Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Both, Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland, May 8, 2014

The Both are Aimee Mann and Ted Leo (and drummer Matt Mayhall on this tour), and it is an unusual, and unusually successful, meeting of musical minds. Mann, whose moody singer-songwriter work has pleased fans for years, hasn't rocked very hard since her second release, I'm With Stupid, way back in 1995. She continues to write fine songs, but one could argue that she's needed a kick in the pants for a while now. Leo, a talented writer, singer, and guitarist who has worked primarily in the punk/hardcore genre, could use some of the intelligent pop sensibility Mann brings to her writing. VoilĂ , the two make each other better.

They have collaborated on a new record, The Both, which was released just recently, and which shows how well they complement each other. The songwriting strengths of each assist the other, but the big surprise is how well they sing together. Vocally, it is hard to think of a better duet team. Their harmonies are spot on, and their vocal tones work especially well together. Ted Leo has a remarkably supple high register, and sometimes they produce that spine-tingling effect typically reserved for harmonizing sisters. It's special.

They performed the entirety (I think) of the new record, along with a couple of Leo solo tunes and a few of Mann's, including a version of Til Tuesday's Voices Carry during the encore. Leo is an interesting guitarist, and he gets some funky tones out of the instrument. His solos are quite good, even if they begin to sound the same after a bit. Mann's bass is always tasteful and precise, and Mayhall is a rock solid drummer. Mann clearly enjoys being in an actual band, and would run to center stage to do rock poses with Leo during his solos. It was cute.

The record is quite good, but it is a real collaboration, and not an Aimee Mann or a Ted Leo record. That's a good thing. The show was even better than the record, even without producer Paul Bryan's keyboard embellishments. They bantered quite a bit between songs, and there was too much time spent on this activity. But while it slowed the show's pace, it didn't take away from a robust and rocking good time. And they were occasionally funny.

The Beachland is a great room, intimate without being tiny, but the sound is often terrible. The guy at the soundboard for this show put out the best sound I've heard at the Beachland at a loud rock concert. Yes, the bass was overly hot, as usual, but everything was listenable (and audible), and the vocals were surprisingly clear and clean. Even at the end of the show, he didn't turn the volume up needlessly (a stupid pet trick that deaf sound mixers pull all the time). It was loud, but never painfully so, and the mix was good. Too bad this guy doesn't work for the Beachland Ballroom, because most rock and roll sound people are sonic imbeciles.

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