When Aimee Mann and Ted Leo took the stage Saturday night at Union Transfer as The Both, they started chatting away. Their banter throughout the night ranged from Quaker meetinghouses to Jeb Bush to Paul Stanley of Kiss. They actually had to stop themselves so they could start playing music. This familiarity, paired with their vast live experience, put them at ease with a crowd and made for a glorious night of music. Playing all 11 songs from their self-titled debut plus selections from their respective catalogs, Mann and Leo were a true delight.
Though coming from seemingly different musical spheres, Mann and Leo paired nicely. Switching off lead vocal duties, with Leo leading on songs like opener “Gambler” and Mann beginning “You Can’t Help Me Now,” they expertly interwove their voices. Their spacing on stage, with the great divide between them filled by drummer Matt Mayhall, allowed for frequent encounters in the middle, more in line with a guitar-and-bass handshake than punk jamming. But that makes sense, as Leo’s harder sensibilities are more muted with The Both.
It certainly didn’t hurt that Mann and Leo showered love on Philly itself. Before “Save Me,” Mann regaled the crowd with the odd tale of playing the song during the Liberty Medal ceremony for Hilary Clinton at the National Constitution Center last year. And they seemed very happy to remember opening Boot & Saddle and filming part of the video for the catchy “Milwaukee” there. And before they broke into the tune, they even riffed on a Philadelphia-centric rewrite.
Two other highlights were of differing calibers. There was the humor in someone calling for the Leo song “Bottled in Cork” and Mann and Leo deliberately misunderstanding the request. They first claimed to hear the call for actor Bud Cort, but that devolved to the more playful “Butt Court.” (And, for the record, when they did play “Bottled in Cork,” it rocked.) The encore kicked off with another grand gesture as The Both launched into “Voices Carry,” the 1985 ‘Til Tuesday tune that was Mann’s first major success. In introducing the song, she shared her excitement for Leo’s falsetto. It certainly worked as the penultimate song before their wonderful Thin Lizzy cover, “Honesty Is No Excuse.”
Nick Diamonds and Evan Gordon of Islands opened with a bizarre set of songs by Islands, The Beatles, Wilco and Sinead O’Connor. The Both will return to Philadelphia for a Free at Noon concert at World Café Live on Thursday, May 15.