Aimee Mann @ The State Room

Posted October 19, 2009 in

A few months ago a friend asked me what my most played songs in iTunes were. I had no idea. When I experimented with this feature and checked, I was surprised to see Aimee Mann's entire “@#%&*! Smilers” album (the iTunes deluxe bonus track version, more specifically) taking up sixteen of the twenty five available positions. I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised, as this 2008 release quickly became a regular and repeated listen at my day job and when the limited edition physical release originally arrived early that June, it became a staple in my bedroom CD player, and didn't leave until nearly a year later. When the fantastic Miss Mann (AKA Mrs. Michael Penn) announced on her website that she was returning to Utah (having previously played in Deer Valley with Marc Cohn in 2008--a show that regrettably I couldn't attend) in October, this incredible album has again garnered many more spins, hovering around 145 plays per track! Some songs have been played more than others (due to my adding them to other playlists) of course, but this album has such great depth, amazing songs, and hooky, sing-along melodies that it just begs to be revisited.

Aimee Mann's music has always held a special place in my life. I find it comforting, melodic, beautiful and despite the unfortunate and incorrect critical tag line of it being “depressing,” (I would have chosen “realistic” if I wrote reviews back in those days) very uplifting. At the same time it is also literate, humorous, and above all else listenable. I still love the drama of her band ʻTil Tuesday's first hit (and huge hit video)“Voices Carry” and by the time their sophomore effort, “Welcome Home,” arrived, it was obvious that hers was a major talent. ʻTil Tuesday only lasted for three albums, and when she embarked on her solo career, her songwriting started to reveal itself as capable of even greater things. So I was extremely excited about seeing her live for the first time, in a new venue (the great new The State Room), and especially in such an intimate setting: The State Room boasts a capacity of 300. I discovered a fellow Aimee fanatic in a new co-worker and we felt lucky to secure our tickets before the show sold out.

A late attempt at scheduling an interview with Aimee unfortunately fell through, but I was extremely excited about the show itself and brought a selection of her CDs and a Sharpie and had every intention of waiting after the show in an attempt to have them signed. Having visited the venue earlier in the afternoon, I was giddy as I drove Eric (my co-worker) to the show. It had been announced earlier that day that the show had indeed sold out, so we felt honored to have tickets. We witnessed many people being turned away at the door.

The State Room is an amazing new place to see a show; there really isn't a bad seat in the house. I'm not sure if the venue configuration is the same for each concert (for Aimee Mann there were seats--unfortunately, though not surprisingly, all filled--right against the stage and about 5 rows deep) and after the main floor, different, pew-like seats ascend to the back of the house. That is where Eric and I entered and these were starting to fill up fast. I suggested we try the main floor and I'm grateful when he pointed out these small, nondescript tables against the the sides of the stage to stand. Since I wasn't expecting seating in such a small place, it ends up being a great vantage point, as you can see the entire stage. When the surprisingly good opening act, Fountains of Wayne, start their set, we got a true appreciation of our spots: the sound is perfect, there is no one crowding our lines of vision and we have easy access to the lobby. One of the great things about The State Room is that the restrooms and lobby have speakers, so you really aren't missing anything if you have to use them during a show.

There also isn't a curtain on the stage and so as the roadies break down Fountains of Wayne's instruments, and you realize most of the keyboards/equipment remaining (truly a full band's worth, that takes up most of the stage) are for Aimee's set, it was obvious it was going to be a special show. I am most excited, for some reason, when a small foot cymbal is brought out and stationed where she'll be performing. She ends up playing it most of the night. I have purposely not read anything about these shows and have no idea who will be performing with her, the set list, if this will be a show to promote “Smilers” or something else entirely. So when she walks out and greets the crowd and announces that this show will be her and her two accompanists (the great, and amazingly talented Jebin Bruni and Jamie Edwards) playing a selection of some of their favorite songs and a few obscure ones, followed by “requests” I can't believe it. It is a fan's dream come true. At first I think she's kidding about taking requests, and this is when her great command of bantering with the audience first comes out, and it will continue throughout the night. She explains, humorously, that they will be taking “written” requests only, and not things shouted out randomly. She couldn't promise to play all of them, and that she only remembered two ʻTil Tuesday songs, as it had been “25 years ago,” but she would do her best.

