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Michael Penn... Bunker Hill
Acoustic Vaudeville: Boston 6/11/00

Acoustic Vaudeville Returns to Beantown

Michael Penn & Aimee Mann at the Berklee Performance Center
Sunday, June 11, 2000 7:30pm

Tom's little review 6/13/00

It was an evening of forgetting lyrics, audience members changing seats mid-show, and one of the acts showing up over an hour late. I left the show thinking, "How unbelievable..."

Unbelievably fantastic, that is.

Michael Penn and Aimee Mann returned to Boston four months after an outstanding Somerville, MA show this past February, and they certainly lit up the stage once again. I can't begin to tell you how much fun this show was.

For starters, the show started a half-hour late, and as Aimee & Michael took the stage at 8pm, they casually explained that the "vaudeville" half of their Acoustic Vaudeville concert (i.e. the comedian) was stuck in New York City and wouldn't show up until later, which forced Aimee and Michael to exchange some of that in-between-song banter they make no secret of hating. But boy, were they funny... no banter problems there.

After Aimee's first set, Michael started out with "Long Way Down". (Pisses me off that the Goo Goo Dolls are better known for this title... but that's another story...) As you'd expect, his performance was superb... with a couple of exceptions (not really.. just kidding... read on...): mid-way through the 2nd verse, he accidentally started singing the words from the middle of the 1st verse. He abruptly stopped, pointed out that that was very much wrong, and as an audience member near me yelled out the correct line, he thanked her and continued singing without missing another beat. WHAT a RIOT. Who needs a comedian?

"Long Way Down" was followed by "Me Around", raucous and bouncy as usual. One of my absolute favorites, "Small Black Box", came next, with Michael prefacing it with a lone sentence: "This song is about a flight data recorder". What a wonderful, touching tune.

Aimee played some more... and forgive me... being a brand new Aimee fan, I couldn't tell you what she played... and being in charge of an MP web site, I gotta stay focused. Back to Michael. :-)

At the start of one of his songs, I was having great difficulty placing what it was that he was about to play... kinda freaked me out. ("What kind of a fan am I??!!", I thought.) It was a slow-tempo, kinda mellow sounding thing... and I had no idea what in the world it was until I heard, "Years away.... with foreign girls... the Bedlam Boys... took sand from pearls." Real neat arrangement...  boiled down yet meaty, slowed down but still slightly up-tempo, but still really, really nice.

This was followed by "Don't Let Me Go", "High Time", and "Bucket Brigade", all which are off of his new album, MP4. These fresh tunes were set aside for a quick detour into March as he went into "Brave New World". Now, whether you've had a chance to catch this tour or not, you may know about the problems Michael has singing this song live...

His problems? Aimee and Buddy (his guitarist).

Apparently there's a nightly ritual for this tour in which those two attempt to thwart Michael's attempt to make his way through the tongue-twisting third verse of "Brave New World" ("Buster and his company look good in black... they're looking for a way out of the cul-de-sac...") Michael made a valiant effort, but alas, Buddy more than succeeded in making Michael mess up, and, of course, curse like a banshee. Can't win 'em all.

In the midst of all this music, the comedian actually showed up, having virtually sprinted in from New York City. But despite his exhaustion, he managed to completely rile up a crowd that had already become enamored with Michael and Aimee. VERY surprising... when I saw them in Somerville this past February, a rather large portion of the audience was ready to impale the so-called comedian. Not this guy... Patton Oswalt was on the money... This guy was simply hysterical. Kudos to Patton for making an already amazing show that much more fun.

This is not to mention the antics of Michael's cast and crew... Buddy and Michael's Tour Manager (?) did their own special renditions of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"... Buddy tried his best (and did pretty well) to sing it backwards (very cool), and the other guy did something even more outrageous as he sang it one syllable off... that is, each word he sang was one note ahead of where he should be singing... very odd, but very cool and very funny.

More impressions followed... at the start of one song, Aimee became inspired to belt out "I Got You Babe"... Michael chimed in with his best Sonny Bono sneer... I nearly split in two laughing.

Later on, it was Aimee's turn to forget lyrics in the middle of a song... and yet again, audience members were more than happy to lend a lyric or two. And at some point during the show (not sure if it was here or not), Aimee observed, "You know... there are two rows of empty seats right up here in the front... that's the fun of working for a record company. They always ask you to reserve the first two rows for them, and then they never show up. So if there are any people in the back with bad seats, feel free to come on up."

Thus began the Berklee mass migration of the year 2000.

About 20-30 people went up for probably 10-20 seats. The funny thing is, I never saw one person walk back to their seat.... (What are fire codes really for, anyway?)

ANYWAY... back to the show... the first song of Michael's first encore was "I Can Tell". GREAT live song. Just a fun, clean, great song. This was followed by the obligatory but legendary "No Myth" in a second encore, with Aimee taking the first verse, and Michael carrying the rest, while fighting a small cold-type thing (at least that's sort of how Aimee described it).

Well, what could follow "No Myth" and "Voices Carry" (Aimee's quasi-finale)?? In the Somerville show, they called it a night after that.... it only makes sense. I mean, hey, Billy Joel never plays anything after "Piano Man", right? But we all had such a blast at this show, they came out for a third and final encore, in which Aimee and Michael had to think a bit about what they would play. Not worrying about having anything else prepared ("Rehearsal was never our forté anyway", says Aimee), Aimee took a request from the audience to play "Deathly" (I think... again... you're talking to a fledgling Mann Fan), but Michael played first, strumming out the creepy/haunting yet beautiful "Cupid's Got a Brand New Gun".

For all the mistakes, tardiness, and improvisation, it was almost a little too easy to focus more on the Vaudeville than the Acoustic.


It was hard to do that as Aimee and Michael bedazzled and entranced me (and everyone else, I'm sure), with their raw, effortless talent and musicianship.

-TL 6/13/00

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