Hey look! Multiple gigs in a month -- with more to follow. Ah, it's nice to be back, especially to see Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, aka the Both (now officially named), in their return to San Francisco, this time at the Great American Music Hall.
The Both, Great American Music Hall, June 12, 2014: Last year, when the Both tested the waters together at Bottom of the Hill, they seemed serious in their intent, though many questions lingered -- specifically, when their record would come out and how many songs would be on it. The process took longer than expected, but they made good and even took the show on the road for the rest of the United States (and overseas?) to witness.
A year on, their show has changed in only the fine details, but certainly not in the spirit or the execution. For one thing, they have a drummer now, though I didn't catch his name. Also, they have the aforementioned album to play and not a mishmash of their solo compositions and collaborative tracks (not that there's anything wrong with that). Among the band tracks, "You Can't Help Me Now" grabbed me most firmly, perhaps because it bore all the trademark signs of classic Aimee tracks. On the other hand, I never would've pegged "Hummingbird" as an Aimee song -- maybe due to its unlikely inspiration, Ted's love of Tolkien. In any case, they managed to forgo the Led Zeppelin treatment and turn it into a pretty, pastoral song you'd never otherwise relate to Middle Earth.
If you missed them the first time around, you needn't worry too much, as they revived some of their greatest hits, including the Pussy Rules first imparted at Bottom of the Hill. Honestly, this story needs to be heard and may be reason enough for anyone to see a Both show. We got a slight twist at the Great American: Either someone in the audience had heard the story before or she was the author of said rules. Whatever the explanation, she was clearly dying to get in on the action and interjected a slight spoiler at the start of the yarn. This threw Aimee and Ted for a bit, but they resumed raconteur duties shortly thereafter. We also got a story about playing at a political event, where Hillary Clinton reportedly swayed to "Save Me" and Jeb Bush probably felt pressured to compliment their performance.
Overall, their banter and interaction have strengthened, which is saying a lot, considering how relaxed they look last year. Ted told a story about taking a spiritual retreat in Napa, complete with a naked dip at the local hot springs, and though she wasn't there to witness it, Aimee took it upon herself to fill us in on one of the guests, "Mr. Knee Bush" (use your imagination). Aimee also said she'd never do that unless she was in an old-timey bathing suit. On the same anatomical note, they opened the show with Aimee griping about a certain brand of toilet paper's current TV campaign featuring cartoon bears. Ted took the honor of repeating the unfortunate slogan ("enjoy the go") since Aimee couldn't bring herself to say the words.
I'm happy to report one portion of the show that hasn't changed is the inclusion of "Voices Carry." Though Aimee continues to qualify it as a song she wrote a long time ago and they only perform it because she likes to hear him take the falsetto, Ted is just as steadfast in his view of it as a "stone-cold classic." I'm with him on that count.
Nick and Evan from Islands opened the show. Because I'm old, I couldn't pick out Islands from a police lineup if I tried. Also, how many "islands" bands are in operation these days? We probably weren't the most enthusiastic audience, apart from the two younger ladies near me, but I guess we showed slightly more life than the show-goers from the night before. (C'mon, it was Napa on a Wednesday night.) The set was about half covers (I think), but the stand-out track was an original, "Shotgun Vision." Even in the acoustic arrangement, you could hear its power and energy.
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