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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisFor her second annual Christmas soiree, Aimee Mann didn't just plug her 2006 release One More Drifter In the Snow (SuperEgo), but attempted to revive the glory days of variety shows, complete with several collaborations and bits of comedy. Not only was the idea of bringing Bing Crosby-styled television special into a theatre setting somewhat unexpected for faithful followers, but it didn't seem to correspond with the singer/songwriter's somewhat melancholy disposition. And for such a descriptive, poetic tunesmith as Mann, forgoing her rich solo catalogue (and time with 'Til Tuesday as usually does), the idea of Christmas covers could seem like wasted time.
To Mann's credit, One More Drifter In the Snow applies her charming vocals, deliberately understated production and lush strums to make even the most tried and true holiday tunes sound like her own material. However, much time was wasted during a somewhat loose and spontaneously flowing concert, which despite lasting a generous two-plus hours, could've been cut in half given all the unneeded fat. After opening with one of the set's few non-seasonal tunes "Jacob Marley's Chain" and her own Yuletide-themed "Calling On Mary," the engaging tone took an immediate halt when Mann introduced the first of three short films.
The clips were meant to parallel Charlie Brown's comedic frustration from Christmas' over commercialization with Mann acting out sketches of disillusionment over celebrities who refuse to join her holiday tour. Though guest stars included the genuinely funny Will Ferrell and cast members from "Saturday Night Live" and "The West Wing," these pre-taped moments awkwardly broke up the live song presentations, not to mention the fact that a noticeable fraction of the audience appeared impatient for more songs. When Mann appeared after the first break with comedian Paul F. Thompkins, the pair's jokes were received with a few polite chuckles before dueting on a sexually suggestive (though generally unremarkable) interpretation of "Baby It's Cold Outside."
The evening's next guest Nellie McKay provided three songs as lead vocalist, showcasing jazz-tipped pipes throughout "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and also demonstrating proficiency on piano come "A Christmas Dirge." Even with that slight ascent, another major dip in the road came from the wasted "Hanukkah Fairy" skit, which was intended to be a light-hearted recognition of other religions, but was executed as a ridiculous rap segment by an actress dressed in white tights, a blue tutu and a shirt bearing a silver Jewish star.
Mann finally caught the show up to speed with a stirring version of "The Christmas Song," which was presented with such ease and confidence that she could've very well written the classic track. She and troubadour Adam Levy (from The Honeydogs) also presented a moment of true poignancy come "Christmastime," penned by Mann's equally prolific husband Michael Penn and lauded indie producer Jon Brion. The headliner also rewarded true die-hards with the mid-tempo glow of "Freeway" (taken from a regular studio release hitting streets in March) and the signature "Deathly," which despite clashing with the Christmas spirit, was punched up with the evening's most captivating instrumentation courtesy of her four piece band.
Though the crowd screamed out several requests for other oldies, none were honored in favor of a full cast take on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." "It's a Christmas show and I can't play everything, but thank you for caring," she quietly offered. Based on a collective gasp of disappointment, clearly Mann would've been better cutting the fluff in favor of more music from any album throughout her otherwise consistent career.
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