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Review: The Both at Kessler Theater

Posted 8:58am on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014

The banter began before a single note had been struck.

“Ted, would you like to chat a little before we start playing?” asked Aimee Mann, one half of The Both, an ersatz supergroup formed with singer-songwriter Ted Leo.

The pair had just taken the stage Tuesday, donned their instruments — Mann on bass (and later in the evening, acoustic guitar) and Leo with an electric guitar; they were backed by drummer Matt Mayhall — but rather than launch into a song from their just-released debut album, proceeded to get lost in a stemwinder about a recent flight from Denver, which found Leo seated next to a temperamental Texan, whose in-flight meal of fish sticks particularly galled Mann.

Instead of irritating, however, the chatter enchanted — if The Both had only played two or three songs over the course of their 105-minute set Tuesday, and spent the remainder of their time conversing about whatever happened to occur to them, I don’t think anyone would’ve left unhappy. (“We’ve only played five songs at this point!” Leo exclaimed, interrupting an extended discourse.)

The two musicians have an unforced rapport (musically, as well as personally), a needling, affectionate bond not unlike a pair of siblings (Mann occasionally made irritating noises as Leo tuned his guitar, and also mocked his love of J.R.R. Tolkien).

It’s rare to attend a rock show where you’d just as soon listen to speaking as singing, but Tuesday’s concert was that rarity.

Leo allowed the band’s initial shows on this tour found them going “20 minutes between songs,” which elicited an appreciative chuckