The veterans, but newly-formed duo, show off their album (and playful banter) at the Music Hall of Williamsburg
"I'm like this flowery … waif-bird," Aimee Mann mused to a sold-out crowd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, N.Y., last night (May 1). "And, you're like ….," she paused, attempting to assess musical partner Ted Leo, to her left, "… a gnarled tree ..."
"Then, I was, like, 'Come, land on my branch … and we'll make the music of the forest,' " Leo assisted, light-heartedly, but perfectly, summing up the parts that make up the Both, the pair's new duo that doubles as the title of its first album. The set debuted at No. 15 on Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart dated May 3.
The vets boast accomplished and acclaimed careers separately, Mann as frontwoman for the folk/rock-infused 'til tuesday and, for the past two decades, solo (the bird …) and Leo as the gritty-voiced/electric guitar-wailing leader of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (… the branch). After playing shows together and discovering a creative chemistry, they planned to write and record an EP. When the songwriting flowed, the project turned into a full album.
"I thought it was really fun and satisfying," Mann recently told Billboard of the team-up. "There's something about working with another person that's very inspiring. You have another person¹s whole sensibility and realm of talents to utilize."
Mann's lilting vocals and Leo's edge combined for a melodic 1-hour, 45-minute set that featured all 11 "Both" tracks. The pair punctuated the night with jokey banter, revealing that the members' connection is not confined to their music. Mann and Leo opened the show with several minutes of playful chatter, which only extended as they mocked their own inability to initiate a gig normally. "When you come out on-stage, you have a perfectly-tuned guitar. But … you have to tune it," Mann explained, bemused at the mystery.
The pair, Mann on bass and Leo on guitar and keyboards, backed by drummer Paul Mayhall, traded vocals on standout cuts from the new album, including the uptempo "Volunteers of America," "Bedtime Stories" and first single "Milwaukee" (which the act performed on NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" the night before), the bouncy "Pay for It" and pretty lullaby "Hummingbird." On "Volunteers," especially (both live and on the album), Mann divulges her affinity for Elvis Costello, with its jangly chorus and Leo's vocals similar in tone to that of the alt-rock pioneer. (Mann and Costello have collaborated, on 'til tuesday's third album, 1988's "Everything's Different Now," and her 2000 solo set "Bachelor No. 2.")
Mann and Leo performed two songs apiece from their own catalogs, highlighted by the former's Academy Award-nominated "Save Me" and the latter's heartfelt new, unreleased "Lonsdale Avenue." "Believe it or not, Ted's song is even more depressing than mine," Mann warned ahead of "Save." The duo likewise ribbed its dark tendencies before harmonizing on "Both" ballad "You Can't Help Me Now," which Mann noted was the first song that the two wrote together.
The give-and-take eventually led to Mann joking that she'd love to have "four people clapping" onstage for back-up, but that the music business can no longer afford such luxuries. When Leo imitated an old-time agent, pretending to book a band that needed such bygone accompaniment, his specific name-checking of 'til tuesday drew knowing cheers from Mann's most ardent fans.
By the time that the Both closed with "Voices Carry" ("A song I wrote a million years ago," Mann kidded of 'til tuesday's No. 8 1985 Billboard Hot 100 hit) and a cover of Thin Lizzy's "Honesty Is No Excuse" (the only "Both" non-original), the audience provided the clapping free of charge, also singing along to the music of the unlikely forest into which Williamsburg had, for nearly two sunny evening hours, bloomed.
Here is the Both's setlist from its show (with opening act Nick Diamonds) at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, N.Y. (May 1, 2014). (The pair has an additional 14 U.S. dates scheduled through early August):
"Volunteers of America"
"The Inevitable Shove"
"Pay for It"
"You Can't Help Me Now"
"Bottled in Cork"
"Honesty Is No Excuse"