Old habits die hard. I had conferred with a few friends before tickets went on sale for the Aimee Mann/Ted Leo aka #both show at Bottom of the Hill and even decided I didn't need to see both nights. However, I immediately reverted to my old ways when the Web page flipped and bought in for the two evenings. For me, more nights are always better. For everyone else, I'm pretty sure one night of #both will suffice -- and will certainly be worth your while.
#BOTH, Bottom of the Hill, March 26-27, 2013: Let's address the elephant in the room: #both is a terrible, terrible name, and the artists themselves fessed to it early on in the show. I'm guessing they got plenty of guff over it on the Internet, but clearly, they weren't backing down, as they chose to headline this show as the entitled entity. As far as I'm concerned, #both is as bad a moniker as LMFAO -- but that's the only comparison worth drawing between the two.
I didn't know too much about #both before this gig, though I'm not sure Aimee or Ted shared a whole lot of details in the run-up. My lizard brain basically saw Aimee Mann and Bottom of the Hill, and pure reflex took over. I've blogged enough about Aimee to make clear how much I love her music, but it's worth repeating. She marries melancholy to melody in a way few others can, in my estimation.
As for Ted Leo, I've caught him a couple of times before, most recently a guest appearance at a Paul F. Tompkins gig. I appreciate him more than I like him. Does that make sense? But he and Aimee have developed a great rapport, which has been clear from anyone who's followed them on Twitter and quickly became apparent in their shared stage presence.
Technically, I've seen Aimee in a smaller venue (at least a couple of times at the old Largo, to be exact), but Bottom of the Hill is a whole different environment, a bona fide grungy rock club. So it seemed appropriate that Aimee's opening statements addressed the strong pot smell that seemed to spontaneously materialize near the stage. This led to an awesome round of speculation between the two on their respective audience's drug of choice. Well, Ted's take sounded more definitive (speed), but Aimee had the last word on her base's preferred sedative: laudanum. You know she's right!
I hope this gives you an idea of the general air of the show because I can't begin to capture the chummy banter between the two. Fortunately, this camaraderie carried into the music. They opened with a new song from their forthcoming duo record. They reported they've been writing together, which makes sense; after all, they're both singer/songwriters at heart. I'm going to guess, though, that if you hear the new songs without any vocals, the tenor and tempo will give away the main instigator behind the tune. The set opener was pretty much a classic Aimee song, with an easy, effortless pace and a tempered narrative -- in other words, bliss.
Overall, they almost adhered to Aimee's promise of one-third of her tracks, one-third of Ted's tracks, one-third #both titles, and one Thin Lizzy cover. You can do the math, but I think the set slightly favored Aimee's catalog. On the first night, we got 1.5 extra tunes: a parody cover of "Freebird" in response to a cliched request (wasn't it part of her set a couple of years ago?) and "Fourth of July" for a much more informed and discerning fan. Bonus points to Ted for trying to sing along, though he couldn't quite remember all the words. To be fair, Aimee messed up on a couple of Ted's songs -- along with her own "Living a Lie" on opening night!
I can't really talk about Ted's music, though he pointed out that mentions of alcohol have a way of working themselves into his lyrics. I'll take on the mantled of Captain Obvious and state that Ted has a great voice and an deep respect for melodies. He also put in soothing harmonies and striking guitarwork on Aimee's selections. If you want more details on his contributions, I'm afraid you'll have to find a Ted Leo blog -- I'm not up to the task.
As for Aimee, there was obviously no way we'd get to her usual allotment, so we made do with a truncated selection of the tunes the two had rehearsed. I don't think Aimee even got to certain albums, but of course the recent Charmers earned a few slots, as did her best-known Magnolia titles, which elicited their usual warm wave of recognition. I was quite pleased to hear "Little Bombs" from the underappreciated The Forgotten Arm; I believe that's what you'd call a deep album cut.
One variation between the two shows came at the very end of the second night. Whereas Ted has been content to busy himself on guitar for "Deathly" at their first show, he decided to add harmonies on the second night. He did well, but I'm the last person to ask, as the studio recording has my favorite harmony of all time. I appreciated his effort anyway.
I'm putting off discussion of the biggest treat and revelation of the night, which arrived nearly at the end of the gig. Aimee prefaced the song with a long, self-deprecating introduction, calling parts of it dumb, as well as pointing out her young age when she wrote it. She also said the only reason she agreed to it was to hear Ted sing a verse. Ted countered and proclaimed it a "stone classic" -- no argument here. Ted has shown his support of this song before, most notably with his recent cameo in Aimee's video for "Labrador."
The song, of course, was "Voices Carry." I can't undersell this video's impact -- not to mention Aimee's striking image -- on my teenage self, but the truth is I love the song, and I can still sing most of it from memory. I may even still have it on vinyl. In all my times seeing Aimee in concert, I'm pretty sure I've heard it only once before in that long-ago Acoustic Vaudeville tour with Michael Penn.
A funny thing happened, though. Earlier in the show, Ted had shared a story about Paul Stanley and the latter's endorsement of singing along at concerts. I guess it was fresh in our minds because the audience audibly chimed in on the chorus, even eliciting a compliment from Aimee. I hope she takes it as a sign that she should air it more often.
OK, one more attempt to capture their repartee. On the second night, Aimee felt compelled to share a bit of backstage graffiti with us -- namely, the Pussy Rules. This brought up Ted's own report of a disgusting illustration of a hermaphroditic bird at a club in Cleveland. The performers and the audience returned to these talking points again and again throughout the gig for all kinds of hilarity. I won't try to sum them up. Instead, check them out for yourself, courtesy of Aimee's Instagram:
I claim no firsthand knowledge of #both's future plans, other than their announcement of an EP coming out on Matador in August. But you don't have to be a fortune teller to predict they'll be taking this show on the road at some point. With any luck, voices will carry all across the globe in their wake.
» green typewriters
» today's the day
» i'm the stuff of happy endings