With any luck, I'll be able to salvage this year's gig tally with a few late shows. Aimee Mann kicks off the season with her holiday extravaganza.
The Return of Aimee Mann's Christmas Show, the Fillmore, December 5, 2014: Has it been that long since Aimee brought her Christmas show back to the Bay Area? I know it's still an annual event in Los Angeles, and it's entirely possible I've slept on local dates. But wow, I've missed this highlight of the holiday season!
In Aimee's defense, the Christmas shows have always been a more ambitious affair than your average rock gig and thus require extensive preparation. On stage alone, you could see Christmas ornaments strewn across the floor, a couple boxes of costumes, and more microphones than usual for her band. Then again, the show was advertised as Aimee Mann and friends, following the precedent set by earlier runs.
The show opened with the intro to an old-school TV show called Murder, She Sang, featuring Aimee and Ted Leo as a pair of detectives chasing down perps and solving crimes. The clip bore all of Scharpling's auteur touches, but I'm too lazy to confirm it; surely another blog has the details. (Note: I was wrong! The video was, in fact, directed by Daniel Ralston.) Shortly thereafter, Aimee, Ted, and the Both personnel took the stage.
I have to admit I didn't take notes because I was so appalled and aghast at the bridge-and-tunnel yuppies planted to the side of me (more on them later), so the finer details will go AWOL, but at least there are plenty of highlights to report. As befits a Christmas show, Aimee, Ted, and the band did several Christmas songs, including an old-fashioned English carol and another in tribute to Ted's father ("Little Donkey"?). They even snuck in a couple of original tunes, from the Both and their respective catalogs. Aimee's track was "Save Me," and she apologized for its nonholiday content, but I disagree vehemently. The title alone screams of the season, from both theological and psychological standpoints.
But the bulk of the show hearkened back to that first clip, and early on, Aimee and Ted set up the night's conflict: Aimee's desire to take a break from murder mysteries and Ted's dedication to solving crimes. (Once more, I've reduced a fantastic comic conceit to flat prose. Good job, good effort!) Tim Heidecker (the first guest) forced this point right out of the gate, as he rushed to the stage to report that Santa Claus had been killed backstage. Aimee and Ted would return to the case many times throughout the night, even as they brought the rock.
The aforementioned Tim Heidecker reappeared several times through the show, starting with his own stand-up set. I gotta admit Tim and Eric always went right over my head, but he was fantastic onstage, particularly for shutting up the yuppies for a few minutes. Later, he piped in to remind Aimee and Ted of the police matter awaiting their attention, and he took a couple of musical turns. In one, he starred as the title character in "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and in the other, he represented the Jewish new year alongside Father Time (Aimee) and Baby New Year (Ted) on "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve."
The bona fide musical guest for the night was Susanna Hoffs, formerly of the Bangles and her solo career (and UC Berkeley -- go Bears!). Her first song fit into the holiday theme perfectly: "Hazy Shade of Winter." With help from Aimee and Ted, she also treated us to "Walk Like an Egyptian," but with new lyrics offering a lesson on the Jewish holidays, befitting Susanna's heritage, not unlike Morgan Murphy's Hanukkah rap from a few years ago. I'd recite some lyrics if I could, but all I heard was a throwaway reference to the Maccabees.
Rounding out the guest list, Handsome Jack brought up a random audience member for a pretty cool trick. Bless the woman playing the foil; I would've died from embarrassment.
Ultimately, Ted convinced Aimee to put on her detective coat (literally) and solve the crime. Their secret weapon was a song that would squeeze the truth out of anyone, Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." Elementary, my dear Watson! The duo got their man, then serenaded us to Vince Guaraldi's classic "Christmas Time Is Here."
I've managed to trample the duo's impeccable timing and effortless banter, which was a huge part of the show. Aimee and Ted have been touring for more than a year now, and their connection shows. In their nonmusical moments, they were like an old vaudeville team or a screwball comedy. I could listen to them chatting to one another all night.
Back to the embarrassing yuppies: They squeezed in minutes before the band took the stage, already a few sheets to the wind -- so be it. Then it all went downhill after the first words I heard from them, referring to Aimee: "I hope she's wearing underwear." They were the definition of amateurs, trying to heckle Tim Heidecker and nearly getting into a fight with another couple who swooped in when one of the bridge-and-tunnelers disappeared to get more drinks. At one point, I thought they were going to whip out the credit cards and see whose credit limit was bigger. We later heard that the head fool actually puked on the floor before the show. It brought me right back to a laughably mortifying Wilco show at the Saratoga Mountain Winery -- coincidentally, one of the Aimee's regular venues in the Bay Area. I haven't even mentioned the guy in the front who got kicked out for videotaping the whole show on his camera or yet another interloping woman who tried to throw a pin to Aimee onstage. (Duh, you send it via the roadie!)
Despite all these shenanigans, Aimee put on arguably her most ambitious Christmas show yet, and the gang lived up to the legend. Someday, when we come to our senses, we may finally realize it ranks up there with other Christmas masterpieces like the Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet and the original Star Wars Holiday Special.
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