See also our preview: Aimee Mann's Christmas Show For People Who Don't Really Like Christmas
Aimee Mann opened her sixth annual Christmas show with dialogue from A Charlie Brown Christmas, quoting Chuck himself: “I think there must be something wrong with me — Christmas is coming, but I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel. I always end up feeling depressed.”
Mann, who went from early pop stardom with 'Til Tuesday to one-hit-wonder status to a comeback full of integrity, seemed to be sending a message: Just as her music isn't just about pretty popstar fluff, her Christmas show wouldn't be just merry and bright.
It's clear that Mann loves playing the loveable loser at the party who turns down your offer of egg nog. But the delight of the show is hearing Mann, in her lilting contralto, bring freshness to tunes you've heard ten thousand times before, like “Walking In A Winter Wonderland,” “I'll Be Home For Christmas,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”
The show came out strong in the first half with a Mann and comedian Paul F. Tompkins performing a duet of the most seductively suggestive Xmas tunes: “Baby, It's Cold Outside,” filling it with un-P.C. sex appeal (“say, what's in this drink?”) for yuletide yucks. In another highlight, Irish comedian Patty O'Shaughnessy shared a series of hilarious tall tales of Leprechaun ambulances, cat mayhem and nun beatings.
Yet at moments, the Christmas is sucky and so is commercial pop message felt one-note, especially during the middle portion of the show, which was bereft of comedy. The two-song set of Mann's husband Michael Penn was decidedly lacking in mirth as well; he performed his entire first song hunched over a piano, his back to the crowd.
Going into the final third of the show, all Christmas pretense was abandoned and the program became a simple Aimee Mann concert. She performed some new material and the song for which she is best known — “Save Me,” from the decade-old Magnolia soundtrack — which sounded great. Hardcore Mann fans rejoiced during this portion of the program, but for those unaccustomed to Mann's tweed and jeans, hands-in-the-pockets style, the contrast in dynamism from the earlier part of the set seemed decidedly downbeat with its total lack of wisecracks and smirks.
But just when you thought the fun was over, Tompkins came back for a duet of “Mr. Grinch, and then closed the show with a brilliant a production number of Barry White's “You're the First, the Last, My Everything” which he dedicated to Jesus Christ.
The extravaganza included a swing-dancing Mary and Joseph with Mann and McKay matching steps Shirelles-style and singing backup vocals while holding gaily gift-wrapped, red-ribboned, tinsel-dripping crosses overhead.
Critical Bias: Paul F. Tompkins once made me cry laughing.
The Crowd: Grown up, mildly hipster, oft-gay.
Random notebook dump: “Christmas is not all about yogurt!”
Set list below.
Linus and Lucy (Peanuts Theme)
Christmastime Is Here
Baby It's Cold Outside
I'll Be Home For Christmas
What Are You Doing New Year's Eve
This Is The Life
Clean Up For Christmas
Calling On Mary
My First, My Last, My Everything
The Christmas Song