"Bleeding Powers" found Leo stretching his vocals to excellent effect, the song reminiscent in mood, like a Springsteen tune. Leo sang, "And the road leads somewhere, but it's yet to your door." He played his electric guitar as if the rest of his band, the Pharmacists, were behind him on stage. The artist's skill and swagger precluded the need for them.
"Coleen," an ode to the typical girl that everyone knows, jangled and twinkled beneath the Pageant's lights. After the song, Leo tuned his guitar in silence, noting how awkward tuning alone on stage is. "A Bottle of Buckie" opened with fingerpicked guitar before it slipped into palm-muted work. Leo's deft lyrics danced over the bed of guitar as the troubadour hit the falsetto accents of the song's chorus.
"One Polaroid a Day" was altered to fit Leo's solo modality. The song, though less hushed and sultry than on the record, was nonetheless satisfying with its imagery focused on a controlling woman. Leo proclaimed "The Toro and the Toreador" to be his "Stairway to Heaven," and I agreed. The tune enthralled the audience and built to a distorted peak wrapped around with careful lyrics.
After a set change, Aimee Mann appeared with her five-piece band, including a keyboard/guitarist, a keyboardist, a drummer and Mann's producer/bassist Paul Bryan. After a quick hello, the leather-clad Mann jumped into "Disappeared" from 2012's "Charmer." The song, one of my favorites from the new effort, seemed to hover above the crowd like an evening sky, gaining bright definition as Mann deftly layered a pre-chorus atop a gorgeous chorus.
"Gumby" was full of country-moon power and nostalgia, telling the story of a mother stretched too thin, needing to call her daughter. Again, Mann's stacking of pre-chorus hooks enraptured the crowd. "Labrador," the single from "Charmer," offered up a "Free Fallin'"-type power-chug, complete with Mann's signature lilt and a serene bed of starry keys.
Ted Leo appeared on stage along side Mann to perform the duet "Living a Lie," which on "Charmer" features the Shins' James Mercer. Leo hit every high note with Mercer's ease, and I'll admit, I enjoyed Leo's live singing more than Mercer's record-side.
"Charmer" returned the set to Mann's mid-tempo rock, and before the song, Mann declared, "Ready for us to gently rock you again?" The song featured a devilish hook of infectious vocal "o-o-o-ooo's" mixing with spacey '70s keys and guitar. "That's Just What You Are" conjured the Indigo Girls, while "Ray" brought the tempo and tone down before building it back up with a full-band chorus.
Mann went solo for her suite of songs from Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia." "Save Me" was performed acoustically, Mann's vocals doing all the heavy lifting. The audience was captured as Mann sang, "If you could save me from the ranks of the freaks who suspect they could never love anyone." On "Wise Up" delicate keys led the way as Mann spun the song's heart-wrenching chorus, "It's not going to stop until you wise up." Harry Nilsson's Beatles-influenced "One" unwound with stabs of organ and Bryan's backing vocals, "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever know."
"Slip and Roll" again found Mann building brilliant pre-choruses and folding them into hooky choruses. Mann closed her set with "Goodbye Caroline" and "It's Not Safe," dealing each song's emotional tone with experience and craft, making us feel what she must have felt when she originally crafted each one.
Mann returned with some requests she received from Twitter. "Going Through the Motions" was countrified with big-band drops. "Red Vines" grew with drum and bass before becoming complicated by Mann's lyrics, "Everyone loves you, why should they not?" and Bryan's thrumming bass.
Mann closed her encore with "Deathly," a call to love of sorts, which worked as the perfect song to end the evening. As the tune played out, Mann introduced her band, each offering up a quick and skilled solo. As the track closed on crescendo, Mann jumped into the air and landed, capping off the song's final cymbal crash.
Aimee Mann set list:
You Could Make a Killing
Lost in Space
Living a Lie (with Ted Leo)
That's Just What You Are
One (Harry Nilsson cover)
Slip and Roll
It's Not Safe
Going Through the Motions