Interview: An Exclusive Preview of Largo at the Coronet's 2010 Schedule

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Punch Brothers performing at Largo / Photo by Lincoln Andrew DeFer

Throughout 2009, the music and comedy shows at Largo at the Coronet continued to surprise. You never knew when a special guest such as Fiona Apple or John Paul Jones would jump on stage with Jon Brion or the Watkins siblings, and each night was a singular concert experience.

LAist recently spoke with Largo at the Coronet owner Mark Flanagan to get a sneak preview of the venue's 2010 lineup. Read on to learn about Jon Brion's new monthly schedule, Largo's bluegrass festival in March, and upcoming shows for adults and kids.

We've heard rumors about a schedule change for Jon Brion in the coming year. Will he still play on a regular basis in 2010?

We're going to mix things up a bit next year. Jon has so much work coming up—he's doing some producing work with the Punch Brothers and Of Montreal, and he'll be working on two movies back to back. Plus he really wants to finish his next solo record.

So rather than playing every Friday night, Jon will play one Friday night per month, with the first show on Jan. 22. The other new thing we'll be doing with Jon is that once a month, probably the Thursday night before his solo Friday gig, he'll play a show with one other musician—someone like Ben Gibbard, Nels Cline, Andrew Bird or Chris Thile. And once in a while we may add a third person an hour or so into the show, just to see what that new combination would sound like.

Is it true that Aimee Mann will be performing at Largo on a regular basis next year?

Yes. Years ago, she used to play once a month, and we're going to try to get back to that this year—maybe the last Tuesday of each month. She's looking forward to trying out some new songs, plus it's always great when guests stop by. Her Christmas shows were amazing and people like Paul F. Tompkins, Michael Penn and Nellie McKay also performed.

Aimee's not the only one who will have a monthly show, either. We'll continue to have ongoing shows featuring Sarah Silverman, Greg Proops and Paul F. Tompkins.

This year's kids' shows with Justin Roberts (who will return to Largo in February) got rave reviews. Do you have any other upcoming events for children?

There will be a couple. We just added They Might Be Giants to the schedule. They'll actually be playing two shows per day for two days (Feb. 6 and 7). At 2 p.m. each day, they'll do a show for kids, then at 8 p.m. they'll play a regular show.

We're also working on another event for kids, which probably won't happen until mid-March. We're going to try to get the SpongeBob band. Tom Kenny, who used to do a lot of stand-up at Largo, is the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants and he's really talented. He was in a rockabilly band as well, so he's incorporated those elements into his music, and he's done two soundtracks. During his shows, he sings as SpongeBob, and even though the program is mainly for kids, people of all ages really seem to enjoy it.

Sounds like fun! In looking at the upcoming Largo schedule, there are a couple new shows under the category "The Jazz Bakery Presents." What is that?

Well, if I'd had my way, I would've initially opened a jazz venue, because I love jazz. It would've still had comedy and current Largo-type music in it, but jazz would be a major focus.

The Jazz Bakery closed a year ago. The owner is a lovely, vibrant woman in her 80s and she'd been running the place for years. Last year, the rent became prohibitively expensive, so she had to close the venue. So I offered her Largo, and in January we're bringing in Mose Allison and Cedar Walton, who's a Blue Note jazz piano player. Then each following month we'll feature two jazz artists until she gets a new venue.

Is it true you're going to have some sort of a festival at Largo in March?

Yes, it'll be a bluegrass festival. Ed Helms—who in addition to being an actor is also a great banjo player—and I have had several conversations about the fact that we should do a bluegrass festival in LA. So we've taken the weekend of March 19, and we're doing five nights and calling it "The First LA Bluegrass Situation."

We'll have Punch Brothers, the Infamous Stringdusters, the Steep Canyon Rangers with Steve Martin, and we're waiting to hear back from some others, including Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. Plus there will be unannounced special guests. It's going to start with an evening of the Watkins Family Hour on March 18.

There will be post-show Little Room activities in addition to the main shows, and we're also hoping to do a bluegrass clinic on Saturday, and maybe a kids' show on Sunday.

The idea is that we'll do it at Largo this year, then hopefully it can grow into something bigger in the future. I'm going to invite some people from the city of LA to attend in the hopes that they'll love it and put it on downtown as a free festival next year. Places like San Francisco and Nashville have them, so maybe this event can start a tradition in LA.

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Garry Shandling at Largo / Photo by Lincoln Andrew DeFer
When will people be able to buy tickets for the festival?

Tickets will probably go on sale during the third or fourth week of January when we put it up on the Largo website, and we'll try to work out discounts for people who want to attend multiple nights. We're doing the same thing with Henry Rollins, who's playing five nights in June.

You also did a number of 2-for-1 ticket specials throughout 2009.

Yeah, we've been trying to do more since the economy's been so tough. Of course, the one time we did it with Jon, the power went out on the whole block that night. The room was completely packed and it was about 100 degrees outside. Apparently, everyone on the street had turned on their air conditioners and blew out the power.

