Aimee Mann at Largo at the Coronet, June 2, 2008
Photos by Timothy Norris
Aimee Mann christened the new Largo at the Coronet last night with a memorable set of old and new music, some hilarious between-song banter, duets with both comedian Paul Tompkins and composer Jon Brion, and a two-piece backing band that somehow managed to conjure a symphony.
Owner Mark Flanagan, whose club was profiled by The New Yorker's Dana Goodyear a few weeks back, welcomed the capacity crowd with a simple utterance. Standing in front of a glowing red velvet backdrop, he complained, "These curtains cost me a fortune!" He then welcomed us to the newest incarnation of Largo, which he took over in 1996 and has transformed into an institution that has merged a serious devotion to the crafts of both songwriting and comedy. The club is housed in the Coronet Theater, an intimate venue with sixteen rows (I think -- it was dark) of old-style theater seats. It's a beautiful, elegant space. On this stage 61 years ago Bertolt Brecht premiered his Galileo, with Charles Laughton playing the lead.
Mann’s intent seemed to be to instill the new Largo with the same vibe as the club’s longtime former digs on Fairfax, and she succeeded. Researching her audience, she asked us how many were regulars at the old club, and there was an even applause. She asked how many were newcomers, and at least the same amount of people clapped. Expressing surprise, she explained the essence of the Largo experience, that this is a place where artists come to work things out. That it's casual. That shit happens. She did note a few marked differences between the old and new Largo, one of which was the fact that, because of the glare, it was harder for the musicians to sneak peeks out into the crowd.
Armed with the crack backing band of Paul Bryan on bass and Jamie Edwards on keyboards, Mann delivered a lot of songs from her wonderful new (though unfortunately titled) @#%&*! Smilers, which comes out today, including "Freeway," "31 Today," and, best, "Borrowing Time." Of the latter, she explained the song's genesis as an attempt at composing a song for Shrek 3, only to participate in its watering down through back-and-forths with the studio until it had become a nearly unrecognizable version of a good thing. Denied, she salvaged the idea, and transformed it into luscious little march that danced across the stage.
Mann was really funny last night. Over the course of the evening, she poked fun at her husband Michael Penn (who wasn't there to defend himself) for spending most of his time onstage tuning his guitar, acknowledged that she had eaten a pot brownie before the show and that she was totally stoned, followed a train of thought about the birth of a song that was so vulgar that even I don’t feel comfortable repeating it (she acknowledged that it may have been the most inappropriate thing she’s ever said onstage), invited requests, only to deny nearly all of them. She was great.
Mann and Paul Tompkins should get a variety show, or figure out some sort of Las Vegas act, because they’re dynamite together. Tompkins, who is officially The First Performer To Ever Appear on The Largo at the Coronet's stage, warmed up the crowd with a great bit on the exclusive, private magic club The Magic Castle. He then joined Mann onstage for a duet, and they riffed some funny bits together. For an encore, longtime Largo resident Jon Brion, whom Mann declared to be "King of Largo," came out for two songs. He dotted the beautiful "It's Not Safe" with the warm bell-tones of a celesta, and played some sort of fuzzy keyboard for “Amateur.” In all, the night was a memorable joy, and hopefully a portent.