NEW YORK -- It was fitting that Aimee Mann took the stage Friday at the Beacon Theatre completely wired on latte, as Mann's recent release, Lost in Space, is an 11-song treatise on addiction. The singer/songwriter was so jacked on caffeine, by her own admission, that she paused after her second song, "Calling It Quits," to calm herself down.
"I'm so f---ing wound up tonight!" she laughed. "This feels like the kind of night where I might forget the words or break a string. But if I go down, I'm gonna go down Fiona Apple-Roseland style!"
In fact, Mann did not suffer a meltdown comparable to her friend's notorious 2000 performance at New York's Roseland. Instead, from the serpentine grunge of "Susan" to the delicate intimacy of "Invisible Ink," Mann and her band ably rocked and revealed in equal measure.
Suitably grounded, Mann returned to her set with the four-chord stomper "Choice in the Matter," before switching clumsily to bass and settling into the more plaintive "Amateur."
The centerpiece of Mann's performances is typically her songs from the "Magnolia" soundtrack. With two albums between this night and her Oscar-nominated effort, though ("I thought Elliott Smith should have won," she said), Mann seemed eager to get the "Magnolia" tracks out of the way. Still, "Wise Up" was undiminished. White stagelights flooded the audience during the indicting refrain ("It's not going to stop / Until you wise up"), reversing the gaze uncomfortably. And the psychedelic, peppermint-striped lighting during "Save Me" heightened the already palpable sense of intoxication.
The flow was interrupted when an audience member shouted out a request for "Voices Carry," Mann's 1985 hit with her band 'Til Tuesday.
"Dude, you may as well yell 'Freebird,' " the singer retorted.
Mann's public radio-groomed fanbase expects to rock, albeit with adult restraint. The drum loop of her early hit, "That's Just What You Are," got them dancing in their seats. The unlikely sing-along chorus of "This Is How It Goes" got them crooning along ("It's all about drugs/ It's all about shame"). Finally, Mann traded in her acoustic guitar for an electric and pounded out a highly distorted version of "Long Shot." Stomping and staggering across the stage, she vamped emphatically on the song's well-timed refrain, "Please love me," before heading off into the wings.
She returned alone seconds later and performed a sparsely arranged "4th of July" before being joined by her band for a spirited run-through of "Red Vines." The intricate finger-picking and articulate wordplay of "Invisible Ink" ("There comes a time when you swim or sink/ So I jumped in the drink/ 'Cuz I couldn't make myself clear") rose to anthemic heights as Mann urged the audience to clap along. And again the band was gone.
The band sauntered casually back to a chorus of requests. Mann joked that she had something prepared, but urged the audience to submit its requests on a slip of paper onstage. Sure enough, as she performed her cover of Harry Nilsson's "One" (also from the "Magnolia" soundtrack), Mann seemed distracted by the stream of people depositing scraps before her. True to her word, she gathered the band together and pored over the requests ("We already did 'Choice in the Matter!' " she chided). After fudging its way through "Ray" and "Stupid Thing," though, the band threw in the towel. "That's enough of Aimee Mann Band di--ing around," she quipped.
Aimee Mann set list:
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