March 8, at the storied West Hollywood venue Largo, voices carried between the two bookish music geeks.
By Wyndham Lewis
The Largo is an intimate setting designed for friends to play for friends. Its casual confines and insider-y music crowd blurs the line between performer and audience that makes every show feel vaguely like a friends and family dress rehearsal. You get the feeling everyone there knows each other and that everyone there has owned Can’s Tago Mago on at least three different formats.
Ted Leo and Aimee Mann seem like good friends that would hang out together at Largo. Bookish music geeks with a shared history of throwing SAT caliber words into conversation and lyrics, they seemed at first an odd fit, but when you catalogue their musical traits, you find more common ground than you would imagine. And, as they said repeatedly, they are big fans of one another.
The show began with #Both on stage Aimee Mann acoustic guitar, Ted Leo electric. Neither played a note before the evening’s tone was set, this was going to be a playful night and the banter to performance ratio was going to be through the roof. If your show is going to be dominated by conversational banter, you could do a lot worse than these two smart, charming people. We the crowd hadn’t so much crashed a cocktail party as the coolest conversation in the corner of a cocktail party.
Together on stage, they announced the show’s format. Each was going to play a few of his/her own songs and then debut 5 new collaborations that were wet paint fresh from the studio. That was followed by a few tossed off comments about setting the evening’s rules and when they had their first friendly difference of opinion, Leo quipped “are we breaking up already?”
In both interviews and song Ted Leo is politically strident and a dedicated vegan, so to find out that he is a light presence, quick witted and very funny is a pleasant surprise. To date I have seen Ted Leo eight times and he bled from some form of on stage contact approx. 50% of the time. This was not a Ted Leo show, it was very much a #Both show, and it was kicked of with one of their new songs, a quiet, largely acoustic track You Can’t Help Me Now (All #Both song titles referenced in this review are pure guess work based on lyrics/choruses).
After 3 songs #Both doubled the on stage head count with a bassist and drummer and Mann settled into her sweet spot playing classics Save Me and Wise Up to the pin drop silence of an awed crowd.
People used to joke that the Ramones only ever wrote one song, but it was a fucking great song. #Both Aimee Mann and Ted Leo are far too good with words to ever be accused of writing the same song twice, but occasionally you can’t help but wish each had a vocal accompanist on their records to add a different texture to their strong and distinct voices. They seem to have found this in each other.
The new #Both songs fit comfortably in the mid-tempo area that splits the difference between Aimee Mann’s deliberate arrangements and Ted Leo’s uncorked rock. The songs he played including Bottle of Bucky and Lonsdale Avenue seemed to be less ferocious than they would ordinarily be with the Pharmacists backing him. While #Both’s Volunteers of America allowed him license to rage a bit more.
The evening closed with Ted and Aimee covering his most obvious musical forebear, Thin Lizzy. It was a pleasure to watch both musicians pay tribute. Following that, according to Aimee, she acquiesced to Ted’s pressure to play a song “she’s usually too embarrassed to play.” Voices Carry was a perfect punctuation for the new collaborators and a perfect encapsulation of the show. Leo revved up to sing the second verse, forgot the words and was reminded by Mann of the lyrics to the song he obviously loves. All the while showing his deft guitar work on the song’s fairly radical rearrangement. It was fun and not taken too seriously.
As a performer, Ted Leo has always worked best when he’s most outraged and untethered. He is a phenomenal storyteller, especially when he’s pissed off. That said, this collaboration pulls him a little far to the center. He feels a bit tempered leaving the stage without shedding a little blood.
[Photo Credit: Chris Jennings]