My first taste of Aimee Mann was when I bought the Cruel Intentions soundtrack after hearing “You Could Make a Killing”, a song so simple yet sincere. But it was another soundtrack only a year later that showed me how profound Aimee Mann really is. Her song “Save Me” from the Magnolia soundtrack was something so new to me, both catchy and eerily dark, that I was forever hooked to the former ‘Til Tuesday front woman. Lost In Space became my soundtrack to my college freshman year, while The Forgotten Arm accompanied my move to Vancouver. Needless to say, I was stoked to hear that Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, who together form the Both, would be performing at the Imperial.
Upon arriving at the venue, I realized that the demographic of the crowd consisted mainly of Baby Boomers – the type who probably enjoy Austin City Limits with a Merlot on a Saturday night. From my seat, I overheard conversations about home renovations, Robaxacet, wineries, and the grandkids (even my dad was jealous when he found out I was going). Soon enough, crowds from Generation X, with their skinny jeans and thick glasses, filled the venue creating a diverse audience. This seemed fitting seeing as the Both consists of two opposite ends of the spectrum: folk/easy listening and punk/indie rock. I was reminded of this after meeting a lovely American couple who made the trip specifically for the show. While the husband, covered in tattoos and donning a fine Mohawk, was a huge fan of Ted Leo dating back to his punk days in bands such as Chisel and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, his wife admitted to hating anything punk rock or hardcore. Discovering the Both was something they could both agree on.
An hour-and-a-half after doors opened, the cut-off jean-vests of former and current punks started flocking towards the area in front of the stage for opening band Telekinesis from Seattle, Washington. That’s Telekinesis from Seattle, Washington. I’d mention it a third time, but only those who were there would understand the joke.
The band was tight. Super tight. Even when the drummer/lead-singer fumbled twice, they were still tight. The vocal melodies between the singer, keyboardist, and bassist reminded me of a mix between the Beach Boys and the Flaming Lips. The songs were catchy and fun. Even now, I can still remember the hooks of at least three songs from the night. The singer was pleasant and friendly as he told the crowd that it was the guitarist’s birthday and his own birthday at midnight, to which he suggested having a party at the boarder crossing. They ended the night with a cover of “Don’t Change” by INXS, exciting the aforementioned wife; her husband not so much. But when Ted Leo joined the band on stage, they both headed to the dance floor. Telekinesis kept the crowd on their feet and even got them to sing the chorus to the last song of the night, which isn’t easy for an opening band.
Finally the moment arrived. As roadies wearing Both t-shirts tuned instruments and taped down set-lists, the crowd of Baby Boomers and Generation X gathered in front of the stage.
Aimee appeared from stage right in a black (faux?) leather dress, fishnet stockings, signature scarf, glasses, and double-knotted black Converse sneakers, proving that dressing your age is so passé. Ted appeared from stage left in a black button-up shirt, black jeans, black shoes, and black arm band, proving you can’t go wrong with black. After introducing themselves to the crowd they began their set with “The Gambler”, a mid-tempo country/rock song that got the crowd bobbing and swaying. After bantering about which direction the microphones should face (the crowd or each other), Aimee stated that this was their second fight on tour, the first having occurred the day before over whether James Taylor should still be played on the radio or not. Ted was against it to which the intimate crowd let out a few cheers. Mann and Leo then went into “Volunteers of America” and “No sir” before bantering again, this time about the smell of urine puddles outside the venue, which reminded Aimee of her song “Clean Up For Christmas” where she mentions Hastings Street. “I had a friend who was a crack addict,” she told the crowd. “Apparently, it’s easy to get crack on Hastings.”
In response to Ted’s sloppy ending on “The Prisoner”, Aimee suggested he buy delineated toe-shoes to help control his guitar pedals. This led to a debate on the practicality of toe-shoes. The crowd agreed they have no practical purpose. From then on, Ted became the punch line for most of the night. Before going into “Hummingbird”, the first song written as the Both, Aimee told the crowd how Ted used to run a Hobbit fan page, labeling him a geek. He then specified that he had led online discussions on The Hobbit, which is completely different and not geeky at all. All jokes aside, “Hummingbird”, my personal favourite from the self-titled album, sounded even better live.
One thing I discovered from the show was that bass never goes out of tune. Another thing I discovered was that having the bass player tell jokes while the guitarist tunes is a genius idea. With her phone in hand, Aimee prepared herself with several jokes poking fun of drummers and trombonists, keeping the crowd in stitches. With a wry grin and aloof tone, she began:
“How do you know if the stage is level? There’s drool coming out of only one side of the drummer’s mouth.”
“What’s the difference between a frog and a trombonist? The frog was probably on its way to a gig.”
“This may be risqué, but what does a waitress do with her asshole after sex? Drives him to band practice.”
This is not to say the Both don’t have great songs. They do. Their sound is full and solid, making it hard to believe that they are only a three-piece band. But when the drummer left, and Aimee traded her bass for an acoustic guitar, I knew what was coming. Of course there was a story leading into the song involving Hilary Clinton and George W. Bush, but by then I was tired of stories. Aimee and Ted’s rendition of “Save Me”, the song that lost to Phil Collins at the 1999 Oscars, was definitely a highlight of the night. Their vocals complimented each other perfectly, and Ted’s dreamy solo after the bridge was better than the original. The duo ended the night with Ted’s “Lonsdale Avenue”, Aimee’s “Caroline” (with a fantastic guitar solo), and finally Ted’s “Cork”.
The whole night was fantastic even if a quarter of the set was dedicated to sarcastic comments and jokes. Ted’s rhythm and lead guitar skills brought the rock while Aimee’s fingers walked the walk. But a concert isn’t a concert without an encore, and what an encore it was. The familiar guitar notes and bass line of ‘Til Tuesday’s 1985 hit “Voices Carry” was the icing on the cake. It may be 29-years-old, but even after 29 years of being in the biz, Aimee and Ted owned it. In the end, the Both brought easy listeners and punk fans together for a highly enjoyable Sunday night in Vancouver.