Aimee Mann (credit: Joan Bowlen)
Aimee Mann is one of those artists whose live incarnations of songs never veer too far from their original album versions, but there’s something about the passion and intensity of the performances that cause her shows to be truly special affairs. Maybe it’s the fact that Mann possesses one of the strongest and most consistent catalogues of any female singer-songwriter to come out of the 90’s (granted, she was a member of ‘Til Tuesday from the 80’s, but went solo with 1993’s Whatever). Maybe it’s that her wry demeanor and casual presence seemingly belies the raw potency of her songs. Maybe it’s that her band always appears so intent on delivering the best they can with these songs. Maybe it’s all of these, or none, but the fact remains that an Aimee Mann show is bound to be one worth remembering, and her first stop in the Bay Area on the tour supporting her new album Charmer didn’t fail to deliver.
The night started easily enough, but by song two the band had run into some technical difficulties with their equipment, with the bass not coming through the amp correctly. This caused Aimee to make quick banter before an audience member yelled out for Lost In Space’s “It’s Not,” which she then tried, despite missing some lyrics. It was actually a fantastic performance, and the band joined in two-thirds of the way through, once the sound had been fixed.
The next surprise came during the duet “Living a Lie,” which on the album is sung by The Shins’ James Mercer. Mann invited local legend John Vanderslice to join her on the song, and their voices were perfectly suited for the piece. They also seemed to really enjoy themselves, which led to a great performance. Then came “Ray,” which definitely brought the tempo down, but it’s a welcome rarity for her set, and the band was very tight on the arrangement.
It wouldn’t be an Aimee Mann show without at least two cuts from the Magnolia soundtrack, which is certainly one of her career highlights. Longtime fans may get frustrated by the unending deference to the album, wishing she’d play some of the more obscure tracks like “Momentum” or “Driving Sideways.” But, by presenting “Save Me” solo, and then adding keys to an otherwise solo take on “Wise Up,” Mann stripped down the songs to their barest constituent parts, and reminded the audience why these tracks are so vital to her catalogue. They’re great selections, and incredibly intense lyrical explorations on love, addiction and interpersonal struggle, and Mann thankfully found a new way to present the tracks so that the audience could reconnect to them and fall back in love all over again.
“Slip and Roll” and “Soon Enough,” both cuts from Charmer came next, and while finely executed lacked the punch of those that came before. But, then Mann launched into the closing couplet of “That’s Just What You Are” (one of her best rockers) and “It’s Not Safe,” both from 1995’s I’m With Stupid. Honestly, it was a surprise to get four tracks from this album, considering it’s now almost twenty years old, but they’re all some of her songs from the 90s, and nice to see Aimee think so fondly of her older work.
The encore section, though, was the real gem of the evening. Tons of people in a seeming chorus had requested “4th of July” when she was tuning for Save Me, and so when she came out for the first encore and sang the ballad from her solo debut (1993’s Whatever), the crowd just lost it. Some sang along, some stood in a hushed reverence, and in general everyone just drank in the four minutes with rapture. “King of the Jailhouse” was slightly revamped with much more focus on electric guitar, which helped propel the otherwise slight dirge-like quality of the song. And then “Deathly” came, and it’s always a great closer, since it’s got an epic quality to it that really benefits an end-of-night tying up of everything laid out over the last two hours.
But, because of the wild applause and enthusiasm of the crowd, Mann returned to the stage for an acoustic second encore of The Forgotten Arm’s brilliantly hushed track “Little Bombs.” While this piece belies the casual rock and roll of Charmer, it’s a nice bridge between newer Aimee Mann and older, sounding at points like it could have been on I’m With Stupid, or Lost In Space, and yet also has the keyboard-focused intensity of her last two albums. A beautiful ending to a truly spectacular evening.
It’s Not (by request)
You Can Make A Killing
Lost In Space
Living a Lie (w/ John Vanderslice)
Save Me (solo)
Wise Up (solo w/ keys)
Slip and Roll
That’s Just What You Are
It’s Not Safe
4th of July (by request)
King of the Jailhouse
Little Bombs (by request)