featuring Aimee Mann and Michael Penn
Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA June 17, 2000
by David Whited
To be quite honest, when I decided to attend this concert, I had absolutely no idea who either of these performers were, or what Acoustic Vaudeville would consist of. This show was a part of the CMJ Change Music Atlanta showcase, which featured mostly new acts - none of which I was familiar with. The Variety Playhouse generally has acts that an old fart like me can enjoy, so I based my choice of shows on that fact alone. I actually thought about doing some research beforehand, but I opted to go in cold, thinking it might be better to go in with no preconceived notions of what to expect. After all, a live review is supposed to be based on the show itself, not the performer's history and reputation.
Mann and Penn certainly have a strong following. The show was sold out, and it appeared to me that most everyone in the venue knew the words to most of the songs. The audience was definitely focused on the show. Penn and (particularly) Mann held them in rapt attention throughout the evening. The aisles were nearly filled with squatters, all leaning slightly forward in an attempt to get just a little closer or hear a little better. When Mann requested that everyone get our their car keys to handle percussion on one song, she got surprisingly good participation.
Despite all this, and despite the quality of the material and the sound, I was left with the distinct impression that these were two performers who were totally out of their element. They have to be more comfortable in a studio than they were on stage. I'm sure that this Vaudeville concept was conceived to liven up what would've otherwise been a rather dry and somewhat boring show to all but the most dedicated fans.
Comedian Patton Oswalt warmed up the crowd and was a key part of the show. He even handled the between-song banter for Penn. I really have to give Oswalt "props" for the job he did. Oswalt got to Penn so much with the "Pussy" thread that he started, that he actually caused Penn to lose it, resulting in him having to restart at least one song.
Ninety percent of the energy on stage at this show came from Oswalt and sidemen Buddy Judge and Patrick Warren. Mann and Penn simply took turns, each doing their own songs while the other provided backing support. Mann and Penn are good musicians and excellent songwriters, but as performers, I got the impression that they would've been more comfortable playing to a half-dozen people in their own living room.