by Al Kaufman
Aimee Mann has been long tagged as an angry, depressed person who writes angry, depressing songs. Last Friday night at the Variety, Mann showed off her more comedic side.
Relaxed and confident on stage with her band, Mann introduced her early hit single, "That’s Just What You Are," by saying it was in Beverly Hills 90210, and that she wasn’t very proud of that fact. It took a fan to correct her and tell her it had actually been in Melrose Place. During a down time when her band left the stage and left her alone with her acoustic guitar, people started shouting requests. "I already have a song that I picked out that I think you’ll enjoy," she deadpanned, "but thanks for the suggestions." She then delivered a hauntingly gorgeous solo reworking of "Red Vines," off of what is arguably her finest solo release, Bachelor #2.
The show was understandably heavy with songs from her brilliant new CD, @#%&*! Smilers. She introduced the CD’s final cut, "Ballantines," by saying, "There’s been a debate on my message board as to which is the worst song on the CD, and this one has been doing quite well, so we thought we’d play it for you tonight."
But the highlight had to be the CD’s first single, "Freeway." Mann held a YouTube contest for people to make a video for the song. A man from Atlanta, who goes by iSO, inexplicably did not win, but, as Mann said, "We fucking love this guy." He then came on stage in a black, flashing robotic suit and sang the song as a duet with Mann in a perfect Stephen Hawking voice. Mann called it her greatest moment ever on stage.
The rap on Mann’s live shows has always been that she sounds exactly the same live as she does on record. That was mostly the case on this night, although the full band added some energy to songs such as the closer, the gorgeous "Deathly," from the Magnolia soundtrack. At the end, Mann even attempted a guitar kick a la Pete Townshend. It failed miserably, but that seemed to suit the smiling Mann just fine. She was relaxed and enjoying herself, as was the full house.
The show was, in a word, "fun." That is not usually a word one uses when describing Aimee Mann, but maybe it’s time our opinion of her changed.
LA’s The Submarines opened the show. The husband and wife team of Blake Hazard (the girl) and John Dragonetti (the boy) offered pleasing, sacchrine-drenched pop that falls somewhere betwen the Sundays and Mates of State, but Hazard’s giggly girl between song banter grew tedious before their short set ended.