Latest Performance at Yoshi's Reaffirms Timeless Appeal of Aimee Mann

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Few singer-songwriters have received the critical reception that has been bestowed on Aimee Mann. Although there's no denying that many of her '90s pop counterparts were able to attain large audiences that instantly dwarfed Mann's microscopic album sales, she stays productive in the latest phase of her career.

However, since she hasn't released an album in over two years, it comes as a surprise to see Aimee Mann return with tour dates across the country, including four shows in three nights at Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco.

The immediate thought might be that she's attempting to build up excitement for a new release, but that isn't the case. Before previewing three new songs, Mann explained that she and her producer/bassist, Paul Bryan, are in the midst of developing a musical based on the 2005 concept album, The Forgotten Arm.

At first this may sound like a bit of a stretch. Even Mann admitted that every singer-songwriter tries to come out with a musical at some point. The difference lies in Mann's natural storytelling abilities, both as a lyricist and a performer. Having already had some of the biggest names in Hollywood sing her songs, it only makes sense to write a musical. And it only took 10 years after the release of the "Magnolia" soundtrack to realize it.

With only a three-piece band, Mann kept the night low-key. The only percussion instrument on stage was a hi-hat that Mann played herself as she strummed her guitar and sang. With no opening act, and an almost all acoustic group behind her, the performance felt like an MTV Unplugged recording.

Adding to the intimate setting, between almost every song Mann would share her wit with humorous banter that is usually reserved for her lyrics. Often referring to the reasons for writing a particular song - including a story about how she thought as an eight-year-old that she would die around age 29 because 30 was just too old - Mann's self-deprecating accounts illustrated why critics and peers both praise her songwriting and narrative abilities.

Performing songs from her last three Paul Bryan-produced albums, the music greatly benefited from live performance. The difference between Mann's latest work and her earlier albums from the '90s lies in the fact that her newer releases all have a live quality to them.

Although the three new songs previewed couldn't match up to her already released material (possibly due to the fact that they've been written with a musical in mind), Mann reminded the audience, "If you don't like the new songs, this would be the perfect time to use the bathroom."

Fans appeared to be itching for songs from the first half of Mann's solo career that feature the Jon Brion-produced trademark of large orchestral sections and unrecognizable sounds. Due to the set-up, this seemed almost impossible until the band started "Build That Wall," which was shortly followed by Mann stating, "Now we're going to do a few songs from 'Magnolia.'" Needless to say, everyone appreciated the acknowledgment of what they had been waiting for. After thanking the audience with an extended version of Harry Nilsson's "One," Mann returned for an encore comprised of three songs also from "Magnolia," including "This is How It Goes" with an opening that had her playing a recorder.

More than any single song, what stands out is the sheer intelligence that Mann exudes as a performer. Whereas some of her singer-songwriter contemporaries have now been relegated to the adult contemporary charts while others have just moved away from recording new material altogether, Aimee Mann defies both age and genre while moving forward to a new phase in her career. Yeah, maybe a musical might be a good idea after all.


Relive the best moments of "Magnolia" with Jawad at [email protected]

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