Aimee Mann’s natural facial expression can be intimidating. While handsome, the 52-year-old musician’s features seem to indicate a complete lack of a sense of humor.
Don’t believe it.
Mann, headlining two nights this weekend at The State Room, is one of the most under-rated singer-songwriters in the country, and is also one with the cleverest sense of humor.
“She has such a sardonic wit about her,” said Chris Porterfield, leader of opening act Field Report, in a Tribune interview. “It’s her and Randy Newman who do it better than anyone. No one can touch them.”
Further evidence of her drollery is presented in the first two videos off of Mann’s new album, “Charmer.” In the title track’s video, comedian John Hodgman and actress Laura Linney star as conspirators as Mann builds a robot of herself to perform all of the necessary evils that must be done to survive the music business.
And the second, “Labrador,” features “Mad Men” actor Jon Hamm as an oafish video director who wants Mann’s next video to be a shot-for-shot remake of Mann’s famous first video of “Voices Carry,” when Mann was frontwoman of the 1980s’ new wave band ‘Til Tuesday. Although Mann protests, the resulting video is indeed a dead-pan 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 in a Tribune 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 critically acclaimed solo career that finally gained commercial traction when director Paul Thomas Anderson (whose film “The Master” is now in theaters) asked Mann to provide music for his film “Magnolia.” She ended up with contributing eight songs to the soundtrack, including the Academy Award and Grammy-nominated song, “Save Me.”
While she might not have songs that hit the top of the charts, Mann’s fan base can be rabid, explaining why initially a single show at The State Room has been extended to a two-night stand.
“Charmer” is Mann’s eighth album, and, as her routine, tacks toward a different direction. “I was thinking of pop music and what my definition was,” she said.
When Mann was young, she adored the pop of Glen Campbell, Blondie, The Cars, Elton John, and ABBA, and she decided to listen to them again. “There was really well-crafted song-writing,” Mann 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 sounding, Mann will be touring with a full band for the first time in several years.
The six-piece folk band Field Report will open the show, despite never having performed in public until 2012’s South by Southwest festival in March. The band’s debut album was released in September.
Band leader Christopher Porterfield has an impressive pedigree. (Field Report is an anagram of “Porterfield.”)
Porterfield was a member of the now-legendary Wisconsin band DeYarmond Edison, known as the former band of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and three members of Megafaun. While Bon Iver has gone on to Grammy-winning success and acclaim, and Megafaun is quickly building a solid fan base, people had been waiting for Porterfield to resurface. After five years crafting songs for his debut, he is back.
After DeYarmond Edison dissolved in 2007, Porterfield settled down and worked a “real” job in Wisconsin until creating the band earlier this year. Despite opening for Counting Crows in August 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 is particularly memorable for its sense of place, with Porterfield’s Wisconsin figuring prominently. Driving across the country in a van is inspiring Porterfield to write songs about different places, including a tune that celebrates the mystical qualities in New Mexico. When not writing, he and his band are listening 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.
“I don’t think songs on this record lend themselves to humorous treatments,” he said.
Mann was asked if she ever plans on making an earnest video in the future. “Doubt it,” she said.
Aimee Mann with Field Report
When • Saturday, Oct. 6 at 9 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 7 at 8 p.m.
Where • The State Room, 638 S. State St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $35 at thestateroom.com
Here is Aimee Mann's "Labrador" video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA1cX-wgMdM
Here is 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uejh-bHa4To
Here is Aimee Mann's "Charmer" video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcpXTUT0-7o