With an interesting mix of middle aged 'Til Tuesday fans reliving their high school heartaches, along with twenty-something feminist-lit majors swaying with their eyes closed, Aimee Mann delivered a refreshing dose of singer/songwriter warmth to the Ogden Theatre last night. Relying heavily on material from her more recent albums, @#%&*! Smilers and this autumn's Charmer, Mann's show defied the conventions of her age and genre, forgoing cheap sentimentality.
Not that Mann completely ignored her rich back-catalogue. Even if she tried, the overwhelming requests being shouted from the audience between each song would've kept her from even attempting such a thing. Toward the end of the night, the crowd had devolved to a shouting, record-geek version of catcalls: "Freeway!" "Ghost World!" "Red Vines!"
Less than wanting to hear familiar radio hits, fans of Aimee Mann like to hear specific songs because of the personal resonance they carry. You can't be a fan of any Mann album without the music having imprinted itself on your memory, forever tying itself to the time and place when you first heard the song -- and inevitably playing on repeat for days at a stretch.
Opening with three tracks from Charmer ("Disappeared," "Gumby," "Labrador"), Mann delivered her new songs with characteristic understatement, her face at times resembling a lip synching mannequin, defying logic as she projected volume while hardly opening her mouth.
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Her backing band was tight and colorful, providing a straight foundation for older songs like "You Could Make A Killing," and bringing the synth-pop personality on indie rock tracks like "Freeway" and "Charmer," the guitar solo on that last one sounding pleasantly Frampton-esque in its overstated effects. All the while Mann lead the group along on her yellow hollowbody -- which would have looked ridiculously too large on her if she didn't carry herself with such bravado.
"Thanks for your wooh's and ow's," she said, finishing a duet of the song "Living A Lie" with Chris Porterfield of Field Report, a slot that was filled by James Mercer of the Shins on Mann's latest record. The band took a break from the stage shortly after that, leaving Mann alone with a single spotlight while she soloed the two most memorable tracks from the Magnolia soundtrack.
Throughout her performance of "Save Me," the audience knew every lyric to the self-deprecating tune. Although unlike other anthemic sing-a-longs, this crowd reverently whispered the words under their breath, becoming a child-like choir of heartbreaking fragility: "Can you save me/from the ranks of the freaks/Who suspect they could never love anyone." And the air only got thicker during the nihilistic "Wise Up," with Mann's lachrymose voice and guitar subtly complimented by a quiet piano.
It was in moments like this that it was easy to forget that the venue was significantly less than 3/4 full. "If you guys know any bird calls, now's the time," she said after finishing "Slip and Roll." The overenthusiastic crowd then released a scatter of primal noises, prompting to Mann to shake her head and say "No, that's just pure monkey-in-the-jungle. Nice try, though." Whatever ego-wounds they suffered at having bird-call career dreams crushed were quickly extinguished by the band launching into a killer performance of 1995's
"Superball" "That's Just What You Are."
After closing the set with Harry Nilsson's "One," and The Forgotten Arm's "Goodbye Caroline," Mann returned to the stage for a four-song encore. She joked with the crowd about the many misinterpretations of the lyrics to her 1985 'Til Tuesday hit, "Voices Carry," borrowing one of them for a subdued "Halloween version" of the song, singing the lyrics "this is scary" for the first two choruses.
"It's been great playing for you guys," Mann said, closing the show with the constructive criticism: "But you need to work on those bird calls -- I'm not going to lie to you."
Personal Bias: The Magnolia soundtrack was a companion on more than a few of my high school breakups.
Random Detail: I swear at one point I heard someone in the crowd shout "I love you, Annie!"
By the Way: Performing on the same night at The Paramount, Melissa Etheridge's visit to Denver may have been responsible for pulling more than a few '90s fem-rock fans away from Aimee Mann's show.
Aimee Mann Ogden Theatre - 10/9/12 Denver, CO
Disappeared Gumby Labrador You Could Make A Killing Lost in Space Living a Lie Charmer Ray Save Me Wise Up Slip and Roll
Superball That's Just What You Are One Goodbye Caroline
It's Not Safe Freeway Voices Carry Red Vines
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