Aimee Mann does Christmas her way
A review of Aimee Mann (3rd annual Christmas Show) at the Somerville Theatre on December 11
Aimee Mann’s 3rd annual Christmas show, which took place Thursday night at the Somerville Theatre, was just a bit different than Vince Gill and Amy Grant’s Christmas show, which happened the following night in Worcester. Where Grant and Gill sang "O Holy Night", Mann performed "You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch". Where Friday’s show was serious in tone, Thursday’s was irreverent. But Mann still managed to deliver the Christmas goods in her own way, proving why her tradition is now on its third year.
The night played like a big variety show, but instead of the excess and bombast that usually accompanies such events there existed a calm and ease about the night, no doubt due in large part to the stage presence of Mann herself, who maintained control over all the moving parts but managed not to get too excited at any point.
That subdued feeling was echoed by the guest performers, including Juliana Hatfield and her rendition of "There’s Always Tomorrow" from the classic Rudolph movie, and Nellie Mckay, who performed with Mann for "Sleighride" and "Heat Miser". Grant Lee Phillips was a bit more animated, but his song choices included "Old-Fashioned Christmas", which even he acknowledged was quite depressing.
Though the music wasn’t exactly spreading Holiday cheer, the variety of the show made up for it with comic Todd Barry, Mann’s recurring guest The Hanukkah Fairy, and, perhaps the night’s best entertainment, a series of short videos which followed Aimee on a parallel Christmas Carol. The films included cameos from John C. Reilly and Michael Cera, starred Mann as Scrooge, and should make for excellent viral videos if they find their way to YouTube.
As for the music, Mann’s drummer stood out the most, visibly enjoying himself as he colored each song perfectly. Two keyboardists / multi-instrumentalists provided all the bells and whistles, literally, that was needed on Christmas songs like "I’ll Be Home for Christmas". And, on the aforementioned "Grinch", Grant Lee Phillips filled in spectacularly for Boris Karloff as he played the narrator of the film as Mann sang.
For all of the shenanigans and Christmas themed gags and music, it was when Mann and the band let loose for a few of her own songs that things started to flow and feel like a cohesive show. The trio of "Freeway", "Going Through the Motions", and "Long Shot" saw some beautiful synth playing, tight basslines, one solid guitar solo, and Mann’s endearing mumble. She even started to get excited at the end, cutting off "Long Shot" with a demure flying-Townshend kick.
Everyone came back out for the encore of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", including the Hanukkah Fairy and Phillips dressed up in a Rudolph costume. After a group bow the night ended and the crowd was left to head out into the un-Christmas like freezing rain.
Mann’s show celebrates the kitsch that has collected around Christmas from movies like the Grinch and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer while at the same time recognizing the conflicting emotions many people have about the holidays. It doesn’t concern itself with the sanctity of Christmas but in the humor and warmth that can be found in all of the extraneous things that have become tied up in it. While it wasn’t the merriest Christmas, it was certainly fun to watch.