LIVE AT ST ANN'S WAREHOUSE
review by Tony Lee
Shot on digital video at a Brooklyn, NY venue over three nights in July 2004, during her summer tour, this two-disc set (the second disc is a CD) is Aimee Mann's first-ever filmed concert and live album. It's a dazzling presentation of superbly crafted, melodic rock and lyrically sophisticated pop ballads with complementary jazz influences. Mann's a cool blonde with a habit of singing with her blue eyes shut. She sang the airy backing vocals on a track by Rush (Time Stand Still, 1987), and appeared in the Canadian band's promo video. More recently, she furnished soundtrack material for Paul Thomas Anderson's meandering, tragicomic drama, Magnolia (1999), and apart from some weirdness in climactic scenes, Mann's music was by far the best thing in the whole movie.
Live At St Ann's Warehouse is an excellent DVD release of 16 tracks, effectively showcasing Mann's under-appreciated talent as highly versatile singer-songwriter and, a few brief moments of obvious awkwardness aside, Mann's band perform very well throughout the 80-minutes runtime, adding significant impact to several of the hard rocking tracks. This is a worthy showcase for Mann's back catalogue, opening with The Moth ("moth don't care when he sees the flame/ he might get burned but he's in the game/... and nothing fuels a good flirtation/ like need and anger and desperation") followed by the jazzy Calling It Quits (here, synthesisers and melodica replace the studio version's trumpet and accordion), and Sugarcoated. With its marvellous guitar solo, Going Through The Motions is impressive new stuff, a taster from the forthcoming (early 2005) album 'King Of The Jailhouse'. Amateur sees Mann on bass guitar, before switching back to acoustic for heartfelt ballad Wise Up (from the Magnolia soundtrack), and the poignant intensity of Save Me ("the long farewell of the hunger strike"), which boasts electrifying riffs by lead guitarist Julian Coryell.
Between songs, Aimee Mann chats pleasantly to the audience in an endearingly unrehearsed manner, revealing a genuinely amusing line in self-depreciatory wit, and sharp comic timing. Her banter from the stage must be the envy of many stand-up comedians. She says that she recently took up boxing ("I think I could take Dylan") - there's a whole routine on that subject, considers Brooklyn to be "the hippest place in the universe," and admits that she's "a classic, nitpicky Virgo."
After firming up their energy levels with tunes like Stupid Thing, and the extremely fine Pavlov's Bell, band and audience are ready at last for Long Shot, with Mann on rhythm guitar supporting Coryell's honestly incredible solo. It's an all-out assault on every fan's favourite guitar solos and if this doesn't make your all-time top 10 list then you need to listen more closely. On hearing this, you realise it's no that wonder Mann's band used to get requests for Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird (they covered Sweet Home Alabama, instead).
To start her lengthy encore, Mann performs 4th Of July ("when they light up our town I just think/ what a waste of gunpowder and sky") on acoustic guitar with only Jebin Bruni for minor keyboard accompaniment, and bass player Paul Bryan on backup vocals. The rest of the band return for Red Vines, and Invisible Ink (before which Mann entreats the somewhat reluctant audience to participate by clapping along during the instrumental parts), and for King Of The Jailhouse - "a song about bitterness, unhappiness and dysfunction... oh, wait a minute - that's all my songs!" (she quips) - Mann plays piano for a change. The show's finale, Deathly (apparently this eclectic band's usual concert closer) treats us to another sequence of powerhouse guitars. Despite the deliciously edgy melancholy of Mann's work, there's a great deal to admire here that's life affirming, and plenty of spiky humour leavens the darker themes.
As is the norm with these packages, the tracks on the CD differ from the DVD, and even when song titles match up the live album may have a different night's version. Curiously, although Real Bad News, Driving Sideways, I've Had It, and How Am I Different? were all featured on the second night's play-list, none of these songs appear on either of the discs. The CD has 13 tracks, including That's Just What You Are, which is absent from the DVD. DVD extras include behind-the-scenes footage of the band on tour, a photo gallery in slideshow format, and some fascinating and engagingly candid interviews with the astute Ms Mann, and her band - who all loyally assert she's an extraordinarily clever, gifted songwriter, and suggest that Mann probably enjoys touring nowadays more than she likes to admit.