Copyright 1993 The Hartford Courant Company
The Hartford Courant

August 4, 1993, A Edition


LENGTH: 519 words

HEADLINE: Away from the restrictions of a tour, Mann plays it loose and breezy at Toad's

BYLINE: ROGER CATLIN; Courant Rock Critic

    A headlining club show in the middle of opening a bunch of amphitheater dates promised a loose evening, but nothing like this.

Aimee Mann walked out to the adoring crowd at Toad's Place in New Haven Monday night, acoustic guitar slug over her shoulder, as if she had nothing planned.

"Whaddaya wanna hear?" she asked.

She began solo acoustic, but one by one her knowing band -- guitarist Clayton Scobell, drummer Milt Sutton, a New Haven native, and ringer Brian Stevens of the Cavedogs -- joined in, so that by the end she had an "Unplugged"-style ensemble that grew in volume as Mann shed her acoustic for electric bass and Sutton moved from shaker to brushes to drumsticks.

Mann's voice seems to have increased its tremolo as her songwriting has become more assured, and the once painfully shy stage presence now seems to have been erased. Perhaps hardened somewhat by the soured relationships she sings about, she has emerged as a stronger performer, who was clearly having a good time on a night off from her summer tour, opening for the Kinks.

It helps, too, that she has a strong new album from which to draw songs.

"Whatever" is her first recording since 'Til Tuesday's impressive finale, "Everything's Different Now," five years ago. Its smartly-turned phrases and rewarding melodies ring even more clear on the stage than on the recording, hampered at times by an unnecessarily fussy production.

Bitter songs about her publicized relationship with fellow songwriter Jule Shear in particular still predominate in the acrid sentiment of songs such as "Stupid Thing."

It held up well against the older material from her former band, which made up about half the 15-song set.

Mann, wearing a faded 'Til Tuesday T-shirt, still has strong feelings for some work on her three albums with the band. And with songs such as "The Other End of the Telescope," co-written with Elvis Costello, it's easy to see why.

Things did start breaking down good-naturedly toward the end, as she was edging against her only successful solo single so far, "I Should Have Known." Warning about the first guitar solo she was about to take ("a frightening thing to behold"), she fulfilled the prophecy by breaking her guitar strap just as the song was beginning.

The band turned to a verse from the Rutles' Beatles parody, "Get Up and Go" and she did a duet with opening act Pat Luciano on one of his songs, and they played a fair version of "Way Back When" without rehearsal, she says, before trying the hit one more time. And though the solo wasn't the greatest ever played, the crowd cheered it anyway.

An encore of "Voices Carry," 'Til Tuesday's biggest hit, was robbed of its tension and the emotion when they jumped up its beat. But it was also shed of any sort of embarassment having to do with the impossibly dated and once very popular video that accompanied it.

She was really scratching her head by the time it came to the second encore, when she managed, after a long time trying to remember all the chords, "J for Jules." Which means she's getting over that relationship, after all.