Since I had just seen her perform at Lincoln Theatre in May, and everyone at the station knows I’m an Aimee Mann geek, I was asked if I wanted to go. I may have thought about it for 10 seconds, but then decided it would probably be best to enlist our entertainment reporter, Jason Fraley, to tag along.
Fraley is an actual reporter, so it sounded like a good plan. I could share my memories from following Mann’s career since she fronted the ’80s band ‘Til Tuesday, which topped the charts with “Voices Carry,” straight through her 11 solo albums, her project with Ted Leo performing as The Both, her Oscar-nominated music for the film “Magnolia” (1999) and her most recent album “Mental Illness.”
I know, “Mental Illness” sounds like an insane name for an album, but Mann — known for writing poignant, sad songs — decided to put away her electric guitar and write the slowest, most depressing album ever, almost as a tongue-in-cheek poke at her critics. The album is an acoustic masterpiece, highlighting her incredible songwriting skills and is worth a purchase, in my own humble opinion.
As the night drew closer, we were notified that we probably would not get an advanced interview with Mann before the show. It happens. Artists have busy schedules. So, Fraley decided to attend a film screening instead and I decided to attend the show solo for yet another Mann concert. I could live with that; however, it should’ve been my first clue that my night was about to spiral out of control.
I got to Rams Head early, not wanting to miss opening act Jonathan Coulton, who’s a funny singer-songwriter in his own right, with a new album, “Solid State,” out on Mann’s record label, SuperEgo. I was given my seat at a stage-side table, which was occupied by three people. I felt awkward crashing their table, as they were eating, drinking wine and having a good time. I apologized and introduced myself, only to learn I’d be sitting with Mann’s brother and two of his friends, both TV news anchors.
We laughed about WTOP being denied an interview with Mann, but they were great people and joked around until Coulton took the stage. I commented to one of the women that I’d seen Coulton perform last month with such comical songs as “Shop Vac,” “Pictures of Cats” and “Your Tattoo.” If you’ve never seen him, you need to; he’s got some funny, relatable songs that will leave you laughing.
Of course, by the time Coulton took the stage, the air conditioning at Rams Head hadn’t fully kicked in, so it was a little toasty. Coulton was understandably sweating under the stage lights and joking about it. He asked for a towel to mop the sweat off his face and, since I was sitting right next to the stage, I grabbed a bunch of napkins, walked on stage and handed them to him, to the delight of the audience. “Sounds like you need these,” I joked, casually interrupting his bit. He laughed, wiped his brow and commented what a great audience we were to help him out with such high-quality napkins.
Finally, Mann took the stage and performed an amazing set of mostly acoustic songs from her deep catalog of music, while Coulton made another appearance to help out on a few songs. Note to the audience: Don’t clap when Mann talks about the first two lines of her song “Good for Me.” Turns out, Coulton wrote those lines, so I clapped to show my appreciation for a well-written opening line, only for Mann to stop playing and comically chastise me for clapping for something she didn’t write.
We all laughed as she started the song over again, but the lyrics — “What a waste of a smoke machine, took the taste of the dopamine and left me high and dry” — are certainly applause worthy, along with all the other songs on the “Mental Illness” album, including my personal favorite, “Patient Zero.”
Her brother then leaned over and asked if I wanted to meet Mann after the show. Who wouldn’t want to meet someone they’ve followed for over thirty years?!? Just then, a strange thought popped into my head: ‘What if she’s not nice? What if all my years of listening to her music and thinking she’s amazing comes crashing down right here tonight?’ Could I handle that? I guess I was about to find out.
We soon walked backstage to a very small dressing room, where the four of us introduced ourselves to Aimee and Jonathan. I sat on Aimee’s suitcase, as she hugged her brother and we spent the next hour talking about normal things: family, the Netflix documentary “The Keepers,” and life. It was so natural. I didn’t ask her about her music or any of the things I thought I’d ask her about, because she was so, well, normal! Here I was, getting a rare glimpse behind the curtain and I wasn’t disappointed.
For someone who’s performed in rock bands her whole life, she’s surprisingly not pretentious. She’s down to earth, sweet, funny and charming; someone who would fit right into my crazy family at a big holiday dinner — not that such an occurrence will ever happen, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless.
I took a picture with Aimee before leaving for the night (see the photo above), then I said goodbye to her brother and his friends. As I walked back to my car outside Rams Head, I thought about how this night had turned into something I had never expected it would become, but wow, what a crazy night.
Mann is playing next on Friday at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. I highly recommend that you check her out live in concert. If you can’t make it, check out her albums. As singer-songwriters go, they don’t get much better than Aimee, and, as I learned last night, she’s an awesome person, too.
WTOP Traffic & Weather Operations Director Jim Battagliese is also the author of “Stuck in Traffic.”