Aimee Mann at House of Blues, 9/30/2013

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Photos by Jody Perry
Aimee Mann feat. Ted Leo
House of Blues
September 30, 2013

House of Blues showed off a slightly different side Sunday: coffeehouse style. It was a good look.

Sure, the venue has hosted seated concerts before, but last night it was missing something it sees all too often: an inattentive, inconsiderate audience. The place was on pins and needles, and not just because the final episode of Breaking Bad was on.

Headliner Aimee Mann said she didn't care for the AMC series because she found it too intense, "even when someone's not getting their head sawn off." However, during Ted Leo's opening set, Mann came out for a couple of duet numbers and mentioned that her band members were backstage watching the finale. When they appeared minutes after Walter White et al. met their ultimate fate (whatever that was), the crowd went into near panic mode, frantically shushing away any thought those two poor guys might have had of spoiling the ending.

Nothing quite so calamitous happens to the lovelorn people in Mann's songs (mostly her), just a steady series of slights and disappointments that only partially conceal their sharp points in her melancholy folk-rock melodies. In "Labrador" she likens romantic attachment to that of a pet and its master, with understandably darker undertones that might go along with such a relationship, or in "Phoenix" details her advice on how to quit someone in the nicest way possible, tired of being used though she may be.

Other times she seems to be looking at the people around her and offering a series of musical sighs; living in L.A. must help Mann sharpen this skill immeasurably. If her characters not jumping into the Hollywood rat race ("Crazytown"), they're embodying the adolescent alienation of "Ghost World," which Mann saluted on her 2000 album Bachelor No. 2 even before the eponymous 2001 film gave Daniel Clowes' cult comic much more widespread exposure.

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So we got an evening exploring the serious side of pop songwriting, adult themes only, capped off with the cover of Harry Nilsson's "One" from the 1999 Magnolia soundtrack. It may be the loneliest number, but not when she and Leo are onstage; look forward to hearing more from their ongoing collaboration. The three songs they did together in the middle of her set Sunday didn't feel like nearly enough.

What Mann does is not all that different from what many other singer-songwriters do, perhaps, but spend any time at all in her company and she'll sing out a line that will make that little light bulb marked "Yes!" light up in your head. For me, it was "When you fuck it up, do I get my money back?" from "How Am I Different." It was the last song of the evening, but there had been many other such moments by then

If only more people could create those in today's music world -- but then if they could, Aimee Mann wouldn't be quite so unique.

Personal Bias: Brainy blonde songstresses deeply influenced by the Beatles are not a tough sell for me. That said, I had only been a casual fan before Sunday, but she totally won me over.

The Crowd: Extraordinarily well behaved for a HOB audience; no doubt being seated helped. So did being Aimee Mann fans, no doubt.

Overheard In the Crowd: "We don't get out very often."

Random Notebook Dump: Betrayal? Immaturity? That's good stuff.


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House of Blues

1204 Caroline, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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