Jonathan Coulton’s Opening Act was Stellar
It was quite a night at Landmark on Main Street, especially for a Tuesday. The June 20th Aimee Mann show, a completely sold-out performance, surpassed all expectations, particularly with the addition of Jonathan Coulton as the opening act.
Coulton was an unexpected surprise. An NPR regular (Ask Me Another), Coulton’s new CD, Solid State, is a concept album about “the internet, trolls, artificial intelligence, and how love and empathy will save humanity.” Oh, and there’s a companion graphic novel to go with it. Aside from a great voice, and some excellent guitar chops, Coulton is a witty, bright, and intelligent songwriter. The stories that preceded each song were often so funny that Coulton cracked himself up as well as the audience.
It’s worth noting that Aimee Mann’s record label, SuperEgo Records, put out Coulton’s CD, and Mann joined him onstage for a couple of songs, including the hilarious “Pictures of Cats” and “All This Time” which utilized pre-recorded 80’s-style drum machine and keyboard sounds on a computer. (My husband noted that he can’t think of another song that mentions Kurzweil).
There was not a sub-par song in Coulton’s set, but standouts included “Brave” and “Your Tattoo” (written about his wife’s tattoo), and “You Ruined Everything” which, despite the name, was a sort of love song to his children. “I’m going to close in the traditional way,” he said, “with a song about furniture,” and then launched into the final song, about Ikea. A song about Ikea!? Yes, and it was great. If you enjoy pop songs with intelligence, you’ll love Jonathan Coulton.
A Melancholy, Less Angry Aimee Mann
After Coulton’s wonderful set, Aimee Mann took the stage accompanied by her band which included a drummer, bass player, and keyboard player. Mann played one of two acoustic guitars. She opened her set with one of my favorite songs “4th of July” with the wonderful line “and she’s got the river down which I sold her.” Although much of the show was devoted to new material off her latest CD, Mental Illness, she did some other older songs, including “Little Bombs” from The Forgotten Arm, “Labrador” from Charmer, and “Long Shot” from I’m With Stupid.
Mann’s New CD is a bit sadder and less angry than her previous work. As with all her work, her songs are well written with clever lyrics. In a recent interview, Mann said that she was inspired by the female chorus of “oohs” in 1950’s songs and tried to incorporate that into this CD. Her backing musicians supplied backup vocals as well, and their chorus of soft “oohs” in “You Never Loved Me” was superb and added the perfect, melancholy sound.
The new CD has an excellent collection of prime Mann material. Particularly good were “Patient Zero,” “Rollercoasters” (which she did with Coulton), and “Goose Snow Cone” a beautiful song with a strange chorus inspired by a cat picture. Mann swapped her guitar for the keyboards for “Good for Me” which has one of the best opening lines ever – “What a waste of a smoke machine.”
Another standout was “The Moth” from Lost in Space, which featured a some great keyboard work, and the lyric “the moth don’t care if the flame is real.” All of Mann’s backing musicians were excellent and I’m sorry I don’t have their names to acknowledge them individually. The keyboard player was particularly innovative and used his instruments to create string and horn sounds among other things.
Among her encores, Mann did a cover of Three Dog Night’s “One” featuring a fantastic bass solo, and “Wise Up,” the heartbreaking song from the movie Magnolia. Despite it being a Tuesday night, the audience would happily have stayed for several more hours if she had continued to play. Mann is one my most highly respected songwriters. Hopefully she will return to Landmark’s stage many more times in the future.