Can you believe it's December already? My concert year will end with two beloved perennials. First up: Aimee Mann's Christmas show, featuring Ted Leo, Liz Phair, Jonathan Coulton, and John Roderick at Bimbo's 365 Club.
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, Bimbo's 365 Club, December 6, 2015: This show was going to be a good one long before the date and hour approached because I managed to convince the McCormicks to join me, despite their busy holiday schedules. It doesn't happen enough -- a lament many of us surely share as our priorities shift and the days fill up. Leave it to an awesome show to bring us together.
My records tell me this is the fifth Christmas show I've seen from Aimee Mann and friends. That sounds too low, and I might've missed a date or two during the leaner year(s). Regardless, it's always a highlight on my calendar, and I look forward to seeing what Aimee and company have cobbled together for the audience.
Aimee has created a general template for these shows: Lots of music of course, connected by a goofy storyline, with help from talented friends. The tunes generally stay the same, with an emphasis on Christmas songs, particularly the titles from Aimee's holiday album. "Calling on Mary" might've been the most serious song of the night; otherwise, even the classics felt airy and fun. The surprises come with the guests and the annual narrative -- but more on that later because it was kind of complicated.
I guess I should note that this was the second year Ted Leo has joined the show; it's basically the Both's Christmas special. If you've been to a Both show, you've heard some of it, including Ted's turn on "A Bottle of Buckie." They also reprised that supersad donkey song and another classic track -- but more on that later.
Liz Phair was the first guest of the evening, and she went directly into "Supernova," which she mentioned was kind of about a star (in reference to the one over Bethlehem, I guess). I haven't seen her in concert in ages, and wouldn't you know, she still looks amazing. The surprise for me: I think she's a better singer now. I think most of us will admit it was never her voice that drew us in on the early records, but she sounded pretty good, especially on the Yuletide tracks, which can be a real test on the vocals. Later in the evening, she delivered a holiday version of her "pop" hit "Why Can't I," with the lyrics rewritten to reference shopping, tinsel, and decorations. As I recall, Susanna Hoffs and "Walk Like an Egyptian" filled that role last year.
About a million years ago, I saw Jonathan Coulton accompany John Hodgman on a book tour. Little did I know Jonathan Coulton would carve out a following over the years -- though I had every confidence that John Hodgman would continue to thrive. Rereading the blog entry, I see that I got a good look at the Jonathan Coulton's act even in that small window. He's a fantastic wordsmith with a ton of humor, and my mind immediately went to They Might Be Giants. Honestly, he's not my preference, but his own Christmas song was pretty great, and he took on the very important non-gentile role for "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve."
John Roderick filled out the trio of guests, and he assumed the coveted role of the Grinch in the annual reading. He took a fair amount of stick from Aimee for not rehearsing before the show and forgetting the cadence of his own song -- not to mention he seemed a little toasty toward the end. Hey, every holiday party has one, right?
Now back to this year's premise: Aimee and Ted addressed the elections their own way, with a yarn about Santa's term limits and the North Pole polls. In the process, Ted revealed his political aspirations and a secret identity. Aimee too dropped her own bombshell about past dalliances, and Jonathan Coulton had the biggest reveal of all, capped off with an Andrew Lloyd Webber number.
To tell you the truth, the premise was a little sweaty, especially compared to years past, but I loved watching the banter between Aimee and Ted. I suspect all the time they spend with comedians and improvisers has paid off. It's not like they were reading from a Teleprompter, but their exchange never sounded anything less than natural and convincingly on cue.
I've probably said this before, but my favorite fruits of the Aimee-Ted musical union is the "Voices Carry" revival. I don't think I can overstate how much I loved this song both then and now, and I knew it was coming as soon as Aimee strapped on the bass -- though I probably could've guessed at it as soon as this tour was announced. However, not content to play it as is, they toyed with it and penned an entirely new premise. Maudie mentioned that Jonathan Coulton may have lent his ear for lyrics to the troupe, and I wouldn't doubt it. But no matter who contributed, the rewrite on "Voices Carry" was inspired and hilarious. If Aimee and Ted ever decide to leave this songwriting thing, I bet they could punch up scripts around Hollywood.
They're the best thing to happen to the holidays since the Rankin-Bass productions, and as with Rankin-Bass, I hope they're back every year. It's a tradition worth celebrating.
» 2006: it's not going to stop
» 2007: unless you hate baby jesus
» 2008: if there's a star above
» 2014: here comes the jackpot question in advance
» "A woman lives here who is fond of triangles."