Scenes From Last Night's The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo) Show at the Kessler.
It's certainly fitting that Aimee Mann and Ted Leo's origin story as friends and eventual collaborators starts in the studio of Tom Scharpling's late, great The Best Show on WFMU: Last night, as the two noted performers joined forces to share a bill at Oak Cliff's Kessler Theater — their first here in town under the banner of their new The Both project — the duo thrilled its somewhat split, but nonetheless reverent, fan bases with the kind of banter more commonly associated with comics than musicians.
Which, yes, is to say that Mann and Leo were quite funny up there on stage on this Tuesday night. And right from the start, even: After a fiery opening set from the Buffalo-sprung power trio Lumeria, who came off on this night as something of a more power pop-oriented Ume, Leo and Mann (joined by drummer Matt Mayhall and, for a short spell, by Lumeria's Austin-based bassist Max Gregor) wasted no time in alerting the audience to the fact that this would be a talk-heavy show, opening things up with a 10-minute riff on the people these musicians sat next to on their flights to town.
That kickoff rant was appropriately self-deprecating — Leo scoffed at one audience's notion that he and Mann flew into Dallas, the first stop on their short tour through Texas, in either first- or business-class and not what he soon revealed to be “the one after that” — and was as placating as one might expect. Leo's welcome story, which Mann essentially moderated, included a requisite bows to the charms of Texans, albeit with this version boasting something of a side-eye bent. Per Leo: When the old woman he sat next to found out he was from New York, her response was an incredulous “How do you do that?” statement — something that
Abbott and Costello Mann and Leo alike would return to when in need of a laugh.
For the most part, this is how the whole night would go. Between most each and every song performed at this show — a list that was mostly culled from The Both's self-titled, April-released debut LP — Mann and Leo would offer up some five minutes of conversation as they re-tuned their instruments and reset the night's mood. This decision would prove more charming than cloying, somehow: The twosome's chemistry was obvious; their conversation was so fluid and cozy that it almost felt scripted. More important, the rapport was infectious — and a fine base upon which to build this night's rather intimate offering.
Of course, with a combined 57 years of on-stage experience between the two, this sort of deft hand at showmanship shouldn't surprise. It didn't, of course. Mostly, it pleased — in part because Mann and Leo's own pleasure on this night was clear, too.
“This place is really nice,” Mann said during a rant about crowds and venues that are less-so, in turn declaring herself the bajillionth (give or take) artist to publicly fall for the Kessler's listening room charms. “The backstage area is really nice. That matters.”
So, too, does the music — something that Mann almost begrudgingly conceded while simultaneously acknowledging and apologizing for the fact that her and Leo's (admittedly, very witty) dialogues numbered so high. Musically, what came off as most remarkable was the way in which these so very different artists' styles meshed so well together in a live setting. On this night, The Both's bent toward Leo's more-rocking fare was even more pronounced than on record, and his vocal abilities too proved a more than capable match for Mann's more-celebrated pipes. Of course, Mann shined rather brightly herself — and never more so than when she performed her return-to-prominence 1999 hit “Save Me” with only moderate embellishments from Leo.
Still, the clear musical highlight of the night — apologies to The Both's own very solid catalog — came with the night's expected encore offering of Mann's old 'Til Tuesday jam, “Voices Carry,” during which Leo was given a verse to tackle himself and also during which the two's impressive harmonizing efforts were given one more chance to be properly appreciated. On the rock, rot and rule scale, that effort certainly rocked.
And, combined with all that charming banter, it's safe to say that the night as a whole pretty much ruled.