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17 July, 2008

Aimee, I love you, but please don't bore me

Location: woodland park zoo
Mood: depressed, deprived, dejected

Several years ago, not sure when - maybe 2002 - I saw Aimee Mann play at the Woodland Park Zoo. After that show, I vowed two things:
  1. I would never go to see Aimee Mann again
  2. I would never go to a show at Woodland Park Zoo again
I have made bad on both of those promises. (can you actually do that? I know you can make good on promises, but can you make bad on them?)

Last night I saw Aimee Mann play at the Woodland Park Zoo, and I was woefully reminded of all the reasons why I make the previous proclamations. The problem is, I love Aimee Mann "The Icon" sooooooo much, that I cease to even observe what is Aimee Mann "The Reality".

Not sure why that is. Perhaps she represents an entire period of my adult life, from ages 17 to 39, where my romantic blunders and emotional development or lack thereof paralleled her lyrical contents.

I remember, when I worked at the pizza place, back in maybe 1985, one of our managers, Paul Duffy, who was probably like 22 or so, said that he had the opportunity to dance with Aimee Mann at a 'Til Tuesday show. Who knows where that was? I have no clue. But I was a fan of her then, and never stopped. She evolved musically, and professionally, in ways that I cannot even believe. And looking at her career trajectory, I think my love for her probably stems from the fact that her public persona (and that's all I can speak about) resembled the type of character that I truly identify with. And everything about her music - the writing, the lyrics, the production, the instrumentation - all of it became the pie in the sky that I would love to attain in my own work. But I never will. Because to be like Aimee Mann, #1, you need to actually write songs. I have written a measly handful. Though I cannot deny that the few I have written are pretty good. I will never be prolific. It's getting late for that. To be prolific, you have to start early. One of my best songs, though, was a song that I wrote with Aimee Mann on the mind. In my head I heard her singing it. And that song is one of the few songs that I could describe as something that I "gave birth" to. I created it. And once it was out of me, I had a hard time believing that it came from inside of me. And that's a good thing. And it was a strange song too, because I wrote it as a fictional story sung in the first person - where I was singing to a partner who I was kicking out of my life - dumping - because they'd finally fucked up too many times. And the sad thing is that I realized, after the song was born, that actually it was a song written from the perspective of someone else singing to me. I was the object. Not the subject.

It was called "Successful Failure" and here are the lyrics:

Leave your keys on the way out
'Cause I don't want
To ever see you again
You've been gone for a long time
From my heart
Now I just want it to end

I tried so hard to support you
Or at least ignore you
While you fuck up your life
But my efforts to resurrect you
They don't affect you
While you're turning the knife

I lost the money but I won the bet
The take home prize is a life of regret
Baby please you shouldn't be upset
You're the most successful failure... I've ever met

I'll try to remember the times we've had
Both good and bad
But now I'm just trying to save myself
I'm bailing out
Oh god, this ship is sinking

So leave your keys on the way out
And perhaps you'd be so kind
To leave my heart by the door
I don't expect it's intact
Now that you've splashed its remaining blood
All over the floor

I won the money but I lost the bet
The take home prize is a life of regret
But baby please don't you be upset
You're the most successful failure... I've ever met

I lost the money and I lost the bet
I'm tired of watching you fall
While I'm holding your net
I'm pretty sure we ain't seen nothing yet
'Cause you're the most successful failure... I've ever met

Splendid, huh? So that was my Aimee Mann song. I toyed, a couple of times, with the idea of trying to get her a demo of the song, but then it occurred to me that nine million other people probably do stupid shit like that all the time, so I never did it. And I don't fault myself for not doing it. Because I am not that unrealistic. In fact, I should say, I never seriously considered it. But it was a secret wish. Whatever.

So...

To Aimee Mann at the zoo. First problem with last night's show is that the opener was Marc Cohn. Don't remember him? Yes you do. He sang "Walking in Memphis". So you can see how the night was going to be, right?

