Armed with only a Gibson guitar and her deadpan delivery, Aimee Mann stood before a hometown crowd on a Saturday night and remarked that half of the audience was on the guest list. “I’ve been doing this a while and that’s got to be the longest guest list I’ve ever seen.” Then she launched into one of her early melancholic melodies, “4th of July.”
On a mini-tour in support of her new record “Mental Illness,” this performance at Downtown LA’s historic Ace Hotel Theatre would be the last date before she hits the road again in late June. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Mann, and she’s never disappointing. No matter how pissed off she is about something she read in the news or the unfairness of the fucked up music industry, Mann is a performer. My only real lament, she could’ve played longer, but that’s me being selfish. After a couple more acoustic songs, Mann was joined by a smattering of backing players and eventually a string section for a cherry picking 24 years in the making: “Humpty Dumpty” (old); “Rollercoasters” (new); “The Moth” (old); “Patient Zero” (new).
Opener and fellow cat lover, Jonathan Coulton, actually fist pumped the air when Mann talked about stalking cats on Instagram, wandered in and out for the occasional accompaniment and playful banter. This was, however, an Aimee Mann show, so a dark tale or four was expected. For example, “You Never Loved Me” is about a friend being jilted on her wedding day. “Don’t feel sorry for her. She dodged a bullet,” Mann told the audience of half strangers.
By the time she got to “Goose Snow Cone,” which is about a homesick Mann finding solace in the furry face of a cat shrouded in a Cone of Shame, I felt like I had gorged on a Chinese buffet. There was true satisfaction hearing “Labrador” live (finally a song about a dog, sort of), but something was missing.
Bloated with stick-to-your-ribs happiness at least 11 songs later, when Mann launched into “Save Me” it hit me like an ill-timed dinner check. I knew what was missing: Mann could’ve used a Michael. Penn or Lockwood, take your pick. This is the point in the review where you go put the song on, fast forward to the bridge (2:17) and hopefully agree with me.
I am in no way saying that she needs either to put on a kickass show but let’s face it, there’s no replacing the guitar solo on “Deathly,” which she rolled out for the encore. Subbing in strings is like pretending yogurt is ice cream. That said, no one really needs all that sugar, do they?