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Aimee Mann, National Stadium, 1st July 2002

There's something about the look of Aimee Mann on her album covers that makes you think that, when she opens her mouth, something strange will come out. It's not that she's ever been involved in any Courtney Love type antics: she just looks so intense and, well, a bit scary.

Walking on stage with her band, she is relaxed and smiling. And when she speaks, she says intelligent, funny and gracious things. "I wore my nice suit for you guys!" For an artist who has been around for over 10 years, Mann remains surprisingly obscure. Sure, the National Stadium is completely full of her intensely loyal fans, but mention her name to anyone else and they'll probably not place her. Music is an unjust business and Mann is one of its biggest casualties. After struggling with record companies for most of her career, she was royally snubbed by the Oscars when they decided she wasn't worthy of the accolade for her stunning "Magnolia" soundtrack.

Tonight she dips in equal measure into her four albums and also plays some songs from her new album, due for release in August. Mann has one of those voices like Michael Stipe or Bono, where there is no chance of it belonging to anyone else. She kicks off with 'You leave me no choice in the matter' from her second album and you know you're going to enjoy this gig.

'That's just what you are', and 'I Should've Known', from her debut "Whatever", are as upbeat as Aimee Mann songs get, while during the sombre 'I've had it' and 'Fourth of July', if anyone happened to be dropping pins, they would have been audible. When she takes off her jacket, there's a few whistles and she looks quite pleased. Her lyrics are so intelligent and introspective (her father is a psychologist incidentally) that you forget she's also an attractive female. Back onstage for an encore, Mann and her band break into the gorgeous 'Save Me' from "Magnolia" and you can feel a collective shiver in the rather hot venue.

Back when she played at Féile in 1995, her biggest hit to date was 'Stupid Thing' from "Whatever". This is still probably her most famous song and when she begins it, the crowd are reminded of why they first fell for Aimee Mann. "No one ever sings along to my songs," she told us earlier, but you could definitely hear some kind of murmur coming from the stalls. It sounds remarkably mainstream, as do most of her songs, and you can't help but think that if her albums had been properly promoted, she could be huge. She finishes with the lovely 'Wise Up' and you feel you have witnessed something a bit special.

Anne-Louise Foley

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