A headliner in her own right, singer/songwriter Aimee Mann opened for the legendary outfit, Squeeze, at the Pageant in St. Louis, September 2nd to a comfortably full house of thirty- and forty-somethings. Aimee’s known for her flawless performances, tight bands, and impeccable musicianship—and this show was no different. Touring on the new Smilers album [Superego Records], a quick glance around the stage had us assuming it would be mostly new material. After all, there were three—count ‘em—three keyboards set up, and no lead guitarist present at all. This pretty much sealed the deal, we thought, for a set list of the newer tunes which have a more stripped-down, folkier feel than the older greats from, say, the I’m with Stupid or Magnolia soundtrack eras.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
About three songs in, Aimee launched into the great “Save Me,” and the keyboard kicked in a distortion pedal on his electric piano that beautifully covered that powerful guitar solo. This electronic frenzy continued through several other songs, with the sound being so close to guitar one barely could tell the difference.
Aimee Mann’s voice was typically spot-on, but even better, she seemed to be having more fun than the other three or four times we’ve seen her live. During “Wise Up” (yes, we had a nice helping of Magnolia treats), the background vocals really showed off her colleagues’ multitude of talents.
“I have a website with a message board,” Aimee told the audience during a break, “and on it people are discussing their least favorite song on the new album. Evidently, this one is winning the battle. I’m gonna play it for you tonight,” she laughed, moving into “Great Beyond”—which proved to be anything but a yawn.
Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook came out to join Aimee for “That’s Just What You Are,”—one of the highlights of the show. Tilbrook, who helped co-write that song long ago and even sang on the CD, made some mistakes, but when he got it right he was completely on.. The two traded smiles back and forth at the unexpected musical surprises that cropped up throughout, and one could tell that special things seem to happen with them from night to night. This is not the same, over-rehearsed show, and a band with this kind of talent is not too proud to be open to discovery, even with thousands of eyes watching.
Aimee Mann played for a solid hour—a generous amount of time as an ‘opener’—with no opening band before her. Closing with “How Am I Different” from the Bachelor No. 2 album, the show built up to a climax of wonderful sonic dissonance; a sound ten times bigger than anything one would expect from this small group.
Squeeze followed, of course, keeping fans happy despite the fact that Gilson, Jools, and Keith didn’t come back for the reunion. But in our opinion, Aimee Mann was the real show to see.
Pictured: Aimee Mann with Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze