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.
“I didn’t want it to end. I could have watched her for another 5 hours”
“It’s like being a fly on the wall”
“I’ve been to thousands of concerts in my lifetime and that was definitely among my Top 10”
“I’m going to need therapy to overcome this! I don’t know if I can ever feel this good again!”
The sounds of people expressing their appreciation as they filed out of the beautiful venue that is Largo echoed the voices in my head. Three of the top 5 shows I’ve seen this year have been Fiona Apple playing at Largo, on three different occasions.
As I experienced Fiona’s brilliant performance again tonight, I began to wonder: “Maybe those old-school record label execs are smarter than we’re giving them credit for – maybe they’re happy when Fiona Apple keeps a low profile, so that she doesn’t raise the bar beyond their reach.” That would be an intelligent strategy because Fiona Apple truly does just that.
Not only is her voice impeccable, her presence engaging, and her performance magnificent, she also seems to have a visible, direct connection to the universe. Apple is tuned-in to the environment, the present moment, the surrounding sounds and feelings. Throughout the show, Fiona seemed to be precisely responding to silent prayers of audience requests, having telepathic conversations with the musicians on stage, answering unspoken questions, and connecting with everyone individually, on a unique and profound level. Calling it a “performance” does a great disservice as well because that insinuates it’s “put on.” As it happens, Fiona Apple doesn’t “put on” a performance. She is the song. They’re inseparable beings.
There’s something about Fiona Apple’s perspective, the way she engages with everyone and everything, that shows you the undeniable connection between all beings. As the drum she played was carefully carried off-stage, Fiona gently placed the drumsticks on the head of the drum, smiled, and gave them a little pat. She didn’t say “thank you,” but that’s what was expressed. Little distinction is made between sentient and non-sentient beings. The common denominator is vibration: the language of music.
I know there’s more you want to know – all those questions you’ve had all these years, but this is all you need to know.
I dare you to see Fiona Apple at Largo. It will spoil you.
Ordinarily I’d be inclined to hate a venue like Largo – it’s full of rules and “no”s. But Largo has been good to me for the past 13 years. I’ve experienced some amazing shows at Largo including: Elliott Smith, Neil Finn, Fiona Apple, Ben Folds, Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket), Aimee Mann, E (The Eels), Robyn Hitchcock, Joseph Arthur, John Doe, Jon Brion, Grant Lee Phillips, Rufus Wainwright, Jack Black, and Tenacious D. I’ve laughed my ass off at comedy shows featuring Greg Behrendt, Sarah Silverman, Doug Benson, The Naked Trucker, Jack Black, and Tenacious D.
As I sat in the audience having a thoroughly enjoyable night of music, I realized this was made possible precisely because of those fucking rules. Largo puts music first. It’s one of the few places where you can completely escape – even planes have WiFi now. You have no choice but to become entirely immersed in music at Largo. Well, your other choice would be to leave. Largo puts the music before the customer. It’s great for the Artists too because they get to focus on playing their shows. The musicians aren’t stuck being “the assholes,” asking people to be quiet from stage, enduring the annoying ringing or feedback from cell phones in the monitors, nor averting their eyes from flashing bulbs. The musicians play. The audience listens. Largo takes care of the rest. When it comes down to it, Largo is doing everybody a favor. So if you think Flannagan’s an asshole, he’s not – he just likes music more than he likes you.
Fact: I’ve only received two criticisms since I started Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend. The first was for not writing enough about M. Ward in my Monsters of Folk review. The second was for not mentioning The Chapin Sisters in my review of Butch Walker’s most recent show in LA (the comment was posted on Facebook). Well, guess what “MB” and Jeff – I wanted to give The Chapin Sisters and M. Ward their own review all along, and here it is:
First off, Largo is the perfect venue for a show like this. The room invokes a classy, theatrical vibe. The sound is great, nobody is talking or clicking away on their cell phones, you don’t hear the noise of the bar or the spilling of drinks. You can close your eyes and get lost in sound for a couple hours. That said, you won’t find yourself closing your eyes at this show because there’s an element of artistry and performance conveyed visually, that you don’t want to miss.
The Chapin Sisters, accompanied at times by the Brothers Brothers, were great. I actually felt like an adult at this show, like I was doing something civilized and sophisticated. I don’t often like that feeling, but tonight it worked. However, because The Chapin Sisters made me feel something I’m not used to feeling, I’m finding it difficult to articulate. Go see them for yourself. Close your eyes and let the harmonies drown out the voices in your head. The Chapin Sisters are a perfect complement to She & Him. Their music and performance evoke a different time and a foreign land. Vinyl seems the appropriate format for listening to this music.
She & Him, headed up by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, blew me away. At times, I was listening to a seemingly even-paced, “mellow” song, and then M. Ward kicked in with some absolutely insane guitar parts that bordered on psychedelic. And who wears a fluffy, fuchsia dress on stage?! Zooey Deschanel does. That, marks my first-ever remark about what an Artist wears on stage. I despise those portions of reviews that talk about what the singer is wearing or the drummer’s new haircut. Typically, that has nothing to do with the music! Yet, in the case of She & Him, Deschanel’s dress, and certainly her high heels, were important to the show. The tone of the show was reinforced by the dress and the heels that, at times, were too high for Deschanel to effectively play the Wurlitzer.
Speaking of the Wurlitzer – She & Him, well actually, “She,” knew exactly how and when to insert humor into the set. It’s a good thing Deschanel broke things up with light-hearted and quirky banter. Otherwise, we may all still be sitting there in a hypnotic state. To pass the time while the band tuned their instruments, Deschanel remarked, “The Wurlitzer is smooth. Some say it’s smoother than a piano. . . It’s like a piano, but with fewer options. . . Less lows. . . and highs.” The description felt a bit like an analogy for life. You can live a “piano life,” with all its highs and lows. Or, you can live a “Wurlitzer life” which may be smoother, but has less options.
Among many highlights of the show was She & Him’s unplugged performance of “You Really Got A Hold On Me.” You could forget to breathe during moments like those. “Change Is Hard,” “Sentimental Heart,” and “Take It Back,” were also favorites. The Chapin Sisters lent their vocals, shakers, and sleigh bells to the music as well. At one point Deschanel asked The Chapins what they were discussing. The Chapins then asked Deschanel her opinion about including sleigh bells in the next song. “You can play whatever you want. Cuz that’s the kind of friend I am!” Deschanel said, exuding confidence and sarcasm. After pausing for a moment, she added, “I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore!” That statement scored her hundreds of points in my book.
Approximately two-thirds of the way through the show, Deschenal informed the audience she was done singing new material. “No more new songs,” Deschenal said, probably expecting a sigh of relief. Instead, the audience booed. Deschenal responded, infusing her response with humor, “BUT. . . old songs!!” she said with a smile. “Yay!” the crowd responded in unison.
“You’re all so quiet,” M. Ward acknowledged between songs. “Are you OK?” Yes, everyone was OK – they were just afraid to make a sound. Tonight marked the 1st show of She & Him’s 2010 world tour. “It’s the first show of our world tour and we wanted to have it at Largo since it’s one of the best venues in the world!” Deschanel explained. Even though it was too dark for the band to see the set list, and that as a fan, you’ll not find any of this on YouTube, it seemed both the Artist and Audience wouldn’t have done it any other way. Largo wins again.
Abiding by the rules, these are the only photos I took:
The irony of the “Totally Nude Strippers” sign reflected in Largo’s mirrored sign. There’s a lot that can be inferred…
The mirror of Largo
The rabbit hole is accessible via the woman’s bathroom: