On Friday, May 6th, I had the thrill of seeing headliner Aimee Mann and opener Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame) at the Hollywood House of Blues. Performing songs off her newly-released concept album, "The Forgotten Arm," as well as the wonderful "Lost in Space" and "Bachelor No. 2" solo releases and the acclaimed "Magnolia" soundtrack, it was a set that never faltered. How many artists kick off their night with a song that they halt because it doesn't sound right and then immediately hit it out of the park to the obvious delight of a crowd.
And while her best-known songs ("Red Vines," "Save Me" and "Wise Up") received the biggest cheers, the attentive and devout capacity crowd connected with the new material off her fifth solo effort, the aptyly-titled "The Forgotten Arm," a concept album that tells the story about a Vietnam War vet/drug-addicted boxer and a girl who fall in love in 1972. While she didn't perform the entire album, she and her wonderful 4-man band played a number of the album's gems, including "Goodbye Caroline," "Going Through the Motions" and the emotive "I Can't Help You Anymore."
I have seen Mann a number of times since the 1990s and her skills as a musician and live performer continue to grow. On Friday, she was more relaxed and confident than any time I've seen her. Mann and company's night-ending "Deathly" boasted the kind of power and boldness that is rare among folk-rockers. Clearly Mann has grown beyond the singer-songwriter and folk rock genre where her solo career began and she has joined that rare field of artists who defy easy categorization.
Maybe Mann's magic is rubbing off on Phillips. Always a wonderful singer and songwriter, his solo career has admittedly always been overshadowed by his role as lead singer and frontman of Toad the Wet Sprocket. But on the heels of his wonderful third solo disc, "Winter Pays for Summer," Phillips delivered a strong 50-minute set of material on Friday. Although he received cheers when offering up acoustic takes on Toad tunes (notably an incredible version of "Something's Always Wrong"), his new solo stuff is equally powerful. "Duck and Cover," "Thankful" and "True" were among the highlights of his 14-song set.