Call me a grinch, but I was so ready to hate this show. Whatever, don’t judge me. Christmas crap just isn’t my thing, and despite all the talent due to be onstage Friday night at Union Transfer for The Aimee Mann and Ted Leo Christmas Show, when I found out from the two guys standing next to me (who by the way had come from New York to be there, having just seen the same show at The Town Hall the night prior) that this was gonna be upwards of 80% Christmas-themed-and-related music – christ, I was really starting to question my own judgment in deciding I wanted to cover this.
I mean this is what happens when your childhood idol writes “Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time” and it gets forcibly funneled and shoe-horned into your consciousness year over year at every store you walk into from Halloween to Martin Luther King Day. Yeah, I am mad, bro.
What the hell though – two songs into Mann’s and Leo’s set, I realized I was actually enjoying it. I mean I fought it the best I could, I really did, but there wasn’t much that could be done. It couldn’t be helped. Frankly, if I’d have bothered to have done two minutes of Google homework beforehand or, even given Mann and Leo the artistic credit they deserved, I’d have fixed my attitude before showing up Friday night anyway. As Leo quipped about one the first few original Christmas songs in their set, “like most [Christmas] songs we write, it’s largely about sadness and loss. And, responding to encouragement and cheers from the sizable crowd, he continued, “oh you like that? Of course you do. You wouldn’t be at this Christmas show if you didn’t.”
Mann’s and Leo’s special guests were featured of most of the evening. 90s lo-fi indie rocker turned pop goddess Liz Phair came out early, voice amazing as ever, reimagining her hit “Supernova” as seasonable: “this is not a Christmas song, but, it’s got a star and a cherub. So.” (Oh no she is not really rocking a Fender Squier.. badass.) Phair’s “Why Can’t I” was one of two self-parody setlist standouts, reinvented as a song about her going a little overboard with the holiday decorations. Going darker, and not to be outdone, Mann reworked her classic 1985 song “Voices Carry” as a story about a drunken adulterous mother on Christmas Eve – suffice it to say that the new chorus was “hush hush, he’s your dad now, this is Gary.”
John Roderick and Jonathan Coulton, having made minor names for themselves over recent years as underground Christmas staples in their own rights, brought a really wickedly brilliant theatrical element Leo’s and Mann’s comedy improv and running jokes, and a unique brand of holiday humor. Songs like “Re: Your Brains” had the whole crowd singing like a horde of hungry zombies outside the quiet home and hearth of a celebrating family, and “2600” is, obviously, about getting the best. present. ever. At least, if it were 1986.
Because, sure, Leo’s and Mann’s and Phair’s fans are all (clears throat) a little older now but, even if this may be your daddy’s rock and roll concert, it certainly isn’t your parents’ Christmas show. Still, if it’s the spirit of the season you were looking for, the set of original compositions about the winter’s walking dead and broken alcoholic families at the holidays was peppered with — okay, really warm and tastefully executed — standards, including old-timey acapella Christmas ballads, Dr. Seuss and Bing Crosby classics and, of course, “Winter Wonderland.”
Alright, fine, so it was a great show. It was. Bravo, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. I still think Paul McCartney owes us all an apology.
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