Review by Jon Bream
Aimee Mann and her sister at the Dakota: Contrast in artistry and emotion
Jon Bream, Star Tribune, September 14, 2010 (original article at Star Tribune)
Photos by Leslie Plesser
It’s a tale of two sisters this week at the Dakota: Aimee Mann, the famous L.A. pop singer-songwriter, and Gretchen Seichrist, the up-from-the-underground Minneapolis poet who rocks.
On Monday’s opening night, I preferred Seichrist the artist over Mann the professional singer-songwriter. Seichrist seemed more invested in her music and better prepared (even with guest violinist Scarlet Rivera). On the first night of her acoustic tour, Mann and her two backup musicians seemed under-rehearsed and unfocused.
Dressed in a fancy thrift store gown, Seichrist, 45, was full of trembling intensity, all Dylanesque phrasing, nervous energy and kitchen-sink theatrics (she had the lyrics to one song taped to the inside of a frying pan). Rivera, Dylan’s violinist from the Rolling Thunder Revue in the mid-‘70s, added the perfect North Country accent on three tunes, including Dylan's "Oh Sister." After turning into Patti Smith’s little sister with some proto-feminist rock ‘n’ roll poetry, Seichrist explained, “I’m not just angry. I’m other things, too.”
Mann, 50, had similar concerns convincing a full house of fans that she’s nothing but depressing. When answering a request for “It’s Not” during her encore, she said, “It’s my most depressing song – and it’s a very large field.”
The problem was that her fans seemed to understand Mann’s material better than she did. The three songs that club-goers requested on napkins (as Mann asked them to do) – “Red Vines,” “Stupid Things” and “It’s Not” -- featured more musical dynamics, dramatic emotion and vocal range than all the numbers she selected for her 87-minute set.
Mann offered a series of songs from her “Forgotten Arm” concept album (from 2005) that she is trying to transform into a musical, with the addition of a few new numbers. None of the tunes from this love story about a drug-addicted prize fighter and his gal who move from Virginia to Vegas sounded like the kind of bravura vocal numbers that Broadway and its fans demand. Her musical sounded like “Glee” being staged at the hip Largo club for L.A. singer-songwriters.
Between songs, Mann was very engaging and often humorous. But her songs suffered because not only were they mostly downbeat in message but they seemed more about craftsmanship than palpable emotion. Mann didn’t seem as committed to her words as her less experienced sister did.
They did not perform together, but Mann sat at the piano (which she admitted that she doesn’t know how to play) and performed 2008’s “Medicine Wheel,” featuring Seichrist lyrics (taken from a poem) for which Mann composed music. To hear Mann sing those vivid, penetrating words was a treat. Maybe the sisters can cook up another collaboration this week.
Mann and Patches & Gretchen (that’s what Seichrist calls her group) will perform again at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the Dakota (www.dakotacooks.com; 612-332-1010.).
Here are the sisters' set lists from Monday:
MANN: The Moth/ Freeway/Little Bombs/31 Today/ Medicine Wheel/ Motions/ Easy To Die/ Conflicted/ Eiffel Tower/ Head Around It/ Today's the Day/ Guys Like Me/ Build That Wall/ Save Me/ Wise Up/ Driving Sideways ENCORE Red Vines/ Stupid Things/ I'm Not
PATCHES & GRETCHEN: Oh Sister/ Sugar Pie Head/ Ghosts I Love/ Who Do You Belong To/ Black Market/ Sweet Wolves/ Ant Farm/ Tired of Chicken