If it feels a little like Groundhog Day around here--you can't tell me you're surprised. But in case you're wondering, I will eventually see musicians mentioned fewer than 10 times in this blog. Check back at the end of the month, but be warned: It's gonna get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Carry on.
Aimee Mann, Largo, February 5, 2008: Largo's monthly calendar is an endless source of temptation for me, but believe it or not, sanity usually wins out. For example, in the run-up to Aimee's show, I waffled more than a line cook at an IHOP as I weighed the prospect of shoehorning another trip into a month already laden with out-of-town engagements vs. seeing one of Largo's most famous patrons almost literally in her element. In the end, a lovely little coincidence/excuse availed itself, and I latched onto that loophole like the world-class rationalizer I am. That's a good reason, right?
Two years ago, I saw for myself how awesome the combination of Aimee Mann and Largo could be. I know I parrot endlessly the idea that there's no place like Largo, but certain artists drive home that point to a prodigious degree. Of that group, you'll find no better example than Aimee.
Take, for example, her gig here last month. Aimee and gang put on a valiant effort, but I gotta say they were a bad match for the club and the event. However, I left more disappointed in the audience than the artists.
Fast-forward a month, though, and you'll find no such worries at Largo, and Aimee allayed these concerns immediately, arriving onstage with the buoyant cry of "Mitt Romney '08!" Rest assured, it was strictly Super Tuesday humor; she later called the former governor of Massachusetts "creepy"; there were words for Huckabee and Bush too.
So along with her trusty cohorts Paul Bryan and Jamie Edwards, who filled out the "acoustic-Moog trio," she did a bunch of new songs from her forthcoming album, Smilers, arriving in April. They opened with two tracks that are already settling into her live repertoire, "Freeway" and "31 Today," which I've tried to describe earlier. In all, we heard seven or eight songs from the new LP tonight. I realized I've heard at least a couple of them before; she aired the one with the "bitch" lyric at that 2006 Largo show and the duet with Sean Hayes (though Paul Bryan filled in tonight) at the most recent Christmas shows.
You know that Aimee isn't about to release, say, a Timbaland remix anytime soon, so it should come as no surprise that the Smilers material featured her trademark songcraft and workmanship. But in case you were bracing yourself for the tempered tone of Lost in Space and The Forgotten Arm, you might like to know that we even heard some upbeat numbers, such as "Freeway," the Sean Hayes duet, and another song that was commissioned (and ultimately rejected) by the makers of Shrek III.
Anyway, that was the first half of the show. The second half comprised older songs, mainly requests, from a wide swathe of her solo discography. There were a few miscues, such as when Aimee and Paul "let" Jamie tickle out a prolonged intro for "Video" while they settled some musical question between them. On another song (I can't recall which), Aimee sang the entire first verse in the wrong key before she realized it, 'fessed up, and corrected herself--quite charmingly, I might add.
Her choice of backing players was not so surprising on the surface, as both Paul Bryan and Jamie Edwards have been with her for a while now, but it was odd to see only the two of them. That is, there was no drummer, aside from Aimee briefly batting the bongos for "You're with Stupid Now." Instead, they made up a lean, agile unit that allowed Aimee to entertain a well-edited bundle of audience suggestions. In fact, I think this was the first show I've seen where Aimee didn't do any Magnolia-related tunes. On the other hand, we got some unexpected choices, such as "How Am I Different," which I didn't expect to work as well as it did without electric guitar.
The night's unifying element was, of course, Aimee--not just her songs but her very demeanor. I don't think I've ever seen her so relaxed and open, and throughout the night--whether responding to an overzealous fan, relating the machinations behind soundtrack work, or bursting the encore bubble--her bone-dry humor grounded the sometimes tragic tales she weaves. Mostly, though, she made us laugh. A lot. Especially when she closed the show with another call for "Romney '08!"
I flew home the next morning, skipping Aimee's second Largo show (as well as an invite-only gig the day after--not that I got tickets for it anyway), and as you might expect, I felt a tinge of regret. On the other hand, I left with memories of a great show that reminded me why I love both Aimee and Largo. I'm looking forward to this new album and the gigs surely to follow.
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