Sometimes a child stares at a mannequin in a storefront window; eyes fixed intently, waiting. Waiting to catch the slightest movement. Waiting to see if there’s life in the mysterious plastic body. The Central Park concert with Aimee Mann brought such images to mind. Stoic and beautiful, standing in front of thousands of bewildered fans, Mann transmitted the energy of a true songwriter and natural artist.
There were moments of sudden splendor, as her backing band, dressed in suits, lifted the mood with tight rhythms tucked beneath Mann’s voice. Yet, just when I was most engaged with the sounds, I couldn’t help staring into my ticket stub. I couldn’t help staring into the expressions on other listeners’ faces. I wondered if any of Mann’s fans realized they could buy several of her records for the cost of admission.
After a while, Mann played a few of her amazing songs from the Magnolia soundtrack. She also covered Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” after telling the story of her old crush on Noel Gallagher. Later she reminisced about her Academy Award loss to some Phil Collins monkey-movie love-song. Each moment of the show, one could speculate, allowed a different thought or feeling to go through Mann’s mind, yet there was something lacking, as if the night was a long lull. It didn’t frustrate me when people left early and it didn’t frustrate me when others pushed towards the front, trying to get a better seat. As Mann stared down the middle of the crowd and I glanced up into the night-air and surrounding trees, this performance felt like the longest sound check in history.