Did I want to attend Largo at the Coronet's inaugural show with Aimee Mann? You betcha, but you gotta choose your battles/itineraries. Besides, the club is new, and I'll surely be back often--Largo overload will beckon soon enough.
Aimee Mann, Largo at the Coronet, June 9, 2008: One of the things I hate about growing older as a concertgoer is the choice of venues I'm supposed to favor. OK, I don't exactly love general admission campouts, and I'm not really willing to deal with two opening acts and 11:30 p.m. headlining slots these days, but dammit, I'm not dead yet! I hate that I'm expected to patronize the summer winery circuit--those prim, seated, admittedly lovely outdoor venues, usually out in the 'burbs, intended for musicians and fans of a certain age. Unfortunately, that's where the likes of Aimee Mann, Crowded House, and others often end up these days.
I, however, get to gloat that I don't have to put up with them, as long as I'm willing to make a trip down south. And if you've read this blog before, you know where my compass points. Also, I'm now hooked on seeing Aimee at Largo, where she seems more willing to take chances and diverge from the premeditated plans.
Aimee's first utterance to the audience certainly fell into the "divergence" category, as her disembodied voice sounded out over the PA. It was so unexpected, in fact, that we didn't realize she was talking until she sharpened her tone and told us to shut up and to welcome Paul F. Tompkins to the stage. I'm kinda killing it here, but I swear it was a lot funnier than I can get across.
Speaking of funny, PFT was, as usual, great in his brief opening set. He was probably at his most hilarious not during his act proper, but when he went to introduce Aimee, who was still tuning and asked him to keep talking until she and the band were ready. There followed several minutes of the two of them jokingly sniping at each other through the Coronet's heavy drapes. I can't say much more about it except that PFT capped the conversation with the most hyperbolic introduction ever (there was something about us chopping off our hands after the show because we would never clap as we had this evening)--which Aimee not so humbly accepted.
The Largo schedule listed Aimee with a full band tonight, but only Paul Bryan and Jamie Edwards accompanied her. She explained the omission later, but I didn't particularly mind, as I love this grouping. They weren't alone, though, as a harmonica player (Jack Rudy), Aimee's customary drummer (John Sands), and even PFT himself joined them at various points in the set. In PFT's case, he filled in for Sean Hayes on "Ballantines."
As you might expect, they went heavy on the @#%&! Smilers material and filled out the rest of the set with older titles, including Magnolia tunes, the seasonally apt "4th of July," and the relatively left-field choice of "Long Shot." In addition, they covered '70s-era Elton John and Rod Stewart, keeping with Aimee's comments in recent interviews that she was going for the decade's singer/songwriter vibe for this album.
I'm pretty crazy about Aimee's music, but I gotta say, Smilers is the first of her albums since Bachelor No. 2 to grab me so quickly. For me, at least, the difference is clear: Paul Bryan's production chops have proven a worthy match for her impeccable songwriting. His arrangements and other creative details really bring out the nuances of her music: the gallows humor and the damning self-knowledge, especially in contrast to her utterly hummable melodies.
As much as I dig Smilers, I was surprised to hear the songs in their final studio versions, especially after listening to several of them develop over the last few years. Who knew there'd be so much Moog on the record? Or that "Medicine Wheel," which she first played at Largo two years ago (as a tip of the hat to Fiona Apple), would morph from a challenge to herself to a stinging rebuke? In fact, all the songs I thought were charming jaunts in their earlier incarnations ("Borrowing Time," for example) reveal their thorns on the album, and they carried a lot more weight tonight. However, I chalk up this disparity more to my general denseness than to Aimee's writing.
My hatred of the winery circuit isn't the only rationalization I dredged up to see this show; I just love the affect Largo has on Aimee. In addition to bantering with PFT, she rolled out great stories, including the belabored process of making music for movies ("Borrowing Time"), the famous director who inspired "Cigarettes and Red Vines," and not so much a jab at Feist, but at the biz's short-term memory, including that of her manager.
Largo's halo effect was probably most evident in the encore, which extended beyond her typical couple of tunes. As a bonus, she didn't dismiss most of the audience requests out of hand (though she commented that she's the "anti-Jon Brion" because she never remembers words or chords or if even she's heard the song before). I thought for a second we might get my request for "Ray," but my hunch proved wrong. Still, I can't complain about the final cut of songs, comprising one of my favorites from The Forgotten Arm ("Video"); the misheard "blue balls," which Aimee sarcastically berated until she discovered that the fan had actually asked for "Little Bombs"; and charmingly cobbled-together "Ghost World."
One final note before I go: Due to crossed signals and general miscalculations, we barely made it to our seats before they shut the gates. Man, I would've had egg on my face if I'd screwed up this one. To anyone who might accompany me to Largo at the Coronet in the future: It won't happen again, I promise!
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