Sunday, October 7, 2012

Aimee Mann and Field Report @ the Egyptian Theatre (10/4/12)

As most people probably did, I discovered Aimee Mann via the Paul Thomas Anderson film Magnolia.  I'd liked her contributions to the soundtrack a lot, and after buying a copy of it, I'd hear about her now and again in various media and come across her albums in various stores.  Beyond that, however, I hadn't really paid her much notice.  So I can't say that this show excited me very much (not as much as, say, Dave Alvin or Toots and the Maytals did), but since I had a bit of discretionary income and heard positive things about her post-Magnolia work, I figured I'd give her a shot.

I will add, though, that I got much more excited when I listened to said post-Magnolia work and found that I liked it as much as "Wise Up" and "Save Me" if not more.  If you haven't heard her song "Freeway" yet, give it a listen.  It's a sharp, catchy little put-down of social climbers in Orange County.

I counted a little over ninety people when I arrived at the Egyptian Theatre, and I'd guess that at least another twenty or so showed up during the opening set.  That made for a better crowd than the one for Peter Murphy, but that still left plenty of space around my seat in row M.  I can't complain too much, however: the modest audience just seemed to make the night's music feel even more intimate.

The Wisconsin-based band Field Report opened.  If the Old 97's or New Transit put out a shoegaze album, it might sound something like this group's music.  With only the steady, driving drums to guide them, leader Chris Porterfield's clean, considerate tenor and yearning melodies wandered through the mist conjured up by the jangly guitars, weepy pedal steel and atmospheric keyboard.  There wasn't anything hazy about Porterfield's lyrics, however.  The tender sardonicism of his well-turned phrases made me think a little of Elvis Costello.  Or, right, Aimee Mann.

A brief intermission followed Field Report's set, and then Aimee Mann and her four-piece band took the stage.  This performance provokes one of my rare disagreements with my critical idol, Robert Christgau, who dubbed her an "ice queen" in one of his reviews.  Mann's songs, I've found, contain plenty of spunk and warmth; they just don't make a big show of it, that's all.  There certainly wasn't anything cold or aloof about Mann's stage presence: she thanked the audience several times throughout the set ("This is a small but mighty crowd."), cracked more than a few jokes and bantered playfully while working through some tuning troubles.  Her murmured vocals made it a little hard to hear the superbly crafted lyrics over the superbly performed music, but the audience seemed to know most of the words anyway.  In its own subdued way, Aimee Mann's performance proved almost as impressive as Dave Alvin's at the VaC.

You can find info on Aimee Mann and Field Report on Facebook and elsewhere online.

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