Copyright 1999 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.  
Chicago Sun-Times

July 29, 1999, THURSDAY, Late Sports Final Edition


LENGTH: 445 words

HEADLINE: Aimee Mann at the Park West

BYLINE: Bobby Reed

      Aimee Mann at the Park West

Between her West Coast club appearances and her upcoming East Coast Lilith Fair dates, songwriter Aimee Mann played to a reverential yet enthusiastic audience Wednesday night at the Park West.

The former lead singer and bassist for 'Til Tuesday was once an instantly recognizable MTV icon with her moussed, white hair and long, braided ponytail. Today, the 38-year-old sports straight locks and crafts sophisticated pop gems that are a far cry from the keyboard-based New Wave music that earned her fame.

Wednesday night, a toned-down "The Other End (of the Telescope)" was a rare nod to her days in the Boston band that released three albums between 1985 and 1988. A fan's shouted request for 'Til Tuesday's monster hit, "Voices Carry," drew only a dismissive smile from Mann.

The statuesque songwriter has shifted from media darling to critic's favorite, but she's still making bold fashion statements. She accented her blue halter top with a white shrug (a type of sweater consisting solely of sleeves). Backed by a keyboardist and a multi-instrumentalist who played electric guitar, drums, shaker and tambourine, Mann strummed an acoustic guitar and held the crowd captive with her razor-sharp lyrics.

The set list drew heavily from her two solo albums, "Whatever" (1993) and "I'm With Stupid" (1995). Those discs were released on Geffen, which was folded into Interscope after Seagram purchased Polygram. Mann also debuted "Cigarettes and Red Vines" from her now-mythical third album, which her fans have anxiously anticipated for years.

The disc was originally planned as a Geffen (and then Interscope) release, but Mann has now severed ties with the corporate conglomerate.

Like the romantic collapses she so poignantly sung about Wednesday, Mann's professional breakup was ugly. She sniped, "I can't tell you how much happier I am being off that (expletive) record label." Mann is negotiating a deal to release the album independently.

Mann was most effective when playing bass, which she did on "Amateur" and "I Should've Known." The former tune melded her anchor notes with jazzy lounge piano and subtle percussion provided by brushes on a single snare. The unconventional melody and emotive vocals called to mind Joni Mitchell, an obvious influence for Mann.

Nashville-based songwriter Josh Rouse opened the show, accompanied by Lambchop's Dennis Cronin, who deftly played melodica, trumpet and xylophone. This duo arrangement was far superior to Rouse's full-band gigs of recent months, and it provided a promising preview for Rouse's upcoming EP, which is a collaboration with Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner.

GRAPHIC: These days, Aimee Mann crafts sophisticated pop gems that are a far cry from the New Wave music that earned her fame.