Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Review of Aimee Mann at the Royal Festival Hall, London: January 28, 2013

The Southbank last night
Good job I'd been to see the two famous Hyde Park Bearded Tits in the morning. My £20 seat was so far back in the circle that without my binoculars it could have been any willowy blond American troubadour.

But the Leicas confirmed it was Aimee: jeans, black boots, jacket, scarf, black-rimmed glasses, guitar. The same Aimee who once dueted with Elvis Costello in her fabulous 'Til Tuesday days; who went on to provide that magnificent soundtrack to Magnolia in 1999. Wise Up, Save Me - the best songs she ever wrote, the last one robbed of an Oscar by a Phil Collins cobbler from Disney's Tarzan; the bitterness in her intro only half-mock.

By the time those beautiful flowers bloomed last night, however, we'd had to negotiate some dense weeds. It's always a challenge to listen live to a favourite artiste's new songs. Especially when the Festival Hall sound is so muggy you can't hear the essential Aimee lyrics. Even moreso when she apologises for the songs in advance.

And rightly so. As pre-shrunk popped and ready-washed rocked as the keyboard player's denim waistcoat - the player who looked like 1970s Piccadilly Radio DJ Dave Ward, not the other one who looked a bit like Talk Radio's Sam Matterface.

There were hints of the Seventies elsewhere, too: Supertramp-style electric piano, a Mellotron, bit-too-long guitar solos, the drummer in a big old flat cap; even the bass player, co-songwriter and Charmer album producer Paul Bryan looked like George Harrison circa 1973. Nothing wrong with any of that.

Yet with all that ivory firepower the men with five keyboards between them walked off the stage with the other two to leave Aimee to do a solo acoustic version of Save Me, returning only near the end of her other classic, Wise Up. Rude.

Also rude for Aimee to studiously tune-up her guitar while the paying punters were applauding her last number. And ruder, still, to keep effing and blinding her way through in-jokes in the rare moments she looked up from the playlist stuck on the floor near her feet.

In truth, it just never got going. Certainly not enough to rouse a subdued January crowd on a wet Monday night. Aimee has a wonderful, low voice but her live performance is just too low key. She never takes centre stage. She's never in the spotlight. She never moves, a bobbing right leg and one end-of-axe-solo half-jump aside. She never engages with her audience, blaming her in-ear monitors for her refusal to respond to any comments from the crowd.

Here's an idea - take them out. Stop swearing. And keep the band on when you play your best songs.