a bear song. There was that teddy bear, holding things down, stage left. . . Nick Kroll’s hysterical bear story. . . We all loved the dancing bear that carried Fiona Apple off stage and then returned a few numbers later to dance with John C. Reilly. As we individually solved the puzzle of who was in the bear suit on each occasion, it felt akin to the moment you first realized what’s going on in The Sixth Sense.
Tonight we sat with you in candlelight. The musicians performed without mics nor amps. Flanagan and Michael lit our way with flashlights if we needed to get up during the show. The music was exceptional as it always is at Largo. Each of us who was there tonight will “remember that time when. . . ”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, could you please light up your cell phones. Help each other out of here” Michael suggested as we attempted to file out of the theatre in darkness. Yep, that happened. We were instructed to use our cell phones at Largo. *That* tells you what a special night it was.
Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend
PS – please tell Flanagan: “thank you.”