By Alex Palmer
Largo has everything you would expect from an L.A. club. Located right at the edge of the Hollywood circus, near the corner of Fairfax and Melrose, the musty, modest-sized club is a hot spot of celebrity sightings, fine drinks, and hard-to-get reservations. Beck, Tom Petty, and Jack Black have all made appearances and if you reserve a table or stand back by the kitchen, you might end up chatting with someone whose video is getting heavy rotation on MTV (or more likely these days, MTV2). But as "L.A." as Largo sounds, pretension and star-worship are hard to find here. Instead, Largo exudes understated classiness. Getting everything from a rock concert to dinner theater, the audience comes here for a pop show, but an intelligent pop show.
Since the wait for even the regular performers can be lengthy and there are no promises, you can score a standing space by the bar, or the best option is to secure a dinner reservation by calling ahead (323-852-1073). You still pay the cover charge (usually $15) and have to buy at least $10.00 of drinks and food, but you get a VIP-grade table and enjoy your dinner and drinks during the show. The limited menu offers solid entrée choices (the Glazed Honey Chicken Breast is excellent!) and the wine list includes selections that go well with Largo's appealing performers. Largo offers a suitable pair of Merlots: the Caliterra with its fruity taste and toasty feel go nicely with the casual but cultured atmosphere, but a better choice might be to get a bottle of the Barton & Guestier. This French Merlot has a smoky after-taste that accompanies a meal and the music perfectly.
The regular performers, a mix of pop's mainstream and fringe players like wistful singer-songwriter Jude and the now-defunct Toad the Wet Sprocket's frontman Glenn Phillips, treat their shows as an opportunity to entertain, not just to play. They joke with the audience and their bandmates, and seem to really have fun. They show off their talents, but are just as excited as diners when a set goes well. Chris Thile, the 24 year old mandolin virtuoso from the bluegrass band and Largo regular Nickel Creek, introduced his incredible stringed rendition of a Bach sonata by telling the audience, "If I pull this off, I better get a kiss after the show!" The artists usually stick around by the stage's exit as people leave, so you actually can give them a kiss of appreciation if you want, but a handshake might be acceptable too. If you are feeling generous, you can offer them a glass of champagne. Largo offers bottles of both Veuve Cliquot and Moet et Chandon.
The most familiar of the Largo family is Jon Brion, the musical multi-tasker who is recently making headlines for co-producing Kanye West's number one album, "Late Registration." Though Brion has discovered an unlikely knack for hip-hop, his usual interest is the deceptively simple Starbucks-friendly pop-rock artists, like Rufus Wainwright, Aimee Mann, and Fiona Apple. Since 1997, he has had a weekly residency at Largo, performing a mix of his own material and other artists' songs on any instruments that happen to appeal to him. Brion's more buoyant performances make the spicy Placido an ideal pairing with the entertainment. The Italian Chianti's harmonious taste and floral hints elevate the drinker's jaunty listening experience.
But as enjoyable as the Placido can be, a bigger draw of Brion's shows is the likely appearance of his friends and collaborators. Besides Largo regulars like Thile and Grant Lee Phillips, Fiona Apple, Michael Stipe, and even Sir Paul McCartney have graced Largo's stage unannounced. The fact that superstars are performing for a few dozen fans stops mattering as the exuberance of Brion and his guests take over. The obvious exhilaration felt by Brion and his collaborators about the songs they are playing, and who they are playing with, turns the performers on stage into any other excited members of the audience. As the bouquet of merlot fills your nostrils and the plucking of a Dylan cover or pounding of an old blues tune drowns out any celebrity pretension, you may find the simple joy of hearing a new favorite song. It is easy to forget that Hollywood is just a few blocks down the street.