Copyright 2000 Boston Herald Inc.  
The Boston Herald

February 14, 2000 Monday ALL EDITIONS


LENGTH: 405 words

HEADLINE: MUSIC REVIEW; Mann and Penn are a couple of rare talents

BYLINE: By Dean Johnson

   Aimee Mann and Michael Penn at the Somerville Theatre Saturday night.

Aimee Mann called Saturday's sold-out gig that she co-headlined with husband Michael Penn "the acoustic vaudeville show."

A even better description might be "a new-century hootenanny."

Their headline set was an intentionally casual and comfortable low-volume night with rich, textured music often anchored by Beatlesque fills and riffs.

The couple's 21-song set had a my turn-your turn format that was far more effective than it would seem. Mann would do a trio of tunes while Penn sang and played bass or guitar in the background, then Penn would step up to the microphone. They were backed by drums, guitar and mostly good, cheesy keyboards.  

Mann's "vaudeville" crack referred to opening act Paul Thompkins, a comic who also supplied most of the amusing between-song banter;  Mann and Penn said they brought him along because they hate that part of performing.  

Mann relied on tunes from her fine "I'm With Stupid" disc, accented with numbers such as "Wise Up" and "Save Me" from her critically acclaimed work on the "Magnolia" soundtrack. She quipped that "Save Me" would have won a Golden Globe award, if not for Phil Collins' "cartoon monkey song" from Disney's "Tarzan."

She also added a stripped-down version of her old 'Til Tuesday hit "Voices Carry" during encores. Mann's vocals were dead on most of the night, a mix of wistful-bittersweet without self-pity, a big part of what gives her music such substance.

Penn's songs, many taken from his new "MP4" disc, were also an essential slice of what amounted to a great night out. It's obvious their marriage involves more than romance. At times their music melded so well it seemed some songs could have been done equally well by the other.

Now a Los Angeles resident, Mann said, "It is nice to play for a group of smart people for a change" and playfully remarked, "Somerville wasn't so cute when I lived here." Her best comment was made near the end, "See you again in the summer."

Thompkins' opening stand-up set was a little Kevin Meaney, a little Kenny Rogerson     and a little tedious. It's rarely a good sign when a comic says, "I've gotten way off the track, ladies and gentleman" less than 10 minutes into the gig.

Thompkins has the attitude, he just needs better material.

Photo Caption: CREATIVE COUPLE: Aimee Mann and Michael Penn are promoting new CDs.