Went to see Aimee Mann on Friday at the House of Blues. She’s promoting her new album, @#%&*! Smilers (and yes, it’s pronounced as you might expect, though she also gave an alternate pronunciation of “Effing Smilers”), which just came out last week. Of course, this meant that most of the audience either hadn’t heard the new songs, or had only heard them a few days before. Old favorites like “Save Me” tended to get cheers as soon as people recognized the intro music. With the new stuff, people were quieter, as if they were waiting to hear the song for the first time. But they all got applause in the end.

In the past, when we’ve gone to the Anaheim House of Blues, we’ve tried to eat at Downtown Disney. It always proves problematical, with restaurants either not taking reservations for parties of two or not having any reservations left. This time we just ate near home and drove up after dinner. We got there after the doors opened, but before most of the audience arrived, and managed to claim a spot dead center in the main floor, much closer than we’d ever been to this stage.

The opening act was Rebecca Pigeon. She was quite good, and a good match stylistically. (Too often, you only get one — or neither. We still joke about “Corn Mo” who opened for TMBG a few years ago.) She started with “Tough on Crime,” which Katie figures has to have a Heroes video in it somewhere. Interesting fact: it turns out she’s married to David Mamet.

By the end of the opening act, the house had filled up considerably, and was respectably packed by the time Aimee Mann took the stage. This was actually the third time we’d seen her in concert, and the second time we’d seen her here. This felt a lot more like the last time in terms of audience interaction, what with her taking requests and making jokes. She actually opened with “Freeway,” which was kind of a surprise since it’s not exactly complimentary toward Orange County.

She told a funny story about how “Borrowing Time” started out when she was approached to do a song for Shrek III. At first she thought, “Oh, you must know me from my songs for Magnolia!” So she and her writing partner (whose name escapes me) watched the scene, found a song in it, brought it to the producers, and they kept trying to make it faster, more upbeat, etc. By the third draft she was starting to hate the song. As it turned out, they’d asked a whole bunch of artists to write songs for the same scene, so she didn’t feel too bad about dropping it. They wanted a happy, encouraging, “Come on, you can do it!” song, and she remarked that she’s not very good at that kind of message. (Yeah, I know, understatement of the year.) So they picked up the original version of the song, threw out the lyrics, and went with the sort of creepy seven-dwarves sound.

She finished the main set by opening to requests. Someone kept shouting “Stupid Thing,” which I don’t really know (I started listening to her with Magnolia and Bachelor No.2, and I’ve only picked up I’m With Stupid of her older albums), but she didn’t play it. Finally she said something like, “Tell you what. We’ll do one more song, then I’ll go offstage and pretend I’m not coming back. I’ll have a drink or water and you’ll cheer. Then I’ll come back on and play ‘Invisible Ink.'” After the next song, she announced she was going away “and never coming back, ever again.” A minute later, she came back and did another two or three songs.

In the end the concert was about half songs from @#%&*! Smilers and half older songs. Aside from “Freeway” and “Borrowing Time,” off the top of my head I remember “Phoenix,” “Thirty One Today” (which should be played right after the Gin Blossoms’ “Twenty-Nine” for a birthday disillusionment duo), “Medicine Wheel” and possibly “Great Beyond” from the new album and “Goodbye Caroline,” “Invisible Ink,” “You’re With Stupid, Now,” “Red Vines,” “Save Me,” “Wise Up” and “One” from the back catalog.

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