Aimee Mann's concert at Carnegie Hall in New York on Saturday night (Jan. 28) was for the birds. Or, at least, birdcalls.
The singer/songwriter has humbly admitted in the past that crafting small talk on stage between songs is slightly beyond her comfort zone. How far so? On her 2006 holiday tour, she outsourced the job to such comedians as Patton Oswalt and Paul F. Tompkins.
The audience assumed the responsibilities Saturday, as Mann invited the crowd to fill the spaces between tracks with birdcalls, a running gag that humorously linked her stellar 18-song set.
Backed by her three-piece band, Mann's adult alternative rock was a natural at Carnegie Hall's prestigious Zankel Hall. She joked that she'd do her best to adjust to the fairly formal setting, as she had played the more casual Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, N.Y. (with its smells of "beer and bleach," she ribbed), the previous night.
Mann largely played material from her relatively more recent catalog, from 1999's "Magnolia" soundtrack through 2008's "Smilers." 2002 ballad "Little Bombs" was among the highlights, with its plaintive observation that, "Life just kind of empties out, less a deluge than a drought." Such raw truths are Mann's hallmark, and she even opened the set by warning that she was primed to "cheer (the audience) up with songs of depression and dysfunction." The introduction received knowing applause from an audience familiar with Mann's forlorn story songs made more sweet than bitter when set to her memorable choruses.
While Mann often eschews material from her time fronting 'til Tuesday - occasionally in concert she'll reinvent the band's No. 8 Billboard Hot 100 hit from 1985 "Voices Carry" in stripped-down form - "4th of July," from her 1993 solo debut "Whatever," marked her sole musical trip to as far back as even the early '90s.
Amid more birdcalls (including Mann's attempt that she deemed as embarrassingly unsuccessful as any audience member's best effort), Mann previewed four songs from her forthcoming album, potentially to be called "Charmer." Mann said that she may revise the title, since she wouldn't want fans to read the set's cover art as, "Aimee Mann, charmer," and mistake the phrase as self-referencing overconfidence.
Mann closed the main portion of her set with "Magnolia" favorites "Save Me," "Wise Up" and a rendition of Three Dog Night's "One" before returning for a three-song encore that included a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Free Man in Paris."
Reinforcing her ability to make the melancholy melodic, few artists but Mann could wrap a concert with an anthemic sing-along rendition of a song called "Deathly," her trademark show closer.
The night was complete when, during the encore, an audience member requested - what else? - "Free Bird."
Here is the set list from Aimee Mann's concert Saturday, Jan. 28, at Carnegie Hall in New York:
"High on Sunday 51"
"You Could Make a Killing"
"Looking for Nothing"
"Going Through the Motions"
"She Really Wants You"
(*four new, unreleased songs)
"Today's the Day"
"4th of July"
"Free Man in Paris"
After the show, Michael Hausman of Michael Hausman Artist Management, which represents Mann, shared with Billboard his excitement for the forthcoming album and the strength of Mann's new material. He should know: Hausman was the drummer for 'til Tuesday on the band's three major label albums in 1985-88 before segueing to the management side of the business.
WFUV (90.7) New York presented the concert as part of its ongoing series of shows at Zankel Hall. WFUV music director Rita Houston introduced Mann on-stage and told Billboard afterwards that the station's current on-air "friendraiser" continues to draw donations from generous listeners. (To donate to or find out more about the venerable public Fordham University signal, visit www.wfuv.org).