She is utterly charming and as she starts the chords of the crowd-pleasing “The Moth” (from fan favorite “Lost In Space”) her mesmerizing set has officially begun. Her voice is crystalline and pure sounding live. This song is followed by a double b-side punch: “Nightmare Girl” and then the great, never-thought-I'd-hear-it-live “Momentum,” the arrangement of which is now completely different with these three talented musicians. As a fan could tell you, this track was also featured on her amazing soundtrack to the film “Magnolia,” and when she announces they'll play another song from this, I naturally expect “Wise Up” or her Oscar nominated “Save Me,” so am completely blown away when it is another favorite instead: “Build That Wall.” Having recently hung a forgotten, well-loved poster for her 2nd album, “I'm With Stupid” in my cubicle at work, I scream (literally) with glee when she pulls another double punch with “Par For The Course” and “Amateur” two absolute favorites from the album. Her co-musicians are extremely versatile and there is an obvious love of “playing” and you can't mistake their enjoyment, especially when you are this close to the stage.

Aimee reveals a recorder (and a humorous story about how little time she's been playing it) for another song from “Lost In Space,” the gorgeous “This Is How It Goes.” I can tell that Eric is completely enthralled by this too, as we had recently discussed how much this album meant to us. There will be more played from it too, when the “request” section starts. When the unmistakable introduction of “Wise Up” starts, I get chills. “Magnolia” is an incredible, unique and favorite soundtrack of mine, and I know she'll probably do “Save Me” from it too and when there are instrument changes between the two songs that's when I run to The State Room's bar and write my requests on a cocktail napkin: “Little Tornado” from “Smilers” and that album's bonus track, “Lullaby.” Sadly this causes me to miss seeing the start of “Save Me,” (although happily I could still hear it) but worth it for for this unique opportunity.

When Aimee announces they will now gather the requests, I rush to our side of the stage and think that Jebin isn't ever going to make it over to our side. I love how Aimee picks up a request written on a dollar bill and announces they'll try to do all requests written on cash. Finally a very nice concert goer on the front row gathers my and a few fellow waiting other's requests and hands them successfully to Jebin. We've already heard tracks I thought I would never see performed live, so what is about to happen is just another highlight of an already incredible show.

I try not to get too disappointed when Aimee reads requests on napkins and either stuffs them behind her lyric book, announces she can't play this, or does play them, but they are not mine. It isn't really that big of an issue, because here are tracks from her first album, “Whatever,” “I've Had It,” and the incredibly pretty “Mr. Harris,” a song about age not making a real difference when it comes to love, which she quips she now finds “creepy,” which makes the audience roar. Then more from “Lost In Space,” “Humpty Dumpty” and one of my all time favorites, “Invisible Ink,” then from her concept album “The Forgotten Arm,” a birthday request of “Little Bombs,” some from “Bachelor No. 2,” including all time favorite, “Calling It Quits,” plus the great “Deathly” and “Driving Sideways” (the latter two of which are also featured on “Magnolia”) and then finally, some tracks from “Smilers” start emerging and I get excitedly anxious again. “Ballantines” and the great “It's Over,” are both well received. I'm proud of my fellow 300 concert goers and their choices. When b-side “Jimmy Hoffa Jokes” is announced Aimee explains that the idea for it came from when she was doing dishes, which has not happened before or ever again, which charms the crowd.

A whole lengthy request for ʻTil Tuesday songs gets ignored, but she does play their great “Coming Up Close” and it enthralls the crowd. I confess that when she had announced she only knew two songs other than “Voices Carry,” I wasn't sure what the other track would be. It is fantastic live. A few shout outs get hilarious reminders from Aimee that we should know the procedure by now. It is amazing to watch her change acoustic and electric guitars for each new song and Jamie and Jebin are equally versatile and they are very tight as a trio. I feel panic when she announces that she feels her voice is starting to give out and we probably all want to head home soon. (No one does, of course.) A few requests later she states that rather than her leaving and us clapping, then her waiting for us to clap louder, and her coming out for two songs, that they would soon wrap it up without leaving the stage. And then, boys and girls, it happens: she picks up and reads my napkin. “Oh this is great request, “Little Tornado” or “Lullaby.” That would definitely mix it up a little,” she announces. Then it
goes from a two song encore, to a three song encore. I scream (for the umpteenth time that night) and hit Eric on the arm.

When the music for “Little Tornado” starts I'm in ecstasy. This “Smilers” tune has been a favorite from my first listen and I've found it both soothing and comforting, especially after a friend killed himself last summer, and then later as my little sister and I put down one of our beloved doggies, Jessie, about a month later. It reminds me of both of them, and even if the lyrics don't match the circumstances exactly, hearing them has always simultaneously chilled and calmed me. It is hard to explain. Aimee, who has been in excellent voice all night, touches me deeply with this performance, and she shares whistling duties with Jebin (in lieu of “Smilers” guest whistler and “Where The Wild Things Are” screenplay scribe Dave Eggers) and the concert has now hit its zenith for me. The final encore, which I recognize immediately as she announces she'll be playing the bass, is a stunning, reworked rendition of “Voices Carry.” It is a fantastic ending to a truly great evening of music.

