An independent artist in the truest sense of the term -- she's forgone major label support for the better part of a decade -- Aimee Mann would be an admirable person even if she wasn't one of the finest pop composers of her generation.
Add Mann's songwriting acumen, on ample display throughout Thursday's impeccable show in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts, and you have a heroine of the indie-pop era.
Mann's disdain for the music industry is understandable, but one wouldn't need to be hip to that to fall beneath the spell of her gorgeously crafted bummer-folk.
Yes, Mann's songs are mostly downers, but she makes heartbreak, disappointment and disillusion sound like dues payments for a club you'd want to join. After all, your friends are all there.
Thursday's show was only a bit more than half-full, but those who were there came for the right reasons. They knew Mann's work, knew the show would be a stripped-down, semi-acoustic affair, and knew that the odds were in favor of the set being nothing short of killer.
They were right.
Flanked by bass guitarist/harmony vocalist Paul Bryan and keyboardist/vocalist Jimmy Edwards, Mann offered up a stellar set of tunes drawn from throughout her solo career. Though many tracks were similar in tempo, the show never lost steam.
There was enough harmonic, melodic and lyrical information flowing throughout the music to keep the listener riveted. Much of the material came from Mann's most recent effort, the ambitiously conceived "The Forgotten Arm," a song-cycle which follows a pair of doomed lovers as they cross the country, watching their love evaporate as they note the mile-markers flying by their window.
Yes, folks, Aimee Mann has made a concept album, but this is no high-falutin', impenetrable text of a record. Mann's songs on this album are among her most accessible, partly because they employ fewer chords than many of her songs. Written mostly at the piano, an instrument she just began playing, "The Forgotten Arm's" songs are eminently hummable and boast serious hooks as their cornerstones.
The highest points of the set came when Mann performed a few tunes from the soundtrack she composed for P.T. Anderson's film "Magnolia," among them the gorgeous, Beatle-esque "Save Me" and the bittersweet "Wise Up," sailing on sophisticated chord progressions.
Bryan's playing -- on a semi-acoustic bass with flat-wound strings -- was particularly fantastic on both of these.
Mann and her men burned brightly on "Lost in Space." "Nothing Is Good Enough" found a nervous Mann at the piano, offering the disclaimer that she'd only played this song all the way through once without messing it up. Make that two times.
Chuck Prophet opened with a strong solo set. His sound was bluesy and dark, but his stage mannerisms are welcoming, and his personality warm.