Review – The Both at The Imperial, Vancouver, Aug. 31 2014
– by Thalia Stopa
Sunday night at The Imperial should have been billed as a revue or variety show. The evening featured as much comedy as musical entertainment.
Seattle’s Telekinesis, aka Michael Bejamin Lerner, warmed up the audience for the night’s headliners with a solid set of indie-rock and shaky, self-deprecating attempt at banter. To start, though, Lerner wasn’t feeling the empty space that kept a safe distance between the reserved audience and stage. With the aid of his touring band, he performed a set of songs from his three studio albums with a presence unhindered by his position on the drums. The musician’s determination to win over the audience manifested in the unintentional dismantling of one of his cymbals for “Ghosts and Creatures”. In fact, the strength with which Lerner played the song off of his most recent release, 2013’s Dormarion, threatened to topple his entire drum kit.
The level of awkwardness between songs shifted from cringe-worthy to endearing once four energetic fans broke the invisible dance floor barrier and closed the gap between the indie pop-rockers. As the group bopped along to “Powerlines”, singer/drummer Lerner couldn’t contain an enthusiastic and surprised outburst – the incidence had the aura of a scene from The OC. In fact, although the sitcom pre-dates the band, their entire set felt like an episode of the early aughts’ teen drama, which was notorious for its indie music soundtrack, cameos and name-dropping. None other than indie-rock icon and one half of The Both, Ted Leo, joined the young foursome on stage to provide vocals for a cover of INXS’ “Don’t Change”. Settling into his silly-but-charming persona, Lerner invited us to sing along with the catchy and repetitive chorus to “Tokyo”, despite admitting to hating audience participation as an audience member.
The night following their Bumbershoot performance, Aimee Mann and Leo’s band The Both was in Vancouver for the second-last stop of their rigorous first North American tour. In spite of this, the duo was still very much “on”, leading one to wonder: are they every “off”? You could chalk it up to the musicians’ nearly 60-years-combined careers or their personal chemistry and match of sarcastic wit. If you closed your eyes, it was easy to imagine you were in the comfort of your own living room, listening to an NPR podcast. In fact, it was a set that would have been more conducive to the humble, home environment and not the sleek, statue-studded downtown club. That Mann and Leo were able to transform the slick space into something warm and intimate, even whilst playing from opposite ends of the stage, was an admirable feat.
With an arsenal of musician-related jokes culled, she divulged, from ahajokes.com, Mann was prepared to fill the silence while Leo tuned his guitar. This meant that touring drummer Matt Mayhall was caught in the crossfire of Mann and Leo’s playful digs at each other as well as Mann’s trombonist- and drummer-targeted bad jokes.
Mann, who has remained relevant in part due to her appearance on Portlandia and contributions to the soundtrack of TV series Community, was dressed the part, complete with thick black librarian glasses and a babe-ly black PVC mini-dress that showed off her muscular arms smudged with faded tattoos. Her husky voice too exuded an effortless but experienced cool that convincingly doled out melodic and wise words, as during “You Can’t Help Me Now”.
This proved a perfect balance with Leo’s youthful and upbeat energy. The two harmonized and swapped leading vocal duties democratically. With limited material as their current band, Mann and Leo exhausted their material as The Both but were able to stretch their set out past midnight with a few reinterpretations of previous musical incarnations, as well as liberal chatter. Mann switched out her bass for an acoustic performance of “Save Me” – but not before recounting her story of playing that same song at Hilary Clinton’s Liberty Medal ceremony, whilst the pantsuited politician swayed along with questionable rhythm. The pair ended with and encore of the eighties MTV hit, “Voices Carry”, originally recorded and released by Mann’s band ’Til Tuesday.