AN EVENING WITH A GOON – Tobias Jesso Jr. plays The Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles – Easter 2015
The last show on a tour can sometimes yield an evening of surprises. It’s an opportunity for a performer to joyfully let loose and give the audience something extra special: a longer than usual set, an unexpected cover, or a special guest appearance. At the final show of his recent North American tour at The Bootleg in Los Angeles on Easter Sunday, Canadian singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr. checked off all of the above–and then some–in a little over an hour performing to a full house of a few hundred people.
The tremendous surprise of the evening follows the first song, a beautiful cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen.” Tobias, sitting on the piano bench, looks around a stage littered with instruments and amps. “Look at all this!” he exclaims. He then tells the audience about a band named Duk (pronounced like the water fowl), whom he first saw perform at a nearby venue. He explains that he was smitten by their music and how, from that day forward, he started going to every single one of their shows in Los Angeles, where the Vancouverite currently resides.
What we then began to suspect happens: he calls the six members of Duk up on stage. They grab guitar, bass, drums, viola, trumpet, and sax. What we don’t expect is that the six musicians will remain onstage for the entire duration of the show in what will be Tobias Jesso Jr.’s first ever full-band show. “While I’ve been out touring, they’ve listened to the album and written or learned all the parts,” he says. So beginning with “Can We Still Be Friends?” and for ten songs on the setlist of a dozen, Tobias Jesso Jr. eschews his solo acoustic habits to play “the very first of a long-running…like…THING!”
The performer’s evident multi-instrumental delight is palpably giddy and sweetly goofy. After a jaunty rendition of “Crocodile Tears” he is grinning from ear to ear, equal parts creator and fanboy of the music happening around him. “I wasn’t even expecting that! I’m a music fan. I’m a BIG music fan! Was that Chet Baker? Louie Armstrong over here,” he jokes, gesturing toward the horn section. “This is soooooo gooooood!”
His good mood lifts the room via a generous and amusing smattering of banter between songs:
– “I just played Vancouver where I’m from. My mom was at the show so I had to watch my language the whole time. I was like ‘Uh…Damn! Let’s do this!’”
– “Where’s my capo? Oh! In my back pocket! I’m so well prepared!”
– “I wore my good jeans. It’s LA!”
– [To audience re guitarist] “Let’s see if he knows this part…” [back to guitarist] “You fuckin’ nailed it!”
– “I’m not a jammer. So to get to play when they’re jammin’, I FEEL like I’m jammin’. It’s great! It’s fuckin’ fantastic! I’m like one of those guys!”
– “I’m not a father.” (As a preamble to ‘Just a Dream’ which features an imaginary daughter).
– “We’ve got one more before the encore. I’m just going to be obvious about it.”
– After mentioning a broken finger, Tobias was called an MVP by a man in the crowd. “I’m an OG, Original Goon…I’ve told that joke a million times.”
– “I’m tall enough. I can see you guys” (looking over the top of the piano).
– “I promised myself I would NEVER be the guy who says ‘Are you having a good time?’ but I’ve said it like nine times tonight!”
Following these interstitial spurts of chatter and laughter, within the first few chords of each song, Tobias flips a magical switch, deftly leading us back to the deep, emotional terrain where his repertoire resides. And thus we willingly surrender to this pied piper of the heartstrings, skipping to and fro from giggles to lump-in-the-throat wonder and back.
In this whirl of emotions, “True Love,” an online demo favorite that “wasn’t figured out in time for the record,” provides the poignant pinnacle of the set. Tobias lets the line “Do you need me…” sung high in both pitch and emotion, dangle in a silence of several seconds before delivering the confessional continuation “…like I need you?” During the final chorus of “Is what you call true love, true love, true love…” I personally battle tears and am further moved when, from my front row position, it seems that the singer has become misty-eyed as well, carried away in the moment.
A cover of the American songbook classic “My Funny Valentine” follows, along with Tobias’s admission of venturing “way outside of my comfort zone.” The ballad made the setlist this final night of the tour as a nod to his support, songstress Okay Kaya, because it’s her favorite song. Tobias makes it bravely through the verse but gets stuck on the line “Is your figure less than Greek?” He grapples for a small folded paper, unfolds it and starts over, referring to his handwritten lyrics as needed. Relaxed and able to focus on delivery above memory, he performs a subtle, beautifully phrased rendition of this Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart standard.
The set ends with two of the singer-songwriter’s best-known tunes: “Hollywood” and “How Could You Babe?” For the last song, Tobias Jesso Jr. gives the crowd a final, delightful surprise. Instead of the heartbreaking rendition of “How Could You Babe?” that is familiar to fans of the album Goon, Tobias leads a massive, jubilant sing-along. “You guys have fun! Just sing along!” he admonishes. “If you don’t know it, just listen to the first chorus, it’s the fuckin’ easiest song in the world! So sing the second one and the third one! It’s so easy!” He then demonstrates, concluding, “It’s THAT simple!” Finally, he briefs the band on who plays where and we’re ready to do this.
The crowd obligingly and euphorically sing-shouts karaoke-esque choruses of “Hooooooooow could you baaaaabe!!!!???” Each instrument solo is wildly applauded and hoots of laughter fill the room. The final chorus ends with Tobias shouting “Come on! Fuck it! Everybody!” and emitting a rising punkish howl of “Hooo-oooo-ooooow!!!???” in lieu of the broken-voiced lament on the record. The experience leaves one wondering if that might not be exactly how breakup songs really should be performed: in a riot of cathartic, top-of-your-lungs mirth.
It is a truly memorable and special evening for everyone in the room. “This is it! You guys are at the first ones! I love it! I was just smiling the whole way through!” the singer rejoices of his successful full band slam dunk. “These are fucking THE GUYS! This made my night 100 times better, and thus your guys’ night maybe 20% better.”
Tobias thanks the crowd and continues to give of his time and contagious cheer after the show as he signs records and poses for pictures. I am first in line. He asks for and is granted permission to “Goon up” my album sleeve.
He then inquires, “Do you want a picture?” and grabs my phone as I am about to hand it to a friend. “Let’s do a selfie! Wait! Where’s the light?” and 6’7” Tobias casually reaches up to the spotlight on the ceiling and reorients the flaps to achieve better lighting conditions. He takes a picture—well, actually 13–and we part ways with a giant hug as he thanks me for coming.
Tall in stature, big-hearted on stage and in person, and no doubt destined for grand things in his musical career, Tobias Jesso Jr. is a gentle, affable, talented, albeit genially goofy, giant. The “Original Goon” has conveyed a delightful new connotation to that word. The world needs more Goons.
Tobias Jesso Jr., vox, piano and guitar, was accompanied by members of Duk:
Greg Zilboorg, trumpet
Ryan Parrish, tenor sax
Ari Balouzian, viola
Cary Singer, guitar
Max Whipple, electric and standing bass
Kane Ritchotte, drums
Tobias Jesso Jr. Setlist for The Bootleg Theatre, April 5, 2015
Thirteen (Big Star cover)
Can We Still Be Friends?
Tell the Truth
Just a Dream
My Funny Valentine (cover)
How Could You Babe?
Tobias Jesso Jr. is on tour throughout Europe in May 2015.
Check here for dates: http://www.tobiasjessojr.com/#tour