It occurred to me that there might be some old Jason show tales worth resurrecting from when I did his webpage in the mid to late 90’s. After some editing, I’m almost willing to admit someone might want to read this….
Far be it from me to turn down an invitation to an industry event in Los Angeles, where one can almost hear the music above the din of people talking. After talking to Elektra Records about this website, they sent me an advance copy of his upcoming solo debut album and put me on “the list” for this show, Jason’s second as a solo man. So, up I drove from San Diego to Los Angeles (2 1/2 hour drive with traffic) to see Jason’s big introduction to the music biz. I listened to recently acquired trade booty (XTC’s Andy Partridge’s demos & ex-Jellyfisher Tim Smith’s awful old band, the Producers, thanks Brian!) on the way up and tested the boundaries of man’s ability to retain liquids while waiting for my friend Dan to come home from work.
Off we went to Luna Park, a hip little club in West Hollywood where the LA Weekly had listed tonight’s show as “A bunch of damn songwriters”. We walk in and it’s quite the industry event. I could tell that this crowd was going to soon be drowning out the reason I drove 125 miles. As the PA music started into “He’s Frank” by the Monachrome Set, a song that the Grays used to cover, I spotted Buddy Judge from the very same band. I walked up to him and inquired, “Didn’t you write this song?” He said, “No, but I used to play it.” As usual, he was really nice to talk to and I got the latest scoop on the band. First, despite a recent rumor, the Grays are not going to keep going without Jason. Jon Brion has been playing Cafe Largo on a weekly basis and Dan once played drums with him. Dan plays on Michael Penn’s new album and will probably tour with him soon. Dan was also Lloyd Cole’s old touring drummer and Lloyd once toured with, you guessed it, Michael Penn (even though he didn’t play the classic “Sean Penn Blues” on that tour). Buddy recorded an album, which he said is really weird and has lots of tubas. “Tubas are good,” I said. He agreed. He also produced an album for a woman whose name I can’t remember, that is coming out on Columbia.
We talked about the Grays a little. He still talks to Dan and Jason but only occasionally sees Jon. I saw the breakup from the get go. No way were two guys (Jason & Jon) who can play every instrument going to work well in a group situation like that. Bringing completely finished demos they did by themselves to a band to play doesn’t leave much room for collaboration. Plus, watching the faces of the rest of the band waiting for Jon to complete mammoth guitar solos was a good clue. It’s too bad, because, they sounded great live. Don’t let the album fool ya. I told him how many people on the net dig the Grays just as much as Jellyfish and he said that it’s weird, but cool how people dig that whole group of pop bands. Agreed.
We were towards the front as Jason came out wearing shiny silver almost Bonoesque type pants. He had a three-piece backing band. The bassist was wearin’ a hip suit, the bassist sported big red felt looking red bellbottoms and the drummer Jeremy was a big Brit wearing a big ol’ black & white shirt. Who am I Mary Hart? What is with this lame fashion report?
Anyways, for only being together a couple of weeks, they were a good, solid backing band. The guitarist is a gas to watch, he kinda reminds me of the bassist for No Doubt as far as his facial expressions and looks a bit like him too. Jason had a little keyboard set up so he could play a few moogy type keyboard lines. The one thing that was lacking was any backing vocals. Doing your own harmonies on your album leads to Matthew Sweetesque disappointments when it comes to the live show, so they didn’t even try. Jason said they don’t sound like him timbrewise, but, they will be singing in the future.
It was really fucking loud and his vocals weren’t anywhere near as loud as they should’ve been, but they sounded great. All but two of the songs they played were from the upcoming album. They opened with “Don’t Show Me Heaven” and it sounded great. They then did the catchy single “I Live”, which has already been getting some radio play, and the rocker “Miracle Medicine”. They went out of tune during “I Go Astray” (my fave), so Jason stopped it halfway through and started over. But, like always, he looked like he was having a blast.
The rest of the set went ahn with “She Goes To Bed”, “Hectified”, and a great solo acoustic performance of the shoulda-been-in-a-Broadway-musical-torch-song-type-thing “Before My Heart Attacks” (there are strings accompanying it on the album but this performance was accompanied by several hundred people simultaneously not listening to a great lil’ tune). The band came back out and Jason introduced the next song, a cover of a Magazine song called “Song From The Floorboards”. He mentioned that another Magazine tune was on the tape that he made that we’d been listening to before the show. Figures. He actually made a tape for an old girlfriend which she played at work that a certain Jon Brion heard and freaked out. That’s how they met, honest.
So then came “Afraid Himself To Be” and the spooky “Nobody Knows” from the album which went right into an amazing rocker temporarily titled “New Song” (which turned out to be “Already Know”). “Miss Understanding” was followed by the show (and album) closer “Untitled”, for which they rocked the ending instead of taking the album’s quiet route to the end. Everyone must’ve noticed that he was done because they cheered wildly, but, there was no encore because they haven’t rehearsed anything else.
While waiting for the place to thin out a bit, Dan and I talked to a guy named Wick who I’d seen working at Black Market Music, a very cool vintage music shop in town, the week before. I’d met him before when he was playing guitar for the last incarnation of the Spent Poets. He formed Slider with Poets guitarist Matt Winegar, who he said has been getting himself together physically for the past few months and might be getting Slider back together. Even though I hadn’t bought the guitar that I was looking at, he was nice enough to slip me a copy of the second (unreleased) Poets album, Steve, that happened to be lying around the shop. Like Jason’s recent album, Matt Winegar played all of the instruments on it and it’s quite a piece of work.
It was kinda tough to get a word with Jason because it’s his hometown and he’s so damn nice that everyone wanted to chat. So, I finally walked up and only then did he recognize me. The last time he saw me I had much longer hair and wasn’t wearing glasses. He laughed because he thought I was someone else when he was onstage and couldn’t believe that this guy who doesn’t get excited about anything was getting so into the music. The first thing he said was something I’d told his label that an internet fan said when he found out about Jason’s album: “Chomping at the motherfucking bit!”
We talked to someone from Spacehog for awhile, who happened to be in town and had played pool with Jason in England while he was with Jellyfish. He was saying how he’d like to maybe tour with him. Not that I’m a fan, but, hey, that’s not a bad first opening slot to get. Consider Jason’s luck with opening slots: Jellyfish with World Party, Jellyfish with the Black Crowes, the Grays with the Smithereens, the Grays with Toad, the Three O’Clock with, er, Adam Ant (wait, I dunno if he was in the band yet). We’ll see….
In short bursts of conversation in between people grabbing him to say goodbye, we actually talked for awhile. We talked about the lack of backing vocals, his show the very next night in New York(!), my new guitar, how he’d never seen the internet, and about the Jellyfish videos I’ve been trading, which he definitely wanted. I told him I’d copy anything he wanted and if there was any weird demos he wanted his fans to hear that his record company wouldn’t release, that I was his man. The reports of him recording an album of covers are actually true. Elektra will be releasing it and it’ll include “Wicked Annabella” by the Kinks, a Pistolsesque “Both Sides Now”, and a Tom Waits cover.
He had to run, so he said I could grill him when he got back from New York. Anyone with decent questions, try me. We stopped by Headlines in Westwood (highly recommended fries) and I drove home listening to the Beasties’ “Licensed To Ill” for the first time in way too long. There’s just something about Jewish kids named Adam…