Copyright 2000 Reed Elsevier Inc.

Daily Variety


February 17, 2000


LENGTH: 391 words

HEADLINE: Aimee Mann; Michael Penn


    (Joe's Pub; 200 capacity; $ 30)

Presented in-house. Musicians: Aimee Mann, Michael Penn, Buddy Hodge; Patrick Horn, John Sands. Opened and reviewed Feb. 15, 2000; Closes Feb. 17.

Relationships that span the rehearsal room and the bedroom are rarely fortuitous, and almost never equal --- but the pairing of longtime critical darlings Aimee Mann and Michael Penn is clearly an exception.

At the first of three sold-out evenings at this intimate cabaret, the couple shared the stage and the spotlight comfortably, each offering enough support --- and surrendering enough space --- to allow the other to shine. For most of the 90-plus minutes, both singer-songwriters remained onstage, trading off two-song mini-sets.

Mann kicked things off with a solo version of "Save Me," culled from her Oscar-nominated soundtrack for "Magnolia," and proved her mettle by meeting an audience request for an acceptance speech by ad-libbing a ceremony-night address.

Penn was slightly less jocular, but still managed to tweak the heartstrings with a passel of songs drawn from his new "MP4" album --- highlighted by the indigo-hued "High Time"--- as well as a selection of older numbers, such as the jug-band styled "Me Around."

As they traded off duties, swapping instruments and goosing each other with looks and offhand gestures, it became clear that the sum of the couple's talents was more than the individual parts.

It's not so much that they've changed their individual styles---Mann is still understatedly bitter, Penn determinedly doleful. But the aura surrounding their performances has lightened drastically.

That newfound buoyancy was constantly in evidence --- from guitarist Buddy Judge's Elvis Costello impression during Mann's "The Other End of the Telescope" to the between-song banter provided by comedian Andy Kindler, hired to voice the "inner thoughts" that Penn is too shy to express for himself.

The encore was particularly loose in construction: The cheers went up for the opening bars of Penn's 1989 hit "No Myth" turned to giggles when Mann took the vocal lead and dreamed aloud of being "a Romeo in black jeans."

But by the time she ceded the mic to her beau for verse two, it was clear that they weren't merely going for the spit-take; rather, they were proving that dark thoughts needn't be expressed in monochrome.