Mason Jennings at The Largo at The Coronet – Los Angeles
I had a great time last night, followed by a magical morning. Let me tell you about it a little, won’t you? No photos were taken, as they weren’t allowed last night, and I don’t like to bring technology along with me on my morning walk at the sea … some things must remain sacred. (and a lot of my friends are turning into cyborgs … more on that later). We’re mostly all adults, and sometimes grown up books don’t have pictures in them. We shall overcome.
Mason Jennings is one of our hometown (Minneapolis) heroes. I’ve seen him play a whole bunch of times, from us being the only ones there, ’til now when you sort of want to shush people singing along word for word. Last night at the Largo at The Coronet Theater, Mason played a show, just his voice, accompanied by his own guitar, piano, and harmonica. They’re super strict there, from how you get tickets, to how you should behave. L.A. needs this whipping into shape, so I appreciated it. We didn’t get tickets until the day of (surprisingly still available, but the Largo doesn’t make it easy on you. You have to physically go there to buy them – drag – but those with the gumption are rewarded), and wound up with the four front row center most rad seats. Sometimes it feels like trying to be a decent person in life really does pay off.
Watching Mason play so close (you could hear his rubber soled foot tapping – that’s quiet), it was like we had our own Hologram Ipod (listen up, Jobs!) of Mason, as his voice and guitar intricacies sounded EXACTLY like he plays them on record. That’s not easy to do on acoustic, and he did. Our friend, Alta, had never heard him, didn’t even know what genre (I love when you go into something knowing nothing – rare these days) he really is, and she came out of that theater saying, “He is a force of nature”. For sure he is – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Hologram Mason played pretty much his greatest hits, from a wide span of his discography, but he was touring for his new LIVE album recorded at the best music club in the country, Mason Jennings Live at First Avenue. The crowd shouted out their requests (which I can’t stand), all blurring into one din, until Mason would say, “Which one? OK.”, and play whatever he wanted. “Lemon Grove Avenue”. “Adrian”. “Living In The Moment”. “1997” (not about aliens). “The Light (Part II)” (perfect, deep lyrics that make you just sit back and process the wisdom behind them) were all played with just Mason strumming and picking his simple Martin, with exacting precision and total confidence, which I admire so much.
Then it was time to sit at the piano with visible internal organs/keys, crowned with a (fitting for a Minnesotan) Viking helmet. Watching the keys play so closely was mesmerizing, and “Sorry Signs On Cash Machines”, a brand new song for an upcoming album called, “Bitter Heart” (which was great), and “Be Here Now” (another admonishment I use all the time to my cyborg friends) were all rendered gorgeously on the piano, to the point where the rowdier folks in the audience were silent too, just listening and picturing the stories being spun in the songs.
An old friend of Mason’s reconnected with him and had an old tape of songs he’d sent her, prompting him to get his Dad to dig up a box of old recordings from his house. That giant bunch of songs were recently re-recorded by Mason with just voice and guitar, and the best ones made it on to a different new album coming soon, called The Flood. One of those was called “Dakota”, and both its tempo and story took you all over the place, which again you (like words vs. pictures) could imagine in full golden afternoon-lit detail. Superfans/yellers were rewarded with their usual favorites, “Butterfly” (still awesome), and “Nothing” (same).
Back to the piano for another new one that illustrated the sense of humor ingrained in Mason’s writing, called “I Think I Broke Your Clutch”, which both asked and answered the questions of “Was it the freedom that freaked you out?” and “We can live in a dream …”. “Never Knew Your Name” was followed by “I Love You And Buddha Too” which got the yellers involved with their “Alright’s” echoing Mason’s (Sorry if I seem overly sensitive to this Mason school spirit, it’s just so distracting and chalkboard fingernails to me. Like respect the guy/anyone you like enough to trust them to play whatever they want you to hear …). “Your New Man” was still funny, and known by heart in the house.
The harmonica rig was strapped on for “Crown” which bled right into “Jackson Square” – again, both lyrical gems. “Anyone who says that life is clear, has never seen a mirror, or been to Jackson Square” – both super heavy, and extra true. Storytelling. I love it.
Blood Of Man is Mason’s most recent rock album, and hearing its fine “The Field” played acoustic was certainly as effective, if not more so, in this understated fashion, with its questions about War, and our own hearts (lub-dubbed on the guitar strings). “Sing Out” was slow, quiet and questioning on the piano, so gentle that you could hear the pads of the piano keys being pressed (at least I could. Burn. Just kidding.). With that mellow thought provoker’s end, Mason got up, said, “Thanks a lot!” and walked off stage.
Robust clapping and shouting brought him back, to a blur of requests being shouted, so he went into “Ulysses”, “Jealousy” (classic and true) on his own, and finally, “Big Sur” as the ones yelling the loudest insisted, for the last number of the night. All classics, really. A standing ovation was a natural reflex, and Mason waved and departed for good. Then so did we, to a late dinner spent talking over the songs, playing, and history of performances we’ve been to, one of the most satisfying ways to end a show evening that there is. Natural stoke from good and meaningful music is a fine way to fall asleep.
A fine way to wake up is a long walk on the beach, even as we’re sure Venice must now change its nickname to “Fogtown” (thanks, Jenny Evs!). First up, dolphins. Then a lanky, farm-fresh young man walking down the beach towards us wearing a “Free Hugs” shirt. I knew I’d be haunted by being a jerk all day if I didn’t just open my arms wide when we passed him. We two strangers hugged without a word, and then he offered me a sand dollar. I have plenty, so I urged him to pass it along to someone who might not. It was one of the world’s sweetest exchanges ever. Then I watched a guy all by himself, purely exalting at being in the chilly waves – jumping, yelling, and waving his arms, not caring who was looking. Right after him, a guy stopped in front of the lifeguard station we were standing on and saluted all four directions with a bow, then raised his arms up, brought his palms together, and back apart, in a gesture of thanks that was also pure and real. And a gratitude reminder that could not go unnoticed.
Carrying on, I finally found out the name and occupation of the beach regular guy we call “The Ultimate Fighter” (for obvious reasons): Alex. He’s a professional wrestler. Knew it. Then we saw the little old lady who reminds us of the old guy from Up, with her adorable square-lens glasses, and informed her that dolphins were out there. She once said, “Isn’t it wonderful?!” with a sweep of her arms towards the sea, and I hear that phrase every time I see her.
Right about then, I wished aloud that I would see the “Free Hugs” guy again on our way back, so that I could find out how many embraces the kid got. A short distance later, there he was! I asked, and after telling me that I was his first (starting the mojo, I’d like to think), but he got four more after me, for a total of five! This, in truth, kind of surprised me, but certainly encouraged me too. As caught up and cyborg as we are, and as suspicious as we can be of everyone just a wee bit different than whatever the norm is, people still look for – and find – human connection.
Music, or your regular morning, will give you that connection every time … you just have to let it. And then EXALT in it. Fog or not.