It’s a gorgeous Sunday July 14, 2019 evening on Spring Street in Newton, NJ as music lovers line up outside the Newton Theatre to enjoy a concert by singer/songwriter Aimee Mann.
Aimee Mann was born in Virginia in 1960. Following high school, she enrolled in Boston’s Berklee College of Music, but soon left to join a local band, The Young Snakes. In 1983, Mann co-founded the new wave group, ’Til Tuesday, and functioned as bassist and vocalist with the band until 1990 when she embarked on a solo career.
In 1999, Mann earned both Academy Award and Grammy Award nominations for her song, “Save Me,” which she composed for the film, Magnolia, and in 2001, she recorded a cover version of The Beatles’ “Two of Us” for the movie, I Am Sam.
She won a Grammy for her album The Forgotten Arm in 2006, and the same year was named one of the world’s ten greatest living songwriters — along with Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen — by National Public Radio.
Her latest album, 2017’s Mental Illness, earned Mann a second Grammy for Best Folk Album.
Inside the cozy Newton Theatre, the lights dim and the audience applauds as Mann’s opening act, singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton, takes the stage.
After welcoming the crowd, Coulton introduces his first song stating, “This is a love song to someone who may or may not be in the audience. I don’t know because I haven’t met her yet.”
Accompanying himself on the guitar, Coulton launches into the folksy “Millionaire Girlfriend” singing in his sweet falsetto voice, “She’s my millionaire girlfriend and she’s my life/Once I finally find her I’ll get permission from the wife,” to audience chuckles and applause.
Announcing, “This is a song about being middle aged and having children,” Coulton strums quickly on his guitar as he gives an energetic and personable performance of his rockin’ story song, “Glasses.”
Introducing his next number acknowledging, “I recorded an album of ’70s soft rock covers that sound exactly like the originals,” Coulton notes, “This is the saddest song in the whole world.” The audience loves his poignant performance of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally.”
Surprising the crowd, Coulton says, “To cheer ourselves up, let’s bring Aimee Mann to the stage.”
Here, he and Mann perform “Shop Vac,” a story song about the woes of suburban life for the middle age couple. With Mann contributing perfect harmony, the pair sings, “If you need me/I’ll be downstairs/With the shop vac/You can call but I probably won’t hear you/Because it’s loud with the shop vac on.”
Coulton puts down his guitar and moves over to the keyboard and Mann straps on an electric bass for the duo’s performance of “Pictures of Cats,” a song which focuses on the overabundance of information on the internet.
Following audience cheers, Mann exits the stage leaving Coulton who performs a series of 90-second songs which appear as Schoolhouse Rock! style videos on the CBS All Access TV show, The Good Fight.
First up is “The Legend of John Barron,” an uptempo song which, as Coulton explains, is about a pseudonym which President Donald Trump used in the past when pretending to be a publicist to promote himself.
Coulton’s next song — a number about which he says, “The song is true in spirit but not in fact” — is titled “Melania.” After singing, “I wish that I lived in a castle somewhere in the sky/With someone who’d always take care of me/Why is it so hard to get there from here?” the audience responds to this song about Melania Trump with many applauding and cheering while several express their displeasure by loudly booing.
Coulton takes the crowd’s reaction in stride and continues his performance stating, “Here’s something we can all agree on — furniture,” before launching into the rockin’ “IKEA” where he has fun with rhymes singing lyrics like “IKEA/ Just some oak and some pine and a handful of Norseman/IKEA/Selling furniture for college kids and divorced men.”
The crowd responds with enthusiastic applause and Coulton wraps up his set with the minor-key rocker, “Creepy Doll.” Singing, “And there’s a creepy doll/That always follows you/It’s got a ruined eye/That’s always open,” the audience cheers and applauds for this engaging and entertaining performer.
Following intermission, musicians Paul Bryan on bass, Steve Elliot on guitar, Jamie Edwards on keyboards, and John Sands on drums take the stage along with headliner Aimee Mann who personally introduces herself before launching into a cover version of The Cars’ “Drive.”
Her alto voice filled with wonder, Mann sings the famous “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight” lyric of this classic pop ballad while accompanying herself on guitar before the entire band kicks in and rocks out to cheers from the crowd.
Bassist Paul Bryan adds sweet vocal harmonies to “Goodbye Caroline,” a rhythmic folk-rocker. After Mann and Bryan sing, “Goodbye, Caroline/You’re my favorite faith healer,” Steve Elliot’s electric guitar solo swirls and rocks the Newton Theatre as the band rolls along.
