Wednesday, February 14, 1996

Source: By Mark Caro, Tribune Staff Writer.

Section: TEMPO

Column: ARTS WATCH. Rock review.



After sharing a giggle with her bandmates at Park West Monday night, Aimee Mann mock-apologized to the capacity crowd, "I know I'm the queen of bitter, and I'm not supposed to laugh."

Mann's grim persona dates back to her spiky-haired days with the synth-pop band 'Til Tuesday and has gained dimension through two solo albums, the latter of which, "I'm With Stupid" (DGC), came out this month.

As a prominent, pained female singer-songwriter, she shares a relatively small pond with the likes of Courtney Love, Liz Phair and Alanis Morissette, but comparisons miss the boat. Mann is not the type to open her veins and make a show of the gushing.

She presented herself Monday with a likable casualness, her hair's bleach job seemingly the only artifice on display. Her music carries an air of refinement, her intimate, guitar-based style complementing her personal tales of heartbreak and stinging indictments of those who have done her wrong, be they lovers or record companies.

Hence, her idea of "the most depressing song I've written"--as she called the new "Par for the Course"--is one with the refrain "I don't even know you/I don't even know you anymore," which she repeated as the grinding groove built up like a storm slowly engulfing a beachfront.

Strumming an acoustic guitar throughout, Mann fronted a professional four-piece band that expertly replicated her songs' recorded versions while adding some extra juice. They turned up the wattage for the rave-up endings of "All Over Now" and "Sugarcoated" yet remained on a tight-enough leash that they brought the songs home right on the assigned bar.

"I Should've Known," which began with just Mann strumming, did turn a bit lead-footed when the band joined in, but their touch was more sure on stirring ballads such as "4th of July." Guitarist Michael Lockwood and bassist Drew Ross also provided pinpoint harmonies, proving able substitutes for Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford on the shuffling "That's Just What You Are."

As an encore, Mann remade 'Til Tuesday's biggest hit, "Voices Carry," as sort of a swamp lullaby, as she almost whispered the lyrics while the band worked up a roaring drone that might have frightened David Lynch.

Mann is no belter, but her nasal voice--which has a fluttery quality on the high end--cut through the mix in all but the band's loudest moments. More important, it never failed to ring true, and her truth can be as complex as the workings of the human heart.

So when the music was at its angriest, during the raging coda of the show-ending "Long Shot," it was striking to note that she was singing, "Please love me."