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The Aimee Mann Experience

A Unique Voice and Passionate Lyrics

By Devdoot Majumdar

staff writer

Aimee Mann

The Orpheum Theater

Oct. 4, 8 p.m.

The world received its introduction to the tempered yet torrential backdraft that is Aimee Mann’s voice around the time when she was a register girl at the original Newbury Comics across the river some twenty years ago. Since then, having somersaulted from record label to record label, suffering a relocation to Los Angeles, and finding a devoted following that trickled out of songs in films like Magnolia and Jerry Maguire, Mann could be found headlining her own concert at the Orpehum Theater last Friday night with opener Julianna Hatfield.

Mann’s remarkable gift is her full and sensual realization of the art of being successfully blasÉ. Touring with a four-piece band -- though just as easily marketable as a solo acoustic act -- she sifted through her considerable repertoire, devoting a good third of the concert to her latest album, Lost in Space.

Endowing her lyrical poetry with a voice more weathered than many a jazz singer and certainly more sincere than most pop singers, Mann’s “songwriter” niche does her passionate vocals an injustice. Enduring a good two decades of the music industry, literally from the steps of Newbury Comics to the steps of Viacom, Mann writes songs that define the fine line between being a hardcore romantic and being bitter and exasperated about the Carson Daly world. It is truly the coupling of her lyrical profundities and her unique voice that makes an Aimee Mann concert special.

If there is such a thing as an audience falling into a song, Mann makes it happen time and again. Mann’s every verse is a hook -- some sullenly ballad-like, some fiercely Fiona -- resulting in a refreshing alternative to both the overproduced sound of modern rock and the lonely strumming of an acoustic flirtation. The complexity of her music rivals that of Billy Joel, making it impossible to even trace a song to any of its many choruses from hearing the first few bars. With the musical patience of an eclectic listener, the enduring gratification of Mann’s songs stems from this complexity, allowing the concert experience to far surpass the standard barrage of fleeting musical felicity that independent rock sometimes engenders.

There are only a few singers -- most of them chicks with guitars -- who can deliver lines like “Experience is cheap, if that’s the company you keep.” With more pathos than a Greek tragedy, Mann managed to bring emotion to the most jaded of lines without betraying her calm with melodrama. Unlike many live performances of poetic songs, the crisp lucidity of every lyric carried throughout the Orpheum, permitting even an unfamiliar listener to transcribe the entire concert. And so it became possible to trace Mann through her elaborate lyrics. “Lost in Space,” the title track of her latest album, is a wonderful new incarnation of Mann’s Byzantine lyrical style: “But I’m the stuff of happy endings / that mostly bluff belief’s suspending that / close enough for just pretending to care.”

But for all the listeners who don’t quite partake in the lyrical trajectory, Mann’s distinctive emotionally wrought voice more than suffices. Unfortunately, the uniqueness of Mann’s voice was perhaps a bit too unique on Friday night. Some of the more soothing undertones of Mann’s voice might either be a figment of the studio recording process or simply lost to the gnawing of the Orpheum’s acoustics. Though the gentle, beckoning part of her voice still dabbed many of the musical colors gently, there was certainly a nasal element that could not be ignored, easily perceptible in Mann’s louder songs.

The band that backed Mann also displayed considerable merit. Mann’s music is quite keyboard-intensive, requiring everything from uppity piano frills to diminutive organ interludes. Many songs involve at least one daringly anti-pop guitar solo by producer and guitarist Michael Lockwood, which certainly merited the otherwise dimmed lights and extra spotlight employed during those moments throughout the concert. The song “Long Shot,” for instance, seems to be one tirelessly long guitar solo draped on both sides with relatively meaningless lyrics (“You fucked it up. You jumped the gun.”). As the last song played before the first encores that evening, they decided to make a long guitar solo a good four minutes longer. “Jam Michael, jam” seemed to be the general audience sentiment.

Three encores of Mann still left the audience’s enthusiasm unabated, though the selections from her repertoire certainly left little to complain about. Spanning from the first single from her first solo effort to songs off of her latest, critically acclaimed release, Mann even played the song “Voices Carry” from the band that led to her success in the ’80s, Til Tuesday.

Her rendition of “Stupid Thing” simply ramped the emotional value of a lover who felt alienated, with the phrase “it wasn’t me that you outsmarted” resonating for hours after the concert ended. A charming version of the soothing “I’ve Had It” lent the audience a sense of overwhelming finality and longing at the same time. “Humpty Dumpty” powerfully demonstrated Mann’s ability to sculpt a haunting and enrapturing melody.

Some have always complained that Mann is a bit too much of a sedative for their tastes, pointing out their inability to get into her music. Without doubt, last Friday, the entire Orpheum Theater palpably felt the depth of meaning and subtly passionate vocals that encompass the Aimee Mann experience.