Aimee Mann at First Avenue, 11/17/12

Aimee Mann at First Avenue, 11/17/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Aimee Mann
With Ted Leo
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Saturday, November 17, 2012

"This is the last night of the tour, so you are going to see five motherfucking punch-drunk assholes," Aimee Mann declared as she approached the mic on Saturday night. The leather-clad singer brought to First Avenue classic Aimee Mann pieces, along with songs from her latest album Charmer. With all of her reticence and humility, Mann proves that writing about the jerks that have wronged her -- in an elegant way -- is a pretty effective way to draw attention to herself.

See Also:
Aimee Mann's Five Best Comedy Moments
A Dozen of Ted Leo's Most Intriguing Qualities

The show opened with "Disappeared," a mid-tempo song built around the bright clarity of the keyboards -- at times a bit too bright. Much of Mann's lyrics are self-effacing, examining the sacrifices and rejections of relationships, subjects that many musicians try to capture, but unlike Mann, never really get right. Almost defiantly, Aimee performed newer pieces early on in the set -- some of the liveliest and most emotional that she has released in years. The title track off Charmer brings Mann back to an early '80s sound replacing her rhythm guitar with bright synths. The single from the new album, "Labrador," conjures up Tom Petty, complete with Mann's signature drawl above a layer of starry keys.

Following the bluesy "Lost in Space," Aimee invited opener Ted Leo back to the stage to duet on "Living a Lie," which she shares is a "gentle song about gentle things." The duet, originally featuring James Mercer of the Shins, is a preview to a musical that Mann hopes to write with Aaron Sorkin about musicians set in a studio. Outside of this exciting, but unlikely-to-happen, project, "Living a Lie" features two people singing shitty words to each other, essentially living a lie.

Aimee Mann at First Avenue, 11/17/12
Aimee Mann at First Avenue, 11/17/12
Photos by Erik Hess

She did not play the role of people-pleaser, and said to the audience members shouting out requests, "We have a list of songs. It's not that we're being stubborn, it's just those are not going to be as good." Three of those would be the "Magnolia set" placed in the middle of the show. Left alone on stage -- except maybe for the ghost of Tom Cruise's soul -- Mann entranced the crowd on acoustic guitar with her perfectly crafted sad song "Save Me," and following with "Wise Up." While not written by her, "One" had Mann channeling the Beatles via Harry Nilsson's heartbreaking song. The tune unwinds with staccato pierces from the organ and bassist Paul Bryan's backing harmonies.  

Even though the singer specializes in acidity, her instinctive melodic talent and genius wordplay makes the medicine easier to swallow. While it's not all bitterness that she wants her fans to digest, it does benefit the listener to be a cynic. There's still plenty of the optimistic left in Aimee to be able to find the profound line for "It's Not Safe," that tell the lyrics "A thousand compromises don't add up to a wish." Fitting words for the state of the current music industry, and also words that epitomize the independent musical artist that Mann lives by. The set-closing song had an instrumental refrain over which Aimee recapped the show, bringing up the journey of the evening in where she spoke about Aaron Sorkin, a giant amount of pubic hair, and the Starland Vocal Band.

Aimee Mann at First Avenue, 11/17/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Being the last night for the tour, Aimee allowed for not one, but two encores, ending with the the poignant "4th of July." A charmer she may not be, but the artist knows how to humbly write songs that will break your heart while maintaining hope to keep you going in your darkest days. Words like "If you could save me, From the ranks of the freaks, Who suspect they could never love anyone " will keep you warm on a cold November evening.

Critic's bias: Perhaps it was due to it being the last night of the tour, but the band seemed a bit lethargic. (Where was the "five motherfucking punch-drunk assholes" we were promised?) The highlights of the evening came from her Magnolia set and her last encore, both which leaned more on the acoustic side and were able to let Aimee's voice shine through.

The crowd: An older crowd that was a bit restless during Ted Leo, but watched respectfully for Aimee Mann.

Overheard in the crowd: "Starland Vocal Band? They suck." - Paul Engels channeling Homer Simpson.

Random notebook dump: Ted Leo plays tambourine like a stick figure.


You Could Make a Killing
Lost in Space
Living a Lie (with Ted Leo)
That's Just What You Are
Save Me
Wise Up
Slip and Roll
Soon Enough
Goodbye Caroline
It's Not Safe

Stupid Thing
Driving Sideways

Second Encore
4th of July

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