It sometimes seems that Jon Brion’s got his foot in just about everything worthwhile in pop art these days. A truncated resume for just the past few months includes composing the often minimalist soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Punch-Drunk Love” (Nonesuch); producing Old 97’s singer Rhett Miller’s critically acclaimed solo debut, “The Instigator” (Elektra); and conducting the orchestral arrangements on Tom Petty’s “The Last DJ” (Warner Bros.). So it should be no surprise that he’s decided to take on another new challenge: fronting his own rock band for a series of shows at L.A.’s hipster haven Spaceland. It should also be no surprise that — as with the rest of his overwhelming slew of projects — the results are nothing less than fantastic.
That has a lot to do with Brion’s anything-goes attitude toward performing, a mindset honed with his often improvisatory ongoing Friday night residency at L.A. club Largo. There, he strings together compositions in front of the audience’s eyes, the aural equivalent of watching a world-class painter transform a canvas from a mess of colors to a gorgeous mural.
Spaceland’s crowd got a taste of that one-man show early on, as Brion looped drums, keys and guitars to create complete arrangements for two songs. But the show peaked during the full-band set’s run-through of “Not Ready Yet,” co-written by Brion and the Eels singer E. Dueling guitars from Brion and Josh Klinghoffer (noisily perfect throughout the night) suggested the white-noise squall of the best Pavement and Dinosaur Jr., but Brion sang with melodic purpose that had less in common with those rowdy indie rockers than traditionalist songwriters like Paul Westerberg and Elvis Costello.
It’s a beautiful juxtaposition, and Brion revels in it, throwing his body around and attacking his instrument, be it a guitar, piano or sampler, with both fervor and grace. When the band clicked, which happened often, Brion proved that he’s not only playing a part in other people’s pop art –he’s making some of the best of it himself.