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.