Aimee Mann / This Is The Kit - Jay Pritzker Pavilion - Chicago

by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date:
Aimee Mann / This Is The Kit - Jay Pritzker Pavilion - Chicago
Aimee Mann / This Is The Kit - Jay Pritzker Pavilion - Chicago

Over on Waveland Avenue, the Foo Fighters were carpet bombing Wrigley Field.  The more genteel of us were subject to a much more delicate dismantling at the hands of Kate Stables (aka This Is The Kit) and Aimee Mann at Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Chicago’s Millennium Park.  In most instances and most cities, the offer of a free concert in the park would be grounds for a polite decline.  Add to that it was a Monday night and there must be better things to do. 

Celebrating that it’s almost Tuesday would be top of the list.  However, there are great cities with amazing public spaces (the Chicago bean thing resides in the same park) that command respect and quality entertainment - even on a Monday.  Fortuitously in town for other reasons with a few hours of spare time, I joined a few thousand other discerning types and their toddlers for a beautiful Summer evening of unparalleled songwriting talent. 

With expectations that Winchester, England originated This Is The Kit might be repped by only leader Kate Stables or perhaps longtime collaborator Rozi Plain alongside, instead a seven-piece band strides on stage.  The standard foursome set-up supplemented by a three-piece sax section appropriately christened the Sad Saxes.  Stables’s economic sacrifice was our gain as the fleshed out but sympathetic accompaniment was its own reward at the cost of only Stables’s shoes.  Set somewhere between the invention of stringed instruments and now, This Is The Kit put on a timeless and graceful hour-long set of folk and jazz-inflected gems.  Apparently, no one put out the alert that opening acts aren’t afforded hour long sets on Monday nights and thankfully so as Stables and her crew made the most of it.

Though on the heels of the Newport Folk Festival, Stables was gracious to acknowledge the awe of playing in front of the large crowd.  Taking up a banjo on the second song ‘Bullet Proof’, Stables quietly made her presence known.  Jazzy in spots like a less spaced out Edie Brickell on ‘All Written Out in Numbers’ and with guitarist Neil Smith adding a feedback squall to the appropriately titled ‘Earthquake’.  The Sad Saxes took up shakers on the rhythmic ‘Moonshine Freeze’ and Stables’s beautifully unadorned voice taking flight made ‘Solid Grease’ a set highlight.  Getting the entire band fully involved on ‘Hotter Colder’ they showed how this set-up could fire on all cylinders.  Not having great familiarity with Stables and her catalog, she easily and graciously carried her slot with plenty of different shadings.

Operating in her fourth musical decade and on the heels of yet another ridiculously strong album (last year’s Mental Illness), Aimee Mann has a lot to draw from and everything that comes out of her mouth is instantly melodic.  Starting with only Mann on acoustic guitar and producer Paul Bryan on bass, Mann quipped that they would play a range of slow depressing songs from her new album as well as slow depressing songs from her older albums.  Though Mann could have easily pulled half her set from the beautifully stripped down Mental Illness, she ranged far and wide over her entire career.  Adding a musician per song until a quartet was formed, ‘Labrador’ was a muscular early set highlight.  Bringing out longtime friend and collaborator Ted Leo was a nice surprise to romp through ‘You Can’t Help Me Now’ from their album of duets operating as The Both.  Mann was at her lightest and most animated with Leo on stage, but her songs are at their most dazzling when exploring the depths. 

Next, she jumped into a few tracks from last year’s album, dedicating ‘You Never Loved Me’ to those that are just such jerks - some you just have to say “hats off to you asshole”.  The sleigh bells that quietly carried ‘Goose Snow Cone’ transported the crowd away from a Summer night as the light started to fade.  Mann’s voice took things higher on ‘Save Me’ from the Magnolia soundtrack and there was no break in stride from here.  Leo rejoined her for the decades old ‘Long Shot’ and revved things up for a moment.  Closing out a three-song encore with ‘Wise Up’ and “the first song she ever wrote” ‘Voices Carry’, showed just how consistently excellent  Mann has been over a storied career.  Met with an enthusiastic crowd at the beginning of her set which led Mann to warn “I will disappoint”, nothing could have been further from the truth.  A free Monday night concert in the park turned out to be anything but a waste of time with these two masterful songwriters in command.   

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