Sunday, November 14, 2010


"I'm going to play some new songs, so if you want to go to the bathroom, I totally understand." Who else but Aimee Mann would offer that line up without any venom? It's been a few years since her last album, Smilers, so it was good to hear a few new songs.  Her fans may certainly be attached by earlier songs in their catalog (I cite Bachelor No. 2 and Lost In Space as two of my favorite albums ever, and I love her other ones also), but it's not the classic rock crowd, we want to hear where Aimee's at today.  But she's so polite, so self-aware, to offer that caveat before playing new songs (more on them in a second).

Where she's at and where she's always been, is that she's writing about flawed characters, and doing so without judgement. She's always done this so well. And the songs are always so well crafted!  Not that they're "sweet," per se, but if you're not totally paying attention, you may miss how dark they can be.  I think that's one of the things that her fans really like about her.

Another is her charm.  She's always known that there's something a bit ridiculous about performing on stage to a few hundred (or thousand) people and trying to have a conversation. Hence, her deciscion on a tour a few years ago to hire a comedian (Patton Oswalt) to provide between-song banter for her (when she herself is, in fact, quite funny). Last night at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, she joked about everything from her out of tune guitar, to not remembering how to play some of her classics (like "Ghost World") to how we formulate our ideas of what adulthood will bring when we're eight years old, and never modify those ideas. And she pointed out that her brother, possibly forgetting what she does for a living, told her that "no one wants to hear new songs at a show."

Last night she had a different setup than usual: it was just Aimee, with Paul Bryan on bass and keyboards and Jamie Edwards on keyboards, it was a bit more stripped down than her usual shows. She played lots of songs from her recent albums ("Freeway," "31 Today," "That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart") as well as bunch of things from Magnolia ("Save Me," "Wise Up," "Build That Wall," her cover of "One"). Those songs still pack incredible emotional punch, but they're also subtle.  On one hand, she isn't a R&B or blues singer who really hits you with her singing.  On the other hand, she's much more interesting than most folk singers or "indie rock" artists.  When she's performing, everything is about the song. In between songs, her personality wins you over.  It's such a great combination.

Her new songs were cool: they are from an upcoming stage adaptation of her Forgotten Arm album. She admitted that the idea of adapting one of her albums for the stage sounded awful, and remarked she'd seen some "rock musicals" that were really awful.  I think the awareness that something could go off the rails will help to keep Aimee from creating a disasterous show. Anyway, the new songs were cool.

The venue was perfect for the show. There were a lot of suburbanites who probably don't get to her NYC shows, and they really appreciated the fact that Aimee came to the 'burbs. It was a theater with seats, unlike the last Aimee show I saw, which I didn't really love (I felt that particular show didn't move that well, and wasn't suited to a club - to be fair, it was probably the first of 15 or so Aimee shows that didn't totally knock me out). It might be a perfect venue for her to test out the Forgotten Arm musical... but wherever that thing plays, I'll be there for previews.  I have faith that however Aimee brings this to life via actors and sets, it will be a cool experience.

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