Aimee Mann at the Dakota Jazz Club, 09/13/2010

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Photos by Tony Nelson
Aimee Mann
September 13, 2010
Dakota Jazz Club


The first night of a tour is always a precarious occasion for a fan. There are shows where the group hits the stage like a well-oiled machine, completely ready and excited to take on the rigors of the road with an added intensity and focus. Then, there are other nights where it seems like you are watching a public rehearsal, one where the band is still finding their way while relearning old and new songs alike. Monday's performance by Aimee Mann at the packed Dakota Jazz Club definitely was one of the latter performances, with Mann frequently starting and stopping a few numbers and having to ask her band what key a song was in throughout her disjointed performance. She's too much of a professional to let these minor hiccups derail her 90-minute set, but those distracting blunders did give the set an under-rehearsed, practice session vibe that unfortunately removed some of the passion from Mann's highly evocative numbers.

In fact, the first thing Mann said to the audience as she took the stage was, "Keep clapping, I'm going to fumble around a bit." It was a bit of a precursor for things to come, but opener "The Moth" went off without a hitch as Mann gave a stirring solo rendition of the number on acoustic guitar. Her band joined her for the next number (Paul Bryan on bass and Jamie Edwards on piano), and that's when the cracks started to appear, with Mann needing to restart "Freeway" three different times to get the tuning right. "Little Bombs" fared a bit better, with Edwards dexterous piano playing leading the way, but it still felt like the band were getting their bearings a bit more than they should have been with a full-house in front of them.

Mann took to the piano to play "Medicine Wheel," a song whose lyrics were written by Mann's half-sister Gretchen Seichrist, who opened the show with her band Patches & Gretchen. After joking that the piano line "sounds just like "Let It Be," but it get's different" (she was right on both accounts), Mann delivered a moving rendition of the song alone at the piano. The next batch of tunes didn't fare as well, with Mann playing four songs in a row from the upcoming musical she is putting together based around the songs on her album Forgotten Arm. She tried to fill us in on the narrative which informs the songs, but they just didn't resonate all that strongly, except for the haunting, Sparklehorse-sounding "Easy To Die," which Mann prefaced by announcing sarcastically "Happy Monday, everybody." It featured a moving piano line by Edwards, whose steady, dynamic playing was a revelation throughout the performance.

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Patches & Gretchen
Photos by Tony Nelson
"I Can't Get My Head Around It" got the set back on track, with Mann joking afterwards that, "I like that song because at first glance, it's pretty cheerful. It's about as cheerful as I get...musically." "Today's The Day" and "Guys Like Me" were fine, but it wasn't until Mann played two numbers from Magnolia before the set found its focus again: "Save Me," which Mann "likes to think of as the song that lost to Phil Collins," was excellent, and a moving, tender version of "Wise Up" proved to be the best song of the night. After a belated birthday wish from the crowd caused Mann to joke, "It's a suckers move announcing your 50th birthday on stage, but thanks for your applause," she stated that they've come to the last song of the evening, which no crowd likes to hear.

So Aimee asked us, that instead of shouting out requests all at once, just write down what song you'd like to hear on a napkin and throw it on stage (so civilized at the Dakota). So, after Mann took over on bass for the main set closer "Driving Sideways" she joked that she's "going to pretend I'm leaving the stage, but I'm not. I'm going to look at these napkins." "Red Vines" was the first song chosen, and it was a lovely, moving version that really found Mann getting lost in the song. "Stupid Thing" again found the band searching for stability, with Mann unsure about what key the song is in, and even forgetting the lyrics entirely while charmingly ad-libbing, "I don't know, something about what an asshole this guy is."

Before playing "It's Not," which was the last song of the night, Mann stated that she "thinks of this as my most depressing song, and it's a very large field." And, while it was a solid rendition of the song, it wasn't anything too special, and ended the show leaving the crowd wanting more. Fortunately, Mann is at the Dakota for the next couple of nights, and hopefully her sets become more focused and filled with the many stellar songs that didn't get played during this performance. The shows will indeed get better as the tour goes on, because Mann is assuredly a polished and proficient performer, but on this night it seemed like she was just starting to find her way.

Critic's Bias: First time seeing Mann perform, but I've been aware of her work since 'Til Tuesday.
The Crowd: A full-house filled with people who have no problem dropping $50 on a show at the Dakota.
Overheard In The Crowd: Other than the birthday wish and song requests, nothing much at all. Everyone was pretty respectful.
Random Notebook Dump: If I could've thrown a napkin on stage, my request would've been "Voices Carry." Sue me.

Setlist:
The Moth
Freeway
Little Bombs
31 Today
Medicine Wheel
Going Through The Motions
Easy To Die
Conflicted
Eiffel Tower
I Can't Get My Head Around It
Today's The Day
Guys Like Me
Build That Wall
Save Me
Wise Up
Driving Sideways
Red Vines (Request)
Stupid Thing (Request)
I'm Not (Request)

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