It is hard to write about The Both. The press materials consist mostly of the band’s two genuinely significant American songwriters – smart-pop legend Aimee Mann and the exuberant do-it-yourself smart-punk Ted Leo – making lots of funny jokes without really revealing much of anything. Leaves it all up to imagination; but there, fortunately, The Both are not that hard to conjure.
We’ll start with Aimee Mann, who emerged from the one-and-a-half-hit-wonder Boston band Till Tuesday as a shockingly fully formed songwriter, winning the critical (but only the critical) sweepstakes with her first two solo albums, Whatever and I’m with Stupid. Her songs, at least back then, handled deeply personal materials with a level of dispassionate songcraft (verbal and musical) that could fairly be called clinical or even surgical. Woe to the subjects of her songs, I tell you, woe! Hers is a craft somewhat similar to her SoCal smart-pop scenemates like Elliot Smith, Jason Faulkner and Fiona Apple, amped up by a pretty formidable intellect and historically informed by all the guitar pop that I love: Elvis Costello, XTC, Squeeze and the Beatles at the bottom of it all. Only difference is she gets to work with most of these people because they love her back.
Then Mann famously became the poster child for label neglect and abuses, for the radically mismanaged career, the artist hamstrung by unfortunate legal agreements and absent support. But she has since emerged as the wizened poster child for having a good career anyway, and this might have been her greatest contribution to music history, were her songs and records not so consistently excellent.
At first glance, that policy of career self-determination seems to be Mann’s chief similarity with Ted Leo, the frontman of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and a music-industry maverick of DiFranconian proportions. But get a little inside the fellow’s large canon of work, and you will soon begin to hear the affinities with Mann, both in his verbal zest and in his surprising way with a tricky melody – especially on the politicized, hyper guitar pop of 2004’s excellent Shake the Sheets. Leo is hot in all the ways that Mann can be brilliantly icy.
This is a fascinating collision on paper. Bet it is going to be pretty great live.
The Both with Elijah & the Moon, Friday, October 3, 9 p.m., $29-$59, Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock; https://radiowoodstock.com.