Where: The Newton Theater, North Jersey

When: July 14th

Who? Aimee Mann with Jonathan “JoCo” Coulton opening

Why?: We don’t know, but I was definitely ripped off for almost 60 bucks.

What happened?: Drugs. Lots of them.

Where do I even begin with this one? How about at the beginning, shall we? So tread forth if you dare:

Opening act Jonathan Coulton, or “JoCo” as the gaggle of Coulton stans surrounding me referred to the thickly bearded warmup singer/songwriter, breezed through his opening set with a decent series of fast-strummed, whimsical ditties. It must be tough to be Jonathan Coulton on nights such as these, attempting to joke and jostle a late-middle aged audience glazed on antidepressants and IPAs, a crowd that remained complacent and sheep like over the horrific course of this trainwreck of a night. I was only half paying attention, and in retrospect I regret this since Coulton’s competently and unpretentiously executed set turned out to be the only enjoyable stretch of music on offer this night for the the $57 ticket that I am currently disputing with the Newton Theater staff (and you BEST pay up, bitches). If you’re interested in why I’m fighting this dispute, and in what made the remainder of this night such a bonafide disaster, then just read a bit further.

But how was I to know this as I checked my feeds during Coulton’s set? After all I was here for the headliner, Aimee Fucking Mann, and there was really no reason to expect anything less than a stellar night from a veteran performer (and Portlandia walk-on) who hasn’t managed to pen a single bad song over the stretch of her lengthy and highly-respected career. The first indication that things may have been a little, ahem, “off” with the headliner was when the “humble” and “gracious” Ms. Mann herself swept out from the wings to join JoCo on two songs as if The Savior Hath Arrived, Foolish Minstrel, taking in the surprised applause with an “Arms Wide Open” pretentiousness one may not have expected from a folk show devoid of pyrotechnics. Ostensibly she had materialized in order to “harmonize” with our dear JoCo, but was holding a bass for some reason, an instrument she dully thumped away at to some far off beat only Aimee was hearing. Clad in converse and a mini dress, it was clear within the first several seconds of Mann’s appearance that she was firmly on the over medicated side of the aisle, nearly losing her footing on several occasions as she struggled to keep harmony with JoCo. The thing is, Jonathan Coulton has a robust, high ringing sound that Mann did nothing to compliment. If anything, her dark, mumbling presence dragged a couple of otherwise fine numbers down into muddied confusio. Being joined onstage by such a songwriting legend should have been a highlight moment for an XPN-striving up-and-comer, but to his credit JoCo seemed quite nonplussed after Aimee finally made her way off the stage, uttering a quote which perfectly predicted the way the headlining performance would play out.

“Aimee will be back on stage after she does the drugs she needs to do to get back on stage.”

Shout out to JoCo and may he not be fired from the tour.

Apparently Mann never found the right substance combo she needed to pull off a show on this night. I would have been better off standing in the Newton Theater ladies room with the five-out-of-six clogged toilets that out on the floor for Aimee’s set. I emerged to see Mann somehow back on the boards, cradling a shiny Les Paul that somehow, some way, actually appeared sad and limp in her hands as she failed in her ongoing negotiations with harmony, coherence, tuning, and remaining upright.

Although Aimee’s band (The Mann Band?) soldiered through competently, the backing musicians were understandably no match for the off-kilter frog-like vocalisms of their high-as-a-proverbial-kite leader, who may as well have been singing into a hairbrush in her bedroom, and very well may have thought she was on this night. The most entertaining aspect of the show (at least it was a break from the dourly slaughtered series of once great songs), was the banter, even though this too was rather infuriating. Here’s an example:

“I write for television,” Aimee slow-roll drawls to the zombified, too-complacent-in-life-to-complain crowd of nearing retirement upper middle classers.

“WHO CARES?” Me. Sorry, I just couldn’t help it.

“They wanted me to do a cover of Phil Collins. I told them no way.”

Me again: “What a fuckin’ rebel!”

“I told them (mumbled something about Boston). I know The Cars.”

This true renegade TV writer then went on to absolutely slaughter an undeserving and otherwise harmless Ric Ocasek number.

I left not soon thereafter. It may have been worth hanging in there, and may have even been fun, had there not been such a muted sense of horror on the placid faces of the pacified audience. Being the only dissenting voice can be a lonely experience indeed, especially when you KNOW FOR A FACT that these people understood something was wrong but were in no position to acknowledge it. They just continued staring, only slightly perturbed, as the individual they had emerged from their SmartHome dens to see stumbled across the stage like ghost on the periphery of the drugs that barely kept her from unspooling right there in front of them.

I want that $57 dollars back, Aimee.

 

Tina Romano

 

Cover Photo: Aimee Mann performing at The Newton Theater, July 14th,2019. All rights reserved.