Jon played for a full hour and five minutes until the power came back on. He just sat at the front of the stage, brought people up, did sing-alongs, played the pump organ, and stuff like that. The next week, we got so many calls from people saying that was the best show they'd ever attended!

That's great! You were speaking a minute ago about people who will be doing shows over multiple nights. Won't Meshell Ndegeocello be doing something like that?

Yes, and she's just incredible. A while back, I only ever knew her as this aggressive slap bass rocker. But one day, Scott our sound guy said, "You need to hear her live." So I attended an evening of covers she did, and her voice just made me say, "Wow!"

So she's coming to Largo in February and doing three evenings. It'll be very intimate—just her and one other person on stage. She'll be doing one evening of covers, and with the other two nights she'll be choosing songs from her album Bitter, which is her fans' favorite record. Then as an encore she'll take requests from her recent record, Devil's Halo, to fill out the night.

February's going to be an amazing month. We've also just added Loudon Wainwright III on Feb. 9 and Richard Thompson on Feb. 11.

In addition to the new jazz and bluegrass concerts you previously mentioned, are there any other new Largo shows you can tell us about?

In June, I'm looking to host a play for a week or so. I'm not allowed to say anything about it yet, but I went to a reading recently and it was fantastic. There will probably be costumes and stuff, but the focus will really be on the dialogue and the acting.

You're always discovering great new music. Other than CDs released by Largo regulars, what are one or two of your favorite albums from 2009?

Patrick Watson's Wooden Arms is at the top of the list. As soon as I received it, I was listening to it nonstop. He played Largo a while back and he'd asked if he could do a complete run-through of the show because the band was also going to perform on KCRW. I was the only one in the audience during their practice session and it was great!

Another CD I love is the one by Dead Man's Bones. It's a band comprised of two actors—Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields—as well as some guest musicians. The record really grew on me. They also have children singing on the album and it's really good. It has a bit of Tom Waits percussion about it, too.

The stuff with the kids reminds me a bit of the Langley Schools Music Project—this CD created in the 70s by a teacher who recorded schoolchildren singing stuff like "Good Vibrations," the Beatles and "Space Oddity."

This has been quite a year for Largo at the Coronet. What have been some memorable shows from the last couple months?

Last Saturday's "Stand-Up Dads" show was one. It featured Patton Oswalt, Greg Behrendt, Greg Fitzsimmons, Julian McCullough, Dana Gould and Tom Lennon. I thought I was going to die laughing—I never stopped.

Another great one was when Garry Shandling was a guest during Sarah Silverman's show in November.

As far as music goes, there were some amazing moments in the Little Room with Sean and Sara Watkins and their guests. There was also a show where Robyn Hitchcock had missed a flight, so around 11 p.m. in the Little Room that night, he, Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch and Grant-Lee Phillips played a bunch of covers. The four of them stood around one mic and sang Beatles and Dylan songs.

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Multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin / Photo by Lincoln Andrew DeFer
How about Jon Brion's show with John Paul Jones?

Yeah, that was another one. First they did "Good Times Bad Times," then Fiona Apple came out and did "Lovesick Blues" with them. It was pretty sublime. Right after that show, in the Little Room, Punch Brothers did some songs by the Cardigans and the Strokes. It was interesting to have two shows in the same night that were so mind-blowing.

And I couldn't believe how good the third night of Aimee Mann's Christmas show was. I was sitting at the back and I was so happy with how everything sounded. Honestly, people probably don't believe me when I say this because it's retrospective, but there were so many flaws with the old Largo that used to drive me crazy...

Such as?

Stuff like sightlines, sound, the noise of the kitchen and the noise of the street. But as I sat in the big room during Aimee's show, I thought, "This is the room I'd always hoped for." Then I felt just as happy last night in the Little Room when Sean, Sara and Jon were playing.

It took a while for me to be happy with the level of the sound here. I'll never forget the first Friday night Jon Brion show at the Coronet. It was completely packed and we just couldn't get the sound right.

Prior to that, we'd been in the same room for 14 years. For this show in the new place, we'd extensively sound checked and it sounded great, but then once people were in the room, it sounded weird. Plus a lot of his equipment is really old stuff and it takes one battery blowing out to set off a chain of events, and that's what happened that night. But now things have really come together and I'm absolutely thrilled.

Now that our time is coming to an end, is there anything else you'd like to add?

I'd just like to take this time to say a big "thank you" to all our patrons this year for having great taste and for coming out to the shows. We look forward to seeing everyone in 2010!

Thanks for speaking with LAist, Flanagan.

To view more of Largo's upcoming 2010 schedule, visit www.largo-la.com. Tickets are available for shows currently listed on the website; more will be added soon. To make a reservation via phone, call (310) 855-0350.

Photos by Lincoln Andrew DeFer