Aimee Mann | 11.13.12

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charmer mannIt is not an exaggeration to say that I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t discovered her music.

 

The Pageant, St. Louis MO

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Aimee Mann is my therapist, She doesn’t have a swanky office with a leather couch and a box of tissues or an exorbitant hourly rate. She isn’t even aware that she could add this job to her resume. However, she has been there for almost every major devastation of my adult life, and her music has been like therapy sessions, helping me navigate my way through heartbreak, loss, identity crises (yes, plural), and just the everyday effort it takes to walk through this life without losing your sanity. She may not have a doctorate in Behavioral Studies, but man, does she get it. She gets it, and she gets me to get it. It is not an exaggeration to say that I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t discovered her music.

All that said, it’s a tall order indeed to write this review. I have heart palpitations trying to string together words about someone who is such an important influence in my life. Oh, review my songwriting hero? Oh, okay. No pressure there or anything. So let’s just go into this knowing that there are no words. There are no adequate words that would satisfy me in expressing my gratitude and awe for this woman. Fantastic, now some of the pressure is off; I can breathe easier, and the cold sweats and metallic taste in my mouth are dissipating. Let’s get on to the business of a concert review, shall we?

Normally one of the perks to reviewing concerts is free tickets to the show, but in this case, I wasn’t taking any chances that maybe I wouldn’t get the assignment. So, I was among the first in line when tickets went on sale several months back. When the dude in the box office told me that my seat was front and center, I was so happy that if there hadn’t been plexiglass between us, I’d have kissed him, maybe even with tongue. There is nothing to complain about when it comes to a front-row seat. So what if I wore my coat the whole night because a vent blasting arctic cold air was directly above me? Pffft...I love that coat and cold air is good for shrinking fall-ravaged sinuses. So what if the guy next to me smelled like he smoked all the cigarettes? It was a reminder of how proud I am of quitting five years ago and how glad I am that I no longer smell like Satan’s bowels. Nothing, short of a total natural disaster, can ruin a front-row seat at a concert.

I was only familiar with a smidgen of Ted Leo & the Pharmacists’ work, but I knew enough to be excited. Leo was sans Pharmacists but had no problem giving the crowd a full and rich performance with just his voice and electric guitar. He’s so masterful with that guitar, it’s massively entertaining just to watch him do what he was obviously born to do. Especially on a tune like “One Polaroid a Day,” where much of the song is played “up the neck” of the guitar. Leo’s eyes are closed almost the entire time he sings and his fingers fly across the strings. Before starting into “The Toro and the Toreador,” he joked, “It would be extremely presumptuous of me to say this is my ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ so I never do.” It is lengthy, but in the moment it goes by like a flash. The song is such a beautiful journey and really pulls you into its embrace. No doubt about it, the next time Ted Leo & the Pharmacists come through town, I will be there.

Aimee Mann came onstage after a quick set change and was joined by her marvelous backing band, including producer and bassist Paul Bryan. The set began with “Disappeared” from the 2012 Charmer LP and traveled through other selections from her new work, such as “Gumby” and my favorite from this album, “Labrador.” The video for “Labrador” is a shot-for-shot remake of the ’Til Tuesday video for “Voices Carry.” Onstage, on Twitter, in her songs, and definitely in the videos for Charmer, Mann’s sense of humor and skillful use of sarcasm are a big part of what endears her to me so completely.

In between songs, Mann shared what she and her cohorts had been up to while in St. Louis, including a trip to the Esquire to see Argo and enduring the poorly designed theater’s cramped seating. Bryan mentioned the Moolah Theatre as an alternative for the next time—“I sat in a leather sofa and drank scotch”—to which Mann responded, “I hate you.” The band also enjoyed knocking down some pins at Pin Up Bowl. Well, some pins, “Uh, I broke 50. I would venture to say that Paul Bryan is even worse than me. Uh, Ted Leo is slightly less worse. Jebin [keyboardist] was not bad. Ivan the drummer is like a fucking expert. He was a hustler. He killed everyone. It was very fun. Plus you can drink. Obviously, why bowl if you’re not drunk. Am I right?”

Leo returned to the stage to sing the part The Shins’ James Mercer did in “Living a Lie,” and much as I love Mercer, Leo completely slayed him in this version, and brought far more interesting vocal choices to the duet. Before starting into, “Ray.” Mann let loose with some more comedy. I missed her explanation for why they were researching songs from the 1970s but caught her funny truth telling when she said, “There was this thing happening in the ’70s where everyone was fucking crazy and everyone pretended not to notice.” So true. See? She is a therapist. She totally knows crazy when she sees it. If you don’t think the 1970s, while fabulous, weren’t completely on a whole ’nother level of Crazytown, you did not spend any time in them. Mann spent some time diving into the catalog of Captain & Tennille, including “Muskrat Love” which she called “relentlessly, deeply dumb.” Amen, Aimee Mann, amen.

Afterward, the band left Mann alone to perform a trifecta of loveliness from Magnolia: “Save Me,” “Wise Up,” and Harry Nilsson’s “One.” “Wise Up” is a perfect example of one of those shrink sessions I mentioned before. I would have loved to hear more of my favorite songs live, such as “It’s Not,” “Invisible Ink,” and “Driving with One Hand On the Wheel,” but I couldn’t be too disappointed that she didn’t play them because, really, there aren’t any of her songs that I don’t love and don’t want to hear live. I am pretty easy to please that way. During the encore, she played several songs people had requested through Twitter, such as “Going Through the Motions” and “Red Vines.”

Like Leo, Mann also closes her eyes much of the time when singing. I used to think that this was a self-conscious kind of thing. That it was one step above turning your back on the audience, a lá Jim Morrison, and that they do it because it makes the performer nervous to see the audience. Now I think it’s more about reaching down inside of one’s self, shutting off one of the senses (sight) in order to let your mind focus in more keenly on another sense (sound). Whatever the real reason, both Mann and Leo are extraordinary vocalists who consistently make unique creative choices in their performances and utilize their ranges brilliantly.

There can be a little letdown sometimes, when you finally get to see one of your favorite musical acts perform live. Maybe you’ve built it up in your head too much or they have an off night and it sullies the spell they’d cast on you previously. Sometimes the performance on the LP, through the magic of technology and expensive equipment, is not a truthful barometer of their actual talent and you wind up disappointed at the real, live version. Thankfully, none of that is even remotely the case with Mann. Her talent is incomparable and she is, herself, a natural charmer. She is also one hell of a therapist. | Janet Rhoads

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