Aimee Mann’s facial expression can be intimidating. While handsome, the 52-year-old musician’s features seem to indicate a complete lack of humor.
Don’t believe it.
Mann, who will perform at The State Room on Saturday and Sunday, is one of the most underrated singer-songwriters in the country, and she also has a clever sense of humor.
“She has such a sardonic wit about her,” said Chris Porterfield, leader of Field Report, Mann’s opening act. “It’s her and Randy Newman who do it better than anyone. No one can touch them.”
Mann’s whimsical humor is evident on the first two videos of her new album, “Charmer.” In the title track’s video, comedian John Hodgman and actress Laura Linney are conspirators as Mann builds a robot of herself to perform all of the necessary evils that must be done to survive the music business.
On the “Labrador” video, “Mad Men” actor Jon Hamm is an oafish video director who wants Mann’s next video to be a shot-for-shot remake of “Voices Carry” by ’Til Tuesday. Mann, of course, was the frontwoman for that 1980s New Wave band. Although she protests, the resulting video is indeed a deadpan satire of the video techniques used in the early days of MTV.
“[The same director for both videos] is a good friend of mine,” Mann said during a recent telephone interview. “I knew he would do it in a way that would be great, funny and interesting. Funny is tricky.”
Trickier is remaining relevant for more than 30 years. After ’Til Tuesday broke up in 1990, Mann began a solo career that gained commercial traction when director Paul Thomas Anderson (whose film “The Master” is now in theaters) asked her to provide music for his film “Magnolia.” She contributed eight songs to the soundtrack, including the Academy Award- and Grammy-nominated “Save Me.”
While she might not have songs that hit the top of the charts, Mann’s fan base can be rabid. Which explains why The State Room added a second Utah show.
“Charmer” is Mann’s eighth album, and it follows a different direction. “I was thinking of pop music and what my definition was,” she said.
When Mann was young, she adored Glen Campbell, Blondie, The Cars, Elton John and ABBA, and she decided to listen to them again.
“There was really well-crafted song-writing,” she said. “Heavy background vocals, very melodic. I wanted to craft them in a way reminiscent of those pop songs.”
With songs that are deliberately more robust, Mann will be touring with a full band for the first time in several years.
Does she plan on making an earnest video in the future?
“Doubt it,” she said.
Opening the show is the six-piece folk band Field Report. The band has a unique story, having never performed in public until March at the South by Southwest festival. The band’s name is an anagram of Porterfield, the last name of leader Christopher Porterfield.
Porterfield was a member of the now-legendary Wisconsin band DeYarmond Edison — which included Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and three members of Megafaun. While Bon Iver has gone on to Grammy-winning success, and Megafaun is quickly building a solid fan base, people have been waiting for Porterfield to resurface.
After DeYarmond Edison dissolved in 2007, Porterfield settled down and worked a “real” job in Wisconsin until creating Field Report earlier this year.
While the band came to Utah in August, opening for Counting Crows at The Rail Event Center, Porterfield said he is still introducing his intimate songs to audiences. “It’s cool to be able to guide people through it,” he said.
Field Report’s debut album, which was released in September, is particularly memorable as Porterfield’s native state of Wisconsin figures prominently. Driving across the country in a van is inspiring him to write songs about other places, including a tune that celebrates the mystical qualities in New Mexico.
When not writing, he and his band listen to Neil Young, comedian Neil Hamburger, Kathleen Edwards, The Weather Station and, of course, Mann. He has been watching her amusing videos as he thinks about videos for his own tales.
But he said he’s not leaning towards comedy.
“I don’t think songs on this record lend themselves to humorous treatments.”
Out to charm you
P Aimee Mann with Field Report
When • Saturday, 9 p.m., and Sunday, 8 p.m.
Where • The State Room, 638 S. State St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $35 at thestateroom.com