Location: Aimee Mann's 2nd Annual Christmas Show at the Aladdin Theater, Dec. 5, 2007.
Our wandering correspondent Jay Horton has returned home to spend the holidays with his long-suffering ex, Janet Baker. Whether from sentimentalized memories or Seasonal Affected Disorder, they've developed a troubling obsession with Christmas music and shall offer observations of Yuletide-themed concerts for the remainder of the season. Merry Christmas from the family.
Uncomfortable intimacy, but all in the spirit of vaudeville. The evening was reminiscent of a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby holiday special variety hour. I would only withstand intimate knowledge of the next fan's unadorned body scent cultivated lovingly under three layers of wool for Aimee Mann singing "I'll be home for Christmas."
Beginning had the Nutcracker theme and the turning on of blue icicle lights which the audience found to be humorous for some reason.
Paul Tompkins, the co-host and her dear friend, opens with joke about Aimee Mann's heroin addiction—last year's show was "to take the edge off." He then admits to never smoking pot again, thanks to "You Need Me" by Anne Murray, and the burden he must shoulder in truly understanding the lyrics like no other Murray fan could ever hope.
A sexual Xmas song … "Baby, It's Cold Outside". The date rape Xmas song.
Three piece film short of Aimee Mann begging various B-and A-list celebrities to participate. We are asked to suspend disbelief that any of the celebrities would turn down the chance to participate in the good cheer that Aimee Mann created out of awkward silences. That guy from The Office
mistakes Aimee Mann's song as a proposal of marriage: "Unless you hate baby Jesus, I know your answer is no." Another rapid fan and actress dresses exactly like Mann and does a questionable impression.
Decemberists without Colin. Seems fitting that Aimee Mann is capable of creating a Xmas show with so much warmth cobbled together from misfits and outcasts from the music and entertainment industry (who was that reindeer woman?). What better home than Portland, a city that prides itself on its outsider identity and its ability to shame any city in the art of having a good time despite rising unemployment and pummeling aesthetic.
More film clips. Ben Stiller as caustic director. Will Ferrell confuses Mann with Jewel. Outright insults about the audience's intelligence level.
"Save Me." "Deathly." New single from her March release. Several songs from last year's Christmas record. Aimee's push to sell the record: "They aren't out of date yet!"
Makes perfect sense that Aimee's favorite Christmas film is the Charlie Brown Special. That film's Christmas message, Aimee has done in every one of her songs—their metamorphoses from everyday existence. The acuteness of living and yet weaving something worth enduring and remembering I carried with me from the show. The gentlewoman's scent next to me, I still remember fondly.
I understand the economics. 'Tis a marvelous show Aimee Mann's organized and the guests and Broadway aesthetic surely warranted prices nudging $40, but those require a certain audience—monied hipster dates, NPR-tote-clutching Hawthorne dowagers, West Hills' first wives in seasonally-coloured starter gowns who perhaps regretted the absence of liquor and cigarettes even more than myself.
It'd been years since I'd visited the Aladdin, and the crowds hadn't improved. A shame, really, since the venue's great failings—rickety seats and structural constraints reminiscent of a 30's tycoonville grade school auditorium—were perfectly appropriate to the evening's glossy hobbyist vibes. The songs were note-perfect, obviously, Paul Tompkins's monologue propped and soothed, the recurring film bits genuinely funny, but, perhaps because it'd been so long since anyone attempted a vaudevillian review or owing to the essential kitschiness of any Christmas endeavor, an amateur theater production ebullience prevailed. Mann giddily referred to the Colin-less Decemberists huddled with Scott McCaughey as "a little corner of awesomeness" with endless charm.
Hard to imagine anyone else manning the revue without irony or embarrassment or apparent ego—especially for an audience clearly more invested in her soundtrack hits or Nellie McKay's sociopolitical panderings than any seasonal bonhomie. Mann's inimitable vocals rendered the classics heartbreakingly faithful yet absent treacle, she made The Decemberists' "Engine Driver" her own, and a full-bodied duet on "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" briefly rendered Tompkins sexy. There's a languid sensuality informing Mann's performances, leavening what should be wearying melancholy, that's easy to overlook. I never much noticed until a seven-year-old girl—lovely and perfectly tailored and surely of means but with her parents' self-satisfaction yet uncalcified—began mimicking our chanteuse, strutting down the balcony aisle with a lazy confidence, reveling in the sheer adultness of the evening.
Tend to forget over the years, but kids have their own special reason to love the holidays—for a few weeks, it seems life's a continuous party. Your parents get drunk; they forget what's age-appropriate; they forget to send you to bed; for a few glorious nights, you get left the fuck alone.
Christmas is for children, really.
Bonus Photos by Maggie Gardner: