Regular readers almost got a reprieve. I'd vaguely planned to catch a Cat Power show over Thanksgiving weekend, despite my earlier claims of having hit the Chan Marshall wall. Alas, it didn't happen (I blame the tryptophan), so you're stuck with the usual objects of my obsession.
While we're on the subject, a warning: Barring extenuating circumstances, it's gonna be nearly all Largo, all the time until the end of 2006, including the following Largo-away-from-Largo scenario. You're on notice.
Aimee Mann's 1st Annual Christmas Show, Bimbo's 365 Club, December 4 and 5, 2006: I've squandered a lot of opportunities to see Aimee Mann, perhaps most foolishly during her (arguably) best years, following the success of Magnolia and her masterpiece Bachelor No. 2. It took that long for me to realize how much I love her. But I got a lucky break when I caught the Acoustic Vaudeville tour, featuring Aimee, Michael Penn, and Patton Oswalt at Bimbo's in 2000. I'm pretty sure nostalgia originally moved me to buy tickets to that show, but ultimately, the gig is less a testament to a longing for the past than a peek at my future life as a Largo nerd.
Only time will tell if the gigs' "1st annual" appellation will hold up, but at least the "Christmas" billing was well represented onstage. In addition to the usual array of instruments, more symbols of the season dotted the setup: a pair of reindeer, a Christmas tree, several stockings, strings of lights. Despite these details and the addition of some of Largo's favorite names, I don't think we really knew what to expect from the show.
Even after Aimee and the band had worked their way through a couple of songs, their intentions weren't clear until Paul F. Tompkins joined them onstage. As Aimee and Paul chatted back and forth (with Aimee getting in as many zingers as Paul), they revealed that they were going for a Bob Hope/Andy Williams/Donnie & Marie vibe. Aimee and Paul also proved that their friendship is not just an affectation for the tour. They bantered effortlessly and giddily, though it also felt like they were sharing a big private joke that we couldn't guess at.
In the spirit of those '70s holiday specials, Aimee eventually duetted with each of her big-name guests: Paul, Grant-Lee Phillips, and John C. Reilly. Paul, especially, sounded better than expected. Each also got his time in the spotlight: Paul with his MC responsibilities, Grant as his usual troubador self, and John turning in spoken word duties.
I've never caught Paul's standup, so I'm not familiar with his style apart from what I've seen on VH1's Best Week Ever. I think I like his banter more than his routine, but I loved what he added to the mix. As I've stated again and again, Grant-Lee is one of my longtime favorites, and his voice is always a beautiful thing. I was just happy to hear him with an electric backing band for the first time in a while! I adored hearing Aimee on backing vocals for "Truly Truly," and you had to smile at his duet with Paul on "Little Drummer Boy" (with a heavy tip of the hat to Bing Crosby and David Bowie). John C. Reilly's singing chops are well known, but watching him act out some of the lines from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, I realized that may be the closest I ever get to seeing him in a play.
Rounding out the cast were cameos by Scott Miller (the Loud Family); on the first night, he treated us to an old hymn and a Peanuts classic, but when he did his own songs the second night (complete with an Aimee duet), I understood the connection Aimee must feel with his detailed and maudlin songcraft. Last but not least was Morgan Murphy playing the Hanukkah Fairy--in a white body suit and a pink tutu. Morgan was pretty funny when I saw her with Aimee at Largo back in April, but at Bimbo's, she stole the show. Her mention of the Trader Joe's on Masonic alone was worth the cost of admission.
What about the hostess? In addition to her razor-sharp wit, Aimee treated us to a set heavy on selections from her new Christmas album and a handful of her own songs, including the always popular Magnolia-era hits. The last few times I've seen Aimee, she's turned on her inner Joni Mitchell, and she did so again both nights. It worked nicely on "Red Vines," but "Deathly" didn't fare so well. Though I liked what she did with the vocals, I wasn't a fan of the overall arrangement. One of my favorite aspects of the song is the build toward the bridge, and this new version sort of erased that wonderful, suspenseful effect. That might be my only complaint, especially since she gave us what she claimed was her first-ever performance of "Way Back When."
The ensemble closed out the show in the only way that made sense: with a big singalong visited by both Santa Claus (John C. Reilly) and the Hanukkah Fairy. I was gonna let you guess which one brought the confetti, but I couldn't resist posting the picture.
It's an odd affliction, the need to see an artist repeatedly for fear of missing some nuance that could cast a brand-new light on the performer in question. I know that most bands' performances don't change much, but I'm willing to stick it out for those nuggets of originality, especially if they're sandwiched between songs I love so much.
At this point, you don't have to ask me of all people if it was worth going to both nights. The two shows shared more elements than differences, but we got a slightly different setlist over the two nights, and the participants even mixed up their stage banter. If I had to choose, I guess I liked the first night better, if only because the group seemed less sure of themselves and, thus, more open to goofiness. In fact, Aimee later mentioned that the show felt more like a dress rehearsal than a real gig, but I think this loose take really energized the festivities. The second night, the crowd felt more responsive, and I enjoyed seeing what the performers did to keep the material fresh for themselves.
» i'm the stuff of happy endings