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Michael Penn... Bunker Hill

Michael at "Largo" Los Angeles, CA (2/17/04)

Below is a review from

Live Review: Michael Penn at Largo in West Hollywood, CA

by Gabriel Sheffer
liveDaily Contributor

February 18, 2004 04:32 PM - It happens in darkened bars and lounges around the world on any given night of the week: some guy with an acoustic guitar and a head full of tunes stands on a stage and pours his heart out. Tuesday night (2/17) in West Hollywood, CA, that room was Largo and that guy was Michael Penn.

Despite having dropped off the pop music radar, Penn remains an excellent songwriter. Playing before the tiny club's dinner crowd, Penn offered selections from each of his four critically acclaimed albums, plus a few newer songs, presumably from a forthcoming LP.

On this night, Penn was clearly in a good mood. Between songs, he read aloud from the book "The Singing Entertainer," by John Davidson, amusing both himself and the audience--which included Penn's wife, Aimee Mann. At one point, without any explanation, Penn read from the chapter titled "Reasons for singers to talk to the audience." The irony was not lost on anyone, and the ensuing laughter seemed to energize the performer.

Armed with his mahogany acoustic guitar, Penn showed off his McCartney-esque melodies and Lennon-inspired love of lyricism. "Long Way Down (Look What the Cat Drug In)," was an obvious highlight.

Together with pianist Jebin Bruni and a male back-up vocalist, Penn played 90 minutes of dramatic, sweet and deep songs. Besides his array of ballads addressing relationships and the trials and tribulations of modern times, Penn managed to pull out a rocker called "Things are Looking Up." Other new songs included the melancholy and sparse "Danton Road."

Though his voice was occasionally off, it didn't matter. Penn continually gave evidence that, while nasally, his remains one of the few pretty male voices in rock, able to convey pain and joy in the same breath.

After checking with the audience to see who won the Democratic Primary in Wisconsin, Penn launched into "Bad Sign," another new track. Next came "Make it Perfect," a quiet storm of emotion, with Bruni's earnest piano dousing Penn's chords with gasoline.

A songwriter's greatest strength is his songs, and Penn's oeuvre features some real gems. Tuesday night's set closed with the rocking "Brave New World," off Penn's most commercially successful album, his debut, "March." For an encore, he offered "Now We're Even."

And once he was done, Penn stepped offstage, a troubadour in search of his next gig.


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