Then, of course, the main reason for ZooTunes is so that rich hippies can bring their children to the Zoo, to eat Cheerios, while the adults each tapanade on a picnic blanket, and ignore the musical acts. And sadly, Aimee Mann was rather ignorable last night. There was a time, many years ago, where Aimee Mann had a great band - spectacular, actually. They had this guitar player named Michael Lockwood. And he was an older guy. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, he's also a Scientologist, so that sort of ruins it for me, now, I guess. Maybe that's why Aimee Mann doesn't play with him anymore? Although Aimee Mann did the soundtrack for Magnolia, which starred Tom Cruise, who is also a Scientologist, so maybe Aimee Mann is a scientologist!? That would REALLY ruin it for ME too! Better check that out!

But just so you don't think I am full of shit, here is a video from the mid-90's when Aimee Mann was kicking ass with Michael Lockwood and a competent band. Singing Sugarcoated. Not good video quality, but good audio, and you can see they were a BAND. And if you liked that one, here is another of her singing Choice in the Matter. Makes me sad that everyone's better days will eventually be in the past...

So now, Aimee Mann has a shitty band, and she has had shitty band for a number of years. Not sure why that is. But this show, she did not even have an electric guitar player (except on one song, where the bass player played guitar - and he STILL didn't play the guitar solos, which were instead played on keyboard, competently, but disappointingly).

Aimee Mann played almost entirely songs from her new album, which was slightly less energetic than her last album, which was slightly less energetic than the one before that. There were 2 kickass albums by Aimee Mann, "Whatever" and "I'm With Stupid", and I need to realize that this was a long time ago, when Aimee was a much younger and perhaps more bitter artist. And not only is her style a long stone's throw from those records, but she is most likely not going to play ANY of those songs EVER again at a show. This is partly because her band probably was in high school when they were written, and also because she is just someone who seems to quickly move beyond her own work, and have little desire to go back to it.

The best Aimee Mann show ever was when she did this "Acoustic Vaudeville" tour, where she brought a comedian on tour with her to do the talking between songs. It was funny, effective, and she had a better core set of material at that time. And the humor on stage actually brought out the best from her and the band. Now I feel like I am seeing a singer-songwriter backed by a band of hired guns, who either a) don't fit the part, or b) don't have the chops, or c) don't look like they give a damn about Aimee Mann other than the money they're making on the tour. It didn't feel like a band. It felt like a sad vestige of a once-great career.

But Aimee Mann continues to be "critically acclaimed", whatever that means.

I don't mean to bash her, because, remember, I love her.

But she let me down.

Again.

But since we're (not) bashing her, let's also note that her voice was a little more nasal than usual, she had a slightly harder time with the high notes than usual, and she wore an absolutely ridiculous pair of sunglasses that she refused to remove, even when the sun dropped behind the trees.

The highlights of the show were the few older songs she played, which were:

Save Me
Deathly
Goodbye Caroline
Wise Up
How Am I Different?

And of those, she short-changed "Goodbye Caroline" - which should have been the most rocking tune of the whole set - by electing to play it solo acoustic. She butchered "Deathly" by a) fucking up the chords at the beginning of the song to the point that she hesitated, and you could tell she was in the fleeting moment debating whether to start over, or keep going, and b) truncating the entire end of the song, which would be a rocking guitar solo jam, presumably because there was going to be no rocking guitar in the evening's set.

The only true highlight, in Aimee Mann fashion, was that she managed to figuratively give the middle finger to at least 2 sets of people - in this case, the Zoo, and the families in the audience. Before her last song (How Am I Different?) she announced that she needed to cut the set short because they had just informed her that "the lemurs are about to go to sleep". This, to me, was a bit of a cynical crack at humor - which led me to believe that she was less than thrilled about the idea of playing at a Zoo (though she keeps playing there, so go figure - guess it pays well?). And then, to complete the notion that she doesn't really enjoy playing to millionaire hippies and their adopted children, she made sure to close with a song that uses the word "fuck", clearly audible, no less than 5 times.

"Just one question, before I pack... when you fuck it up later, do I get my money back?"

Unfortunately for the real fans of the Aimee Mann from the mid-90's, the answer to that last question was "No. Unfortunately, there will be absolutely no refunds".

I'll leave you with a link to this video of one of her best songs, That's Just What You Are, doing her best 90's grunge Kurt Cobain costume. Actually she's sort of 2 parts Kurt Cobain, 1 part Edward Scissorhands... in the best possible way.

An older photo of Aimee Mann, shown playing her native instrument (bass guitar), which she never once touched last night...

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