with John Rouse
The Birchmere, Alexandria, VA • August 10, 1999
Aimee Mann began her set by apologizing for being a little late. It was easy to forgive her considering what this woman has been through recently.
A victim of the Universal merger, Mann is in the process of purchasing back from Interscope her most recent recordings and planning to release the album on her own. This after suffering other travails at her previous record companies. To make matters worse, the former ’til tuesday leader’s touring van was recently hit by a drunk driver (the only casualty was her favorite guitar). A few days later, Mann was riding in a car that was struck by lightning.
So when she took the stage at the Birchmere, it was almost a relief to hear the comforting strains of “Fourth of July” from 1993’s Whatever . It was that same voice we were introduced to first with ’til tuesday’s 1985 MTV hit “Voices Carry” (back when MTV actually showed videos, kids). A voice that matured on the next two ’til tuesday albums, culminating in the broken relationship gems of 1988’s Everything’s Different Now . With Whatever , she further refined her Beatlesque songwriting on tracks like the “Eleanor Rigby”-like “Mr. Harris.”
She crafted a more modern sound with her next album I’m With Stupid . That album’s “That’s Just What You Are” was one of the highlights of Mann’s Birchmere show. Mann used a backing track drumbeat for the song which she said was “just like some of the big acts today”.
Mann was also ably-backed by former-Grays member Buddy Judge on guitar, percussion and backing vocals and longtime Michael Penn sideman Patrick Warren on keyboards (Penn is Mann’s husband). Mann concentrated much of her set on I’m With Stupid and the music she has recorded for the new album. Unfortunately, that meant a lot of similar sounding songs mid-set, with Mann’s lazily-strummed acoustic and electric guitars a prominent feature.
The recorded backing track returned for the set-closing new song “Calling It Quits.” The song proved to be the strongest of Mann’s new material, some of which was available for fans to purchase on a preview EP. She also played a wordy and complex new number written with Elvis Costello. That partnership also spawned ’til tuesday’s “The Other End (of the Telescope),” which Mann and Company performed in the first encore.
Two songs from Whatever also made a welcome appearance in Mann’s encores. Audience member “Eric” was recruited to play bass on “Stupid Thing,” and “I Should’ve Known” ended the show on a melodic note.
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Josh Rouse bookended his opening, mostly-acoustic set of mostly new material with highlights from his debut album, Dressed Up Like Nebraska , including the title track. Lambchop’s Dennis Cronin added xylophone to a slowed-down “Late Night Conversation,” but the full band aesthetic of Rouse’s previous tours was missed. The new songs from an EP due in September and a full-length album due in January included a good, Burt Bacharach-like number with Cronin on trumpet.