Copyright 2000 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.  
The Toronto Star

February 25, 2000, Friday, Edition 1


LENGTH: 518 words


BYLINE: Jennie Punter


Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, two talented, stylistically compatible singer- songwriters who also happen to be married, brought a harmonious piece of home to the Phoenix stage last night.

The show was sold out long ago, thanks in no small part to the recent swell of interest in Mann, whose songs not only appear in but were also a major creative inspiration for writer-director and dedicated Mann fan P.T. Anderson's movie, Magnolia (his liner-note essay in the soundtrack disc explains how a line from ''Deathly" inspired the character Claudia, whom he calls the film's ''heart and soul").

Mann's poignant ''Save Me," the film's final tune, which she performed last night, received a Golden Globe nomination and is nominated for an Oscar.

Married since 1998, Mann and Penn (the older brother of actor Sean Penn) have been playing casual, intimate weekly gigs at the L.A. club Largo for the past year.

A happy confluence of events, Mann's third solo recording and indie debut Bachelor No. 2, which includes a few tunes from Magnolia, and the recent release of Penn's fourth solo album, MP4, inspired the pair to take the show on the road for a brief tour.

''Michael and I have the same problem, which is that we never know what to say on stage between songs, you know, when you're tuning your guitar," Mann said in an interview yesterday afternoon.

''You want to be funny but . . . good luck! So we had the idea of using the comedians who would open for us to come out and do the banter. It's been so much fun, we decided to keep that element on the road."

Last night New York comedian Todd Barry provided appropriate low-key humour, laced with references to famous Canadians, while Mann and Penn tuned up.

They took turns, accompanying each other with bass guitar and background vocals, strumming acoustic when taking the lead vocal.

Their lean band featured percussion (John Sands), electric guitar (Buddy Judge) and some particularly beautiful playing from Patrick Warren on electric piano and Chamberlin, an antiquated proto-sampler that added lush string, oboe and horn parts.

It was a sit-down, hush-up-and-listen kind of show that gradually built in volume and energy, from pin-drop tunes like Mann's ''Wise Up," the sad, gentle centrepiece of Magnolia during which the characters sing lines of the song, to some full-throttled rockers that had Judge and Mann dancing around Penn as if they were trying to trip him up.

The tall, lithe singer sprinkles her conversation with self-deprecating humour in a voice that seems the polar opposite of the delicate, ethereal warble she uses to sing her beautifully crafted pop songs, first showcased in her 1993 solo debut Whatever.

Mann, 39, studied bass at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where she hooked up with the members of her '80s pop band, 'Til Tuesday, who had a minor hit with the title tune of their 1985 album Voices Carry.

After three albums the band dissolved and Mann embarked on a solo career that has brought her plenty of critical raves and a small but rabidly loyal fan base.

Singer's show at the Phoenix last night was sold out long ago.