Aimee Mann and Ted Leo have been immersed in the music scene for a huge part – if not all – of their adult lives; them coming together to form The Both is just the icing on the cake for anyone who has followed either of their careers. The Both performed at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club on Friday, April 25th to a jam-packed house. They casually took the stage and instantly eased the room’s restless anticipation of their performance. One thing I can say for this pair – not only are they perfectly harmonious, but they’re also getting better with age – in sound and looks; Leo looking disarmingly casual yet quite fetching and buff in black pants and shirt, black wristband cuff, rockstar-style and the foxy and statuesque Mann in shorts, fishnets, leather jacket, black-rimmed glasses, and Converse, each commanding their side of the stage with their six-foot tall presence.
Both Mann and Leo have had highly successful solo careers, releasing eight and nine albums, respectively – Leo as the frontman for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists for those nine. Ted Leo has a massive cult following due to his history of punk and indie rock with bands like Puzzlehead, Animal Crackers, Chisel, and Hell No. To provide a description right from the horse’s mouth, his Twitter bio reads “Journeyman/Virgo-Dog/Bodhichitta Warrior in training,” which really does sum it all up for this jack of all trades; he is also highly engaging and captivating on said account. Having never seen Leo live before, I didn’t know what to expect, but I found him to be the perfect accompaniment to Mann; both (no pun intended) effortlessly switching up lead vocals and playing riffs others only dream of.
Aimee Mann has a history of mind-blowingly well crafted songs (her lyrics are literary masterpieces) that are deeply observational, melancholy and sometimes baneful, yet deadly accurate, poignant, and fearlessly honest; she has always been unique with her sound and in her writing. It’s hard to find words to describe someone you’ve held as one of your personal heroes for nearly 20 years, as I was drawn into the web of Mann circa the release of “I’m With Stupid” in ’95 and have yet to find myself deterred. Doing things on her own terms with indie label SuperEgo Records, Mann freed herself from the ties that had previously bound her in major label hell, making her an even more successful independent artist. Can you really get more honored than having someone (Paul Thomas Anderson) write an entire screenplay (Magnolia) due to inspiration from four lines (“Now that I’ve met you / Would you object to / Never seeing / Each other again”) in one of your songs (“Deathly”)? Then again, there is the Best Song Academy Award and Grammy nomination for “Save Me” (see Mann’s Twitter bio revealing the results), being featured on Magnolia’s 1999 soundtrack, and having another song (“Wise Up) be an integral part of the film’s awe-inspiring sequence with each of the downtrodden characters singing a portion of the lyrics. Some latecomers may also recognize Mann from the “housekeeper” episode (entitled “Aimee”) of Portlandia’s first season.
The duo, in their charming and witty repartee – Mann with her deadpan dialogue and Leo with his lovable, mellow punk rock attitude – shared four adages of relationship advice found scrawled backstage at their previous night’s show in Northampton, one of them being, “Lock it down!” Throughout the night, the two artists played their catchy single “Milwaukee,” in addition to a mix of their solo songs and a choice few from their Both album (“You Can’t Help Me Now” and “Bedtime Stories”). They ended the night with a stellar rendition of Mann’s 1985 hit song “Voices Carry” with her second band, the new wave ‘Til Tuesday. The Both are a perfect combination of two historically atypical artists; letting someone else crash their party of one may have required some tweaking of their styles, but has resulted in a natural and seamless duo that may just result in being your benchmark for musical precision.
Brooklyn-based trio We Are Scientists hit up Boston last weekend, playing to a nearly sold out Brighton Music Hall. Scotland natives Paws opened the show with a lively, high-spirited indie-punk-rock set, setting the euphoric mood off in motion towards a stellar night of We Are Scientists. And let me be blunt here – the only way you could get me to dislike these guys is if they stole my puppy.
Keith Murray and Chris Cain strode on stage to thunderous cheers from a wall-to-wall crowd, digging right into the opening chords of “Return the Favor” from their latest album, “TV en Francais.” Performing their cleverly-written songs, the affable duo pulled a prime selection from each of their previous albums; between them treating us to their just as desirable and well known quick-witted tongue-in-cheek banter. With their danceable and unique indie-rock, New York City dwelling We Are Scientists have been touring on and off (mostly on) since 2005 when they released “With Love and Squalor” – and I cannot say enough good things about them. Not one of their albums has disappointed and, after seeing them live three times now, I can truly say an accurate statement is they never have an “off” day; every note is hit, every show is one for the books, and both Murray and Cain are all heart – and unquestionably likable guys to boot. Each song is full of unwavering honesty and heavy sentiments, yet strikingly upbeat. After working the crowd with favorites such as “After Hours,” “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” and “Nice Guys,” they came back for an encore with “Impatience,” then proceeded to their merch table to meet with each and every fan looking to do so. They may have been dishing out advice , as they do regularly in the “Dear W.A.S.” section of their website; on top of recently starting their own Ad Solutions Network consisting of an “adaptable, highly-rigid set of solutions developed over many years of industry experience and experimentation.” The song is fact – rules really don’t stop them.
Knowing that she had previously performed numerous times with my old pals Antigone Rising – and how they continued to sing her praises – I couldn’t pass up the chance to catch Hannah Thomas earlier this week at Atwood’s Tavern. Heading out for a nice leisurely Sunday evening happy hour, I ended up with more than I bargained for as soon as Hannah Thomas hit the stage; she rocked our Cambridge-visiting faces right the hell back out of town. She played for almost two hours straight, cranking out nearly twenty songs – three covers (Violent Femmes, Janis Joplin, Indigo Girls) and topping the set off with originals. Thomas, being one woman with a guitar, effortlessly and sufficiently blew the room away with the talent and tenacity of a full band – a very rare find these days. Being a very staunch advocate of not pigeonholing anyone into a genre, I will, however, say that if Amy Ray, Michelle Malone, Patty Griffin, and old school Jennifer Nettles (a la Jennifer Nettles Band/Eddie’s Attic days) had a baby….congratulations, it’d be a Hannah Thomas!
Thomas is amidst a Kickstarter campaign (with 6 days to go as of this writing) – ending on April 24, 3:11pm EDT, to be exact – to record her third original album with producer and bassist Don Dixon (R.E,M., Smithereens, etc). With at least seven songs slated to be delivered (including two personal favorites – “Lie to Me” and “Drinking Alone”), you know you’re in store for some sweet sweet aural pleasure. Pledgers of this campaign can get anything ranging from a signed CD to a house concert to being in the studio with the artist herself. But be sure to get yourself on over to Hannah’s Kickstarter page and pledge before it’s too late!
Having started performing at the age of sixteen, Thomas is touring relentlessly (she drove straight to Georgia right after this show) and shared the stage with artists such as Zac Brown, Indigo Girls, Bree Sharp, Antigone Rising, and Jen Foster – just to name a few; between her badass voice and guitar handling, it won’t be long before those roles will be reversed. Oh, and this proper southern girl has a penchant for whiskey and scotch, so when you get yourself to her next show make sure the bartender delivers some Maker’s or Johnnie Walker Black – before her shows sell out so quickly you’ll be left crying in the street, knowing what you’re missing out on. Thomas is a ridiculously fantastic and dazzling gem of an artist who rises insurmountably above the music world of mediocrity. Being able to experience a two hour Hannah Thomas solo set was quite possibly one of the most well-spent Sunday happy hours anyone could’ve encountered. It may have just been said above, but, the one word review of this gig: badass.