Aimee Mann charms at Union Transfer

Aimee Mann skewers plenty of targets on her new album, "Charmer," which is full of frustrated hopes and fizzled dreams, but she does it without malice.
Aimee Mann skewers plenty of targets on her new album, "Charmer," which is full of frustrated hopes and fizzled dreams, but she does it without malice. (SHERYL NIELDS)
Posted: October 30, 2012

In the middle of Aimee Mann's set at Union Transfer on Friday night, a single piece of confetti dislodged itself from the rafters and floated down in front of her, lazily spinning in the stage lights. "Quite a party," she quipped.

Mann's set, which dwelled heavily on her new album, Charmer, was full of frustrated hopes and fizzled dreams, in keeping with a career that, she readily acknowledges, is not long on upbeat emotions. During an unscheduled pause occasioned by an onstage computer crash, she improvised a self-parodic song about a sad kitten lost in the rain.

The ease with which Mann sent up her own depressive tendencies reflects the wry wit that keeps her songs from sinking into the muck. (She also made a memorable appearance on the recent season of Portlandia, playing a version of herself who has to clean houses to make ends meet.)

She skewers plenty of targets on Charmer, chiefly glib glad-handers like the subject of the title track, but she does it without malice, as if exposing people for who they are is satisfaction enough.

That goes for herself as well, although as time has passed Mann has become a more elusive presence in her work. The soured relationship at the core of "Disappeared" was sketched forcefully enough to prompt a mid-show check that Mann's marriage to fellow musician Michael Penn hadn't ended surreptitiously, but there's no heartbreak in the song, just a dash of ruefulness.

It was easier to find her at the center of "Save Me," part of a three-song suite of songs from the movie Magnolia, not least because she played the song alone on her acoustic guitar. For most of the show, she was backed by a four-piece band that added exuberant textures, including a wide swath of vintage keyboard sounds.

Union Transfer's upstairs might have been roped off due to modest sales, but the downstairs crowd was rapt, hanging on every word and note.

As the show neared its end, Mann paused to recall the evening's "journey," lonely confetti, lost kitten and all - perhaps not a party, but a trip well worth taking.

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