Following introductions of her band members, Mann performs “Calling It Quits.” With its hypnotic groove, Mann’s smooth voice contrasts with the tune’s steady hip-hop beat and Elliot’s twangy guitar as the rest of the instruments breeze along on this catchy number.
Switching guitars, Mann performs “Labrador.” Her voice low and resonant, Mann sings, “And I’m a Labrador/And with me, you could see/It was understood/That I’d come back for more,” before Jamie Edwards performs a keyboard solo and Steve Elliot plays a guitar solo to audience hoots and hollers.
Mann follows up with “Humpty Dumpty,” a slow minor-key rocker which features bassist Paul Bryan singing harmony to Mann’s “All the perfect drugs and superheros/Wouldn’t be enough to bring me up to zero” refrain as John Sands skillfully accompanies on drums.
Following avid applause, the band takes leave of the stage and Jonathan Coulton returns to join Mann for a folksy number from her latest album, Mental Illness, entitled “Rollercoaster.”
Mann reveals to the audience, “This is the first song we wrote together,” before describing the composition as, “It’s like if you like John Denver, but he’s a little too edgy for you.”
On “Rollercoaster,” Coulton plays softly and melodiously on his guitar as Mann sings in her sweet tone. Then, the two blend together with their soft, sweet, spot-on harmony vocals which roll softly on the lovely “So high as you fell looking down on the tops of the trees/So high/And all you can do is say/Please, please, baby please” refrain.
The crowd responds with avid applause and Mann reveals, “This next song was originally a waltz and Jonathan put it in 4/4 time and added a bridge — it’s about classic Hollywood.”
The rest of the band returns and the musicians perform “Patient Zero,” a folk-rocker which features Mann’s strong guitar strumming and vocals while she sings, “Life is good/You look around and think/‘I’m in the right neighborhood’/But, honey, you don’t belong.” John Sands plays jingle bells while simultaneously playing the tambourine, and Jonathan Coulton and bassist Paul Bryan sing harmony as Jamie Edwards plays a string arrangement on the keyboard.
A highlight of tonight’s concert is Mann’s performance of “Goose Snow Cone” from Mental Illness.
Explaining, “I wrote this in Ireland when it was cold and snowy and I was homesick,” Mann acknowledges, “It’s about a cat named Goose I follow on the Internet, and he was wearing a cone and I thought he looked like a snow cone.”
John Sands’ jingle bells open this easy slow rock ballad as Coulton and Mann play acoustic guitars. Mann tells the story before being joined in harmony by the male voices on the catchy “Gotta keep it together when your friends come by/Always checking the weather but they wanna know why/Even birds of a feather find it hard to fly” chorus.
Shifting over to electric bass, Mann and the band perform “Amateur.” John Sands plays a shuffle 3/4 beat with brushes while bassist Paul Bryan moves over to acoustic guitar. Like a Burt Bacharach song with catchy jazz vocal harmonies, members of the audience can be seen singing along. At the end, the crowd reacts with cheers and applause, with several standing on their feet.
Moving back to acoustic guitar, Mann performs her Academy-Award nominated composition, “Save Me,” from Magnolia.
Steve Elliott plays a melodica solo which adds to the folksy vibe before twanging out on his guitar. On this arrangement, Jamie Edwards’ keyboard sounds like a celesta as Paul Bryan’s bass and John Sands’ drums shuffle along.
Following the driving beat of the country rocker, “Freeway,” Mann introduces a song from her past saying, “There’s a reference to an answering machine in the lyrics.” Here, she launches into 1995’s “Choice in the Matter,” an upbeat folk rocker which features a spirited Steve Elliot guitar solo and three-part vocal harmonies which elicit applause and cheers.
Sands’ driving drums lead Bryan’s bass, Elliot’s guitar, and Edwards’ keyboards on “Going Through the Motions.” With it’s Beatle-like backbeat, Mann sings “They’ll have a big parade/For every day that you stay clean/But when the trumpets fade/You’ll go under like a submarine” on this poignant number which clearly impresses the Newton Theatre crowd.
Following animated cheers, for her final number, Mann performs “Long Shot.” With its rockin’ guitar intro, Mann dances at the mic in her sneakers as she sings and plays. Elliott solos on electric guitar as the song builds. Sands plays with a drumstick in his left hand and a maraca and a drumstick in his right hand as he rides the cymbal while Mann sings with feeling, “You f*cked it up/You jumped the gun/I swore you off but/You climbed back on.”
The crowd leaps to its feet cheering and applauding as Mann says, “Thank you! Have a great night — you were awesome!”
Not willing to leave, the audience continues to clap until Mann returns to the stage.
