Gig Review and Photography by John Hayhurst

Aimee Mann charms a London Palladium audience with personal and intricate melancholy songs about mental illness, accompanied by a string quartet and a science geek folk rock troubadour who writes songs about zombies, the end of the world and cats.

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It has been the best part of 20 years since I last saw Aimee Mann play live in the UK and whilst her visits have been more frequent than mine, she doesn’t come around often enough or play sufficient places to really call them tours anymore. Tonight is one of only 2 concerts she will play on these shores, she chooses Glasgow and London as the places to promote her new album Mental Illness (released back in March this year).

The Palladium is almost sold out and full of mainly 40-50+ somethings and one or two have brought their kids along. It could be a difficult night for them, Aimee Mann will play a very much stripped back show featuring her trademark slow burning melancholic songs about relationship failures, despair, depression and other mental conditions – doesn’t make for a lot of laughs, but actually proves otherwise as I haven’t laughed at a support act this much for quite some while.

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Jonathan Coulton looks like your average Geography teacher in Secondary school, complete with 1980’s tie and suit, he proceeds to play a selection of acoustic space/tech geek concept songs with a comedy twist. A dry sarcastic humour and deep vocals but the sound system here is superb, so we can hear every line and therefore the comedy show is a great warm up for the deeper darker storytelling that Aimee Mann will be subjecting us to later.

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When you hear “Welcome to my Secret Lair on Skull Crusher Mountain” (an opening line), or his lament to the great Norse God of Furniture ‘Ikea’ there is a constant grin on your face as you ingest the driest wit this side of Eric Idle. Coulton is a songwriting machine as he decided in 2005/6 to write and publish “A thing a week”. We also discover that he co-wrote a number of songs on Aimee Mann’s latest album and her ‘Super Ego’ record label is releasing Coulton’s latest record (Solid State) which is why there is such a strong connection between the two artists. So much so that our first glimpse of Aimee is when she joins Jonathan Coulton on stage for a handful of his songs.

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In particular ‘Pictures of Cats’ which is about how the endless stream of information on the Internet, particularly of bad news, can be overwhelming or cause anxiety. In response, we distract ourselves with pictures of cats. It’s amusing and yet it’s also stark reality, and to see Aimee Mann’s quite serious thin lipped face turn frequently into a bright smile is enough to send us to the interval equally cheerful. The contrast of comedy or dark humour followed by forlorn tales of woe really works.

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“Before I play you some new depressing sad songs, I thought I would warm you up with a few older depressing sad songs” Aimee Mann opens her set with this and it does set the tone, but first up ‘4th of July’ probably still remains one of my all-time favourite songs. Released in 1993 and in just the opening verse it demonstrates Mann’s incredible song writing skills “Today’s the fourth of July, Another June has gone by, and when they light up our town I just think what a waste of gunpowder and sky”.

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Paint feelings and images with words and music, that’s your job as a singer-songwriter and Mann has an ability to constantly deliver pathos with emotionally charged gifted lyricism. We sit in our plush Palladium seating and for the next hour and a half, receive wave after wave of delicate flavours of sorrow and anguish, tragic storytelling at its superlative best. Hearing every note and all accompanied with a velvet voice that carries both the sentiment and quality, pitch perfect in every sense.

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Perhaps looking a little tougher these days, Mann is now 57 and purveys a 30-year career, new songs are dispatched amongst the older classics, and with such a songbook to choose from it is understandable that we are not going to get the first album played in full. ‘Rollercoasters’ and ‘Patient Zero’ sit nicely alongside ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and ‘Save Me’. A string quartet are able to bring out arrangements to enhance the experience. Paul Bryan is on bass tonight but he is also the producer and arranger on her latest album so quite handy to have on stage.

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Jonathan Coulton joins her again and we pick up where we left off in the first half with some witty in-between song banter about Trump, Out of Tune Guitars and Harvey Weinstein. Mann describes ‘Goose Snow Cone’ as a track she wrote whilst in Ireland feeling homesick and seeing an internet picture of a white cat called Goose in a vets cone. She thought she would reword the unfamiliar title later, “sparing me the need to explain a strange titled song every f*cking night, (sigh) so this is called Goose Snow Cone”.

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For the encore, fans of the film ‘Magnolia’ are treated to a couple of the well-known soundtrack tunes written by her, ‘Wise Up’ and the quite superb ‘Deathly’ with an extended bass and piano ending that had Halloween written all over it. Aimee Mann allowing herself a jump in the air to end the show, and we close another chapter of what is a wonderful book of songs. How I wish there were more opportunities to enjoy seeing her live, but it may well be another few years before she returns again. Grab that opportunity when it happens!


Setlist:
4th of July
Little Bombs
Stuck In The Past
Patient Zero
The Moth
Labrador
Humpty Dumpty
Rollercoasters
You Never Loved Me
Goose Snow Cone
Good For Me
Save Me
Going Through The Motions
Borrowing Time
Long Shot

Encore:
One
Wise Up
Deathly

Listening:
Mental Illness [2017]

One Response to “Aimee Mann + Jonathan Coulton @ The Palladium, London, UK – 26th October 2017”

  1. Victor Davis Says:

    I’m a bit late to this site but I can 100% agree with your observations on Aimee Mann’s concert.

    I first saw her many years ago when her I’m With Stupid album was released when she was playing with Squeeze at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Superb then, as of now.

    Totally agree with your comments about Jonathan Coulton and was an effective counterpoint during the evening, especially when he joined Aimee during her set.

    Certainly a memorable concert, lot’s of her countrymen/women in the audience at a great venue: I should add that I saw Suzanne Vega a few weeks beforehand at the same venue.

    Here’s to the next essential gig of both!

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