It wasn't billed as An Evening of Music and Conversation with Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, but Monday night's show at Mr. Smalls turned into a sort-of relaxed bookstore gig before they even played the first song.
Touring as The Both, they hit the stage, with drummer Matt Mayhall, seemingly in no hurry to get to the first song. It invited a good-natured dialogue with the crowd that included an overenthusiastic member of the drinking section that Ms. Mann would dub "the Mr. Smalls puppet come to life."
Mr. Leo joked about how the whole discussion, which had them describing a whirlwind Sunday tour of Pittsburgh, sounded like a classic last-song speech and how it would be a "great troll move" to just play one song and leave.
Eventually, they got around to playing "The Gambler," the lead-off track from their debut album and the spark for the unlikely partnership between the cool-voiced Ms. Mann and generally more fiery Mr. Leo. She has a lovely, effortless style and he's one of the more melodic former hardcore singers. So it's not too surprising that the harmonies would meld as beautifully as they do. They jell musically as well, with Ms. Mann wrapping her bass around his tough and tender guitar work.
They went about playing the entire 11-song record, a mostly power-pop effort akin to the New Pornographers or lighter side of the Pretenders. They sacrificed any chance at musical momentum by stopping to chat and tell stories between every song but did make it a different kind of casual treat for the fans. Introducing "Hummingbird," they struck comic gold with the statuesque Ms. Mann revealing that her musical partner is an avowed Tolkien nerd.
"The best heckling audience on the whole tour," as Mr. Leo called it, did lose some steam when the Smalls puppet, according to one audience member, "was asked to leave" several songs in.
The two dipped into their catalogs a bit with Ms. Mann doing "Save Me" to some fine reverb-y guitar from Mr. Leo and him chugging through the unreleased "Lonsdale Avenue" and rocking into "Bottled in Cork."
"I like the idea of making Ted sing this song," she said, introducing the only real hit between them, the 'Til Tuesday song, "Voices Carry." The stripped-down duet of the dreamy New Wave song was actually a thing of beauty. So we all loved her making Ted sing the song.
They rocked out the ending with their punchy cover of Thin Lizzy's "Honesty Is No Excuse," letting Mr. Leo go a little wild on the solo.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576.