When an audience member yells out “Little Bombs,” Mann says, “OK, we can take a request, but I have to retune.”
The crowd applauds before Mann retunes her guitar and she and the band perform the request. Singing, “All the sweet green trees of Atlanta burst/Like little bombs,” Mann is accompanied by Edwards’ arpeggiated piano and Elliot’s twangy guitar.
Mann follows up with “Wise Up,” a slow and poignant ballad from the Magnolia soundtrack, her vocal deftly jumping octaves as she sings backed by Edwards’ strong piano chording.
Mann thanks the audience announcing, “We’ll play one more song,” before confessing, “but our guitar player hasn’t rehearsed this one with the band.”
Lights dance on the upbeat ’Til Tuesday electronic rocker, “Voices Carry,” as Edwards’ keyboard rings out with its bell-like accompaniment.
The song continues to build in intensity following a complex Steve Elliot guitar solo.
Despite audience members standing on their feet cheering, Mann exclaims, “I can’t go out on an unrehearsed tune. We’ll do one more.”
Here, she and the group launch into the slow rocker, “Deathly.” After singing, “Now that I’ve met you/Would you object to/Never seeing each other again,” Steve Elliot plays an out-of-this-world guitar solo.
The audience whistles and cheers and Mann exclaims, “You guys have been so nice! Thank you so much!” before taking leave of the stage.
As audience members make their way out of the Newton Theatre auditorium, we take a moment to chat with several concertgoers who share their thoughts about tonight’s performance.
Says long-time fan, Randhir from Utah, “I’ve seen Aimee Mann many times over the years with different configurations of musicians — and this concert was awesome. The addition of Steve Elliott on guitar really filled out the instrumentation. He was very melodic and intuitive, and on ‘Deathly,’ his solo was note-for-note perfect.”
Adding, “I was surprised by the mix of songs she did tonight —numbers from throughout her entire career,” Randhir says, “I just love her voice — it’s so natural,” acknowledging, “I would have loved to hear even more of her vocals.”
Julian from Roseland agrees stating, “No one has a better voice than Aimee Mann — it’s totally awesome,” before commenting, “and I loved The Cars’ cover song she did — that was exactly perfect.”
Declares Arlene from Flanders, “I’ve seen Aimee Mann at least ten times, and she was awesome tonight! I liked that she played songs from so many different albums,” remarking, “ It was a nice all-around program where I knew virtually every single song.”
Notes Mark from Hackettstown, “Aimee Mann was great tonight! The band performed such great harmonies,” before adding, “And Jonathan Coulton is very talented. I liked that his music was acoustic, and it came across so well since the sound here at the Newton Theatre is so good.”
Michael from Hackettstown agrees noting, “We are long-time fans. We saw Aimee Mann in Ocean City recently, and we even saw her back in the day when she was a member of ’Til Tuesday.”
Continuing, “I really liked Jonathan Coulton — he and Aimee Mann played so well together, and he is really funny,” Michael acknowledges, “And it was great to see them here at the Newton Theatre. It’s a nice small venue with a relaxed atmosphere. We see a lot of performances here and it’s a place where people can come to really enjoy live music.”
As the audience disappears from the auditorium, we get a moment to chat with two members of Aimee Mann’s band.
First, we chat with bassist Paul Bryan who says about tonight’s Jersey crowd, “This was a great audience — a beautiful, listening audience. They were very appreciative — and we were of them, too.”
We also chat with keyboardist Jamie Edwards who tells us a little bit about what it’s like being a member of Aimee Mann’s band.
Reveals Edwards, “Other than Steve, our guitar player, I’m the newest member of the group. Paul Bryan has been with Aimee since 1999 — in fact, he produced her latest album, Mental Illness.”
“John Sands has been with Aimee on drums since her second album, and I’ve been with the group since 2005,” continues Edwards. “We just added Steve Elliot as our dedicated guitarist so things are a little different now. Aimee’s music is so orchestrated — there are all these really nice parts from her records that we like to perform live — which we can now do.”
Acknowledging, “It’s so wonderful playing with Aimee — she’s fantastic to work with,” Edwards explains, “Aimee lets people bring themselves to the music — that’s what she wants. She writes her songs on piano or guitar but then the musicians who play with her really bring themselves to it,” before he concludes, “She really cares about her music — and it shows.”
To learn more about Aimee Mann, please go to aimeemann.com. For information about future performances at The Newton Theatre — including Robert Earl Keen on August 17, Jonny Lang on September 17, John Hiatt on November 9, and Don McLean on November 22 — please click on thenewtontheatre.com.