Delivering a highly visual (owing to complex, polka-dotted lighting schemes, interesting wardrobes and the visible facial expressions afforded by the intimacy of a small venue) and exceptionally witty performance in general, Mann’s tongue-in-cheek humor and dry vocal stylings (as expressive in their monotone as they are in their dynamically varied form) were in top form last Wednesday night at the Calvin. It’s no surprise that Mann was good, but as she wooed her audience seemingly effortlessly with old and new material alike, I couldn’t help but thinking that she was, well, surprisingly good.
Starting off her set with a grouping of songs off her latest album, “Lost In Space,” the thing that surprised me most about Mann was the sheer power of her voice. Anyone who is familiar with her recordings will tell you that one of her greatest strengths is her quietly intense irony-her ability to convey to you nothing but the most utter desperation, frustration, etc. and make you like it. Mann treads the fine line between grinning and bearing it and (lyrically) crying softly enough so that she doesn’t have to muffle it with any sense of forced sound. I wasn’t too sure, though, about how that would translate to a live performance-I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hear her, wouldn’t be able to feel what she was saying over the din of her fans and her backup musicians. I was wrong. Mann’s voice carried smoothly, almost flawlessly, throughout the entirety of the show, delivering a perfect mixture of raw emotion and polished performance. They say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned-but Aimee Mann’s music somehow accomplishes to slip by under the radar with a stealthy subtlety which has probably hindered her career as much as it’s helped it.
In addition to the pure musical genius displayed at the concert, Mann was pretty hysterical while she was at it. Responding to a frenetic audience member’s (a few, actually) requests to hear her 80’s hit, “Voices Carry,” Mann growled into the microphone, accusing the audience of “just trying to see if [she’d] explode.” Mann waited a moment before delivering a thunderous declaration that “you know what! We’re gonna fucking do it. We’re gonna play this song like you’ve never heard it before. Except that it’s exactly like many of you have heard it before.”
As it turns out, Mann was lying (well, sort of). It wasn’t anything like any of us had heard before-none of the show was, really. As much as I’d like to do her a favor by not giving any media attention to an era (meaning the segment that spawned “Voices Carry” and that awful, though historically authentic, haircut) in her career that she’d probably like to erase, but, thanks to the diligent archiving of television and memory, will never be able to, I have to talk about it. It was fucking great, every last minute of it, and I’ll admit it, though she probably never will.