Copyright 2000 Rolling Stone Magazine, LLC

January 26, 2000


LENGTH: 585 words

HEADLINE: Vaudeville and Catskills-style humor is alive and well on the rock circuit, as demonstrated by the Aimee Mann and Michael Penn Revue at San Francisco's Bimbo's on Tuesday night, the first stop on a short U.S. tour.

BYLINE: Denise Sullivan


Married couple Mann and Penn were joined by their coterie of musicians, comedian Patton Oswald and local yokel Chris Isaak over the course of a two-hour set, a mix of traded songs, quips, high notes, bum notes, bungled lyrics, old chestnuts and forthcoming material.

Opening with a spartan but characteristically strong reading of her classically structured pop song, "It's Not Safe," accompanied only by acoustic guitar and keyboardist Patrick Warren, Mann cut a striking, yet reluctant, pop-star figure, her shoulders sloped and covered in fashionable indigo denim and stick-straight blonde hair.

"I never felt too comfortable with between-song banter, so it occurred to me to have someone else do my banter for me tonight," said Mann at the outset when she called on Oswald to serve as ventriloquist. "Hi, I'm Aimee 'Golden Globe nominee' Mann," said Oswald. "Welcome to my show. I'm Aimee 'My Searching Personal Songs Are Not as Good as Phil Collins' Cartoon Songs' Mann," referring to her loss at the Hollywood awards ceremony earlier in the week. Sure it was funny, but as the night wore on, Oswald grew more mean, obtuse, and just plain annoying.

Falling into position, Buddy Judge (bass and guitar) Michael Penn (guitar and bass) and Johnny Sands (drums) picked up on cue for two of Mann's cutting songs, "You Could Make a Killing," with its incessant title refrain, and "Choice In the Matter," which had Penn chiming in on vocals.

At her strongest, Mann's voice and conviction echo those of Chrissie Hynde. She also specializes in the double-entendre and scathing indictment lyric, set to incongruous, glistening pop melodies. Songs like "Calling It Quits" which she played to great effect Tuesday is a star example. Could it possibly detail her stormy relationships with people and major record labels?

Penn, whose MP4 hits stores next Tuesday, reclined on the drum riser during a number of Mann's songs, though he added some very necessary "ooo-ooos" on "Save Me" and others. Mann explained away the use of a drum loop for "That's Just What You Are" by saying that the group had no bus to haul equipment for a full band sound (presumably, that situation will be rectified soon since Penn recently wrapped production on the Wallflowers' long-awaited second album). The canned loop sounded dead in the room, but Mann saved face with a flawless "Wise Up" (as heard in Jerry Maguire and Magnolia) and a stunning "Deathly," the song which inspired director Paul Thomas Anderson to write the screenplay for Magnolia based on the line, "Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing each other again."

When the round-robin jumped back to Penn, he went for a six-song snooze-a-thon wherein he debuted new material like the mysteriously complex "The Perfect Candidate" and "Bucket Brigade," a tune as futile as the Civil War-era melody that seemed to inspire it. "Try" from Resigned and the "Subterranean Homesick Blues"-style "Brave New World" were greeted with roars of crowd recognition.

What might've worked to both artists' advantage on this night would have been more rehearsal and mixing things up, as they did on "No Myth." When they played dueling vocals on Penn's most famous number, it was goose-bump worthy -- the kind of moment we should've been witnessing all night from a pair of soulmates and musicians. Instead, they frittered away valuable stage time by flubbing the words to their own songs (Penn's "I Can Tell" and Mann's "4th of July") and by inviting Isaak to the stage.

While revving up a spooky version of Mann's sobering Til' Tuesday hit, "Voices Carry," Isaak ambled onto the stage, clumsily strapping on a bass, claiming not to know how to play it. Breaking special guest rule number one, Isaak proceeded to mic-hog and riff with Mann. "I bought all your records," he said. "Your picture is right over my bed. Yours too, Michael," he said to Penn, who by this time had retreated behind the drum kit. Mann tried to reel Isaak in, but her efforts were futile. "It's a bossa nova beat," she said. "It's a raga," to which Isaak did a Steve Martin/King Tut dance. It was high time someone pulled out another old vaudevillian stage prop: the cane.