March 19, 2005
BY JASON SONGE
In between songs Aimee Mann said she got a black eye while boxing a few months ago. Then came the punchline, no pun intended: "I realized no one will ask you how you got a black eye(when you're a woman). They just look at you like, 'Oh, you poor thing. You should leave him.'"
Mann didn't make the connection at the moment, but her upcoming concept album focuses on the birth, life, and death of a boxer and photographer's romantic relationship as they travel across the country.
A large portion of Mann's SXSW showcase at Stubb's ampitheatre Saturday night was devoted to the new album. Like many Mann songs, "I Can't Help You Anymore" was subtle in its beauty. Pieces of(Tom Petty's) Mike Campbell-ish guitar and Grand piano dropped in no specific formation like snowflakes through the verses until the chrous soared with Mann's voice.
Though her vocals were sweet, songwriting was Mann's strongsuit. The 44 year-old singer-songwriter played folk-tinged, introspective rock that was witty, smart, and cynical. Mann's songs succeeded because she was able to blend her mental and emotional feelings so well. She was acerbic one moment and yearning the next, but this mix never felt wrong. It felt right.
The songs formed a bittersweet slideshow of unhelpable quandaries, mostly in relationships. The only problem was that each lilting song sounded similar, but that wasn't even a problem. The Beatles often played songs that sounded the same, but did anyone care?
It should be said quick that Mann's quality of songwriting didn't match The Beatles', but her connection to the band was clear. Her songs were also highly accessible, and her songcraft was also enigmatic. Each song was like a puzzle. It was easy not to focus on all the little pieces that went into making it. For example: How did Mann weave the keyboards and guitars so well without a clear plan of attack?
Mann seemed disinterested with and inconvenienced by the show, which she flew into town for. When the crowd gave her more applause than she bargained for, though, she was very appreciative. Maybe fans did outnumber insustry people.
Two old songs Mann played were "Humpty Dumpty" and "Save Me," which was off the soundtrack that brought her national attention and acclaim in 2000, "Magnolia."