Aimee Mann, Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Wednesday 20 July 2005
To great cheers, Mann lunges on stage, tall, incredibly slender, stunning in her jeans and white singlet. Her stern brow gives away little as she performs in the harsh spotlight, and yet she bounces around and smiles coyly between songs. Her Dr Martens aside, you would never guess that she was the co-founder of a new wave band in 1983, 'Til Tuesday. Nor that she has recently taken up boxing.
However, the new album is based on a story - which she tells over the course of the concert - of a recently returned Vietnam vet who is a boxer and a drug addict, and a girl who works near him at the fair. They quit their white-trash town and run away together. Mann jokes that it would be "too cruel" to play all of the album, but nonetheless we are treated to the first few songs: "Dear John", "Goodbye Caroline" and "Going Through the Motions".
It's difficult not to be lulled into a blissful daydream by that clear and gentle, pitch-perfect voice with its slight country twang. And as with previous albums, she sings sophisticated adult fairy-tales, where soothing, sonorous tones soften the impact of home-truths and her wise tales of mistaken paths.
Although less produced than usual on the album, the new songs stick with her signature style of lilting pop rock with subtlely unusual chord changes. The band, all with long, shaggy hair, and chiming in with breezy harmonies, Hammond organ and bluesy solos, makes this feel like a slice straight out of the Seventies setting of the story.
Weaving in and out of her old material, she dons various guitars, bass, and sits at the piano for some new songs. The adoring, shouting fans compete against one another to request their favourites, many of which she plays in the encores, including "Red Vines", "Susan" and "Deathly" from Bachelor No. 2, and her cover of Harry Nilsson's "One", from Magnolia, all of which are met with huge applause. Songs that pull at the emotions from the new album include "She Really Wants You", "Cannot Get My Head Around It" and "I Can't Help You Anymore".
"I would imagine that my audience and boxing don't intersect so well," she tells the increasingly amused crowd, "but you look at the songs and it kinda fits." And it's the emotional battle that she is queen of. Mann may be a bit of a lightweight, but she can still throw some heavy punches.
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