Sometimes, you lose track of how many times you’ve seen certain artists. My memories of Aimee Mann shows span decades and venues across New York from Joe’s Pub (with Michael Penn), Music Hall of Williamsburg (with Ted Leo), Town Hall, Webster Hall, City Winery, Tarrytown Music Hall and others. Then, the numerous Christmas shows with her bandmate from The Both (Ted Leo) hosted by Paul F. Tompkins with guests like Nelly McKay, Fred Armisen and others. Loosely scripted collaborative performances with an array of musicians and comedians, akin to Aimee’s L.A. shows at Largo – you never know who might show up.
Another friend, collaborator and SuperEgo Records (Mann’s label) roster artist Jonathan Coulton opened, with Aimee joining to duet on two songs. His witty, self-effacing banter and playfully sarcastic tunes are always a welcome warm-up. Coulton skillfully weaves geek culture references on songs like “Redshirt” (the guest Star Trek characters who don’t survive one episode) and horror films on “Creepy Doll” into songs about our collective anxiety and impending doom. He unironically amused the audience in Tarrytown (just north of NYC) with “Shop Vac”, a song about being bored and detached in the suburbs. In his own, awkward way, Jonathan Coulton leaves the stage having won over the crowd.
Aimee took the stage with her core band of many years, featuring producer and collaborator Paul Bryan by her side on bass. With such a large library of albums to pull from, including her most recent Queens of the Summer Hotel, her set list could have been anyone’s guess. This night the set was heavy on 2017’s Mental Illness including “Lies of Summer” opening the show. “You Never Loved Me”, a brutally honest account of abandonment was followed by “Patient Zero” with co-writer Coulton guesting on vocals. Aimee introduced the song as being inspired by Andrew Garfield and the weirdness of being a young actor in Hollywood. Coulton stayed by her side for “Rollercoasters” (which he also co-wrote) and there was also a funny nod to Chat GPT writing “songs in the style of Aimee Mann” – which AI spat out as “melancholy melodies”. They both joked that it was pretty basic take on her work, but not totally inaccurate.
Of all of Mann’s songs, “The Moth” from Lost in Space is one that I would be incredibly disappointed if it didn’t make the live show cut and thankfully it appeared at the half point. It’s a song that really showcases her voice and the band never fails to delivers with great momentum. “Save Me” which appeared on Bachelor No. 2 and the soundtrack to Magnolia (earning Mann an Oscar nomination) has become her most widely known song and a concert standard. Unfortunately, I witnessed two people in the front row leave after hearing it, as if it was the only reason they bought a ticket.
The encores were pulled from her excellent 1995 album I’m With Stupid. These are songs that display her disillusionment with the music industry as well as other flavors of human nature, while also proving that she can write a great pop hook. Aimee Mann usually isn’t noted for having the punk ethos of say, Karen O. or Kathleen Hanna, but it’s there. She’s done it DIY – launching her own label, building a strong following of fans and talented friends and working nonstop. “Long Shot” opened the album (and the show’s encore) with the perfect line “You fucked it up, you should’ve quit…” But, of course, it’s too late.
As a side note – take some time to listen to Aimee’s one-episode show on Audible, Straw Into Gold. She talks candidly about her difficult experience growing up without a mother and interviews friends who are writers and musicians about the traumatic events that shaped their life stories and work. (Highly recommended. Just be prepared for some disturbing narratives.)
All Photos: Deb Johnsen