A Gift from Aimee Mann

October 14, 2009

I’ve decided that there’s no in-between with Aimee Mann: generally speaking, people have either never heard of her or they’re obsessively into her music. I’m squarely in the latter camp. I have all of her albums and I’ve seen her perform live about five times. When I got the chance to interview her for the Vancouver Courier, I was incredibly nervous. More nervous than I was with pop star Bryan Adams, jazz star Diana Krall and Indian classical giant Ravi Shankar. Why? Because I admire her as an affecting singer/songwriter who has a refreshing outsider attitude when it comes to the music industry. So I didn’t want to stumble and ask a dumb question. (Thankfully, the interview went swimmingly.)

For us hardcore Aimee Mann followers, her concert at the Commodore last week was a gift. I’m describing it that way because it wasn’t a typical show, where the artist mainly does material from a recent release. That wasn’t going to be the case because Mann’s last album, @#%&*! Smilers, came out in mid-2008. Instead, Mann came up with an interesting approach: the first half featured songs she doesn’t typically perform live, from throughout her catalogue. Mann performed those tunes with just two keyboardists/multi-instrumentalists: Jebin Bruni and Jamie Edwards. In the second half they played nothing but requests, which audience members wrote down on little pieces of paper. Vancouver drummer Barry Mirochnick, who’s currently with Neko Case and has also played with Veda Hille, joined the musicians for these songs on a minimalist kit.

This was a dream scenario for me. I knew every single tune performed that night, and familiarity is comforting. It was also a treat to hear rarities like “Nightmare girl” and way-back gems like “Amateur” and even “Voices Carry”, which dates back to Mann’s ‘Til Tuesday period.

Then there were the keyboards scattered around the stage. Smilers featured Bruni and Edwards on keys and not a single electric guitar note, which was a departure for Mann because she always had strong axemen in her band. Mann is still in that keyboard space, so for me as a keyboard lover, it was wonderful to hear these proficient players create resonant textures. As for Mann’s voice, she started a bit rough but quickly got better as the night progressed. In between songs, she was at her engaging best, self-deprecating and funny, dropping F-bombs freely.

It would have been fun to hear a cover, but she declared at the beginning of the all-requests portion that they weren’t going to do “Free Bird” or “Taking Care of Business”, covers she did at her last two Commodore concerts. And she didn’t follow through on the repeated requests for Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher”. The night was all about her timeless songs, her singular voice and the band’s musicianship, so nothing more was needed.

Mann, Bruni and Edwards doing “Save Me” – from the Magnolia soundtrack – at Seattle’s Moore Theatre, the night before the Vancouver gig:

Bonus links:

A review of Mann’s Commodore show, with some good pics, at Discover Vancouver

Photos of the show at Guttersnipe


One comment

  1. Actively kicking myself.
    Next time, next time!

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