I try and fail to secure a set list from a sound dude and while it would have been a short one (obviously not having any of the requests on it) it would have been a nice souvenir of the show. Eric and I make our way outside the venue and then it becomes a guessing game if the rather large dark trailer around back is hers, if we'll be able to meet her, how many other people will be waiting, how long we'll be willing to wait, etc. Eric thinks she's already been whisked away to her hotel. I disagree, as the next night's show is in Boulder and so she'll probably travel with the band overnight, but that I think she is still inside the venue. A lot of time goes by, and others seem to seek the same thing and a few people wait for a bit, then all eventually leave. I'm on an incredible high after the show, and am optimistic as I hold my bag of CDs and continue to wait. After a hard-to-recognize Jebin (in the venue's very stark parking lot) exits the bus and disappears, I realize we're in the right place. It is rather dark and getting late. It is funny how so many tour personnel come and go, but no one really acknowledges you. No matter, I think, as it feels “right” to me.

I convince Eric that we should move to the other side of the bus, where the door is and he has a rather good idea. When Jebin returns, I should try to get his attention, as everyone else is just ignoring our presence. More time goes by and many more tour personnel. When the then quiet, resting bus suddenly starts up and comes to life, I wonder if it could be too late. A blond woman is seen in the distance (under the lights of The State Room's side entrance) then disappears too. I tell Eric that this wasnʼt Aimee Mann, because it clearly wasn't. And then suddenly Jebin reappears and I call out and tell him that is was a great show, and amazingly he turns to thank me. He is incredibly friendly and when I ask if there was any way to get my Aimee CDs autographed, he says he'll go and check.    And now you can laugh at me, SLUG readers, as most of these CDs are still in their original shrink wrap with their tacky badges on them because I'm such an anal musical collector and I don't think to remove any of it. Kind Jebin emerges again to say that Aimee is in bed but he'll take them to her, and I hand them to him with the Sharpie. It is more than enough to me. I've already attended one of the best shows I've ever seen, had my request commented on and played and now this.

I'm so happy when the tour bus' door opens again and there is Jebin with my CDs in his hand, the plastic now on top of the stack, that I almost don't see the other person that has emerged with him. He starts to apologize about not putting it back on and I start to tell him what a crazy fan I am and how I've always kept the original packaging when I realize the other person with him is Miss Aimee Mann! My jaw drops! Eric is stunned into silence too. She is incredibly pretty in person and extremely personable. I tell her probably too many things all at once: what a great show it was, what a big fan I am, thanking her for coming to Utah, thanking her for signing my CDs, etc. She has shaken both of our hands and has a very pleasant smile on her face. I have to tell her that she played one of my requests and then I commit a slight musical faux pas by saying, “you played one of my requests, “Little...” but instead of saying the actual title “Tornado,” I gushed out incorrectly, “Earthquakes,” or the title of Tori Amos' debut album! Fortunately for me, she giggled and graciously said, “No you mean “Little Tornados,”’ which I had. Phew! She then explains she loved my other choice, the b-side “Lullaby,” but she didn't have the words there to perform it. I'm now officially on the moon. Eric tells her how after we met and discovered our mutual fondness for her that he lamented to me that she'd probably never come here. He explains that he has seen her at least ten times (in California) and she explains that they tried to go to places they'd never played before (like Idaho on the past two dates) and how she really liked it here.

It is always nice to meet down to earth celebrities who appreciate their fans, even their babbling, over zealous ones like myself. Like all good things, it was time to wrap it up. Jebin reaches out his hand for me to shake and asks my name then does the same with Eric. Aimee shakes both of our hands again and I thank them again for everything. I'm sure I gush even more when repeating what a fantastic show it was, but it isn't said for any reason other than the truth: it was a fantastic show.    And then, just like magic, they are gone and Eric and I head back to my sad little car. It didn't occur to me to ask to take any photos, but I'm more than happy as we review my autographed CDs. She has signed every single one of them, which I find more than generous. Over the next few days, I can't stop listening to her music, as it is simply a great reminder of a truly great concert experience. And that iTunes play count, you won't be too surprised to learn, has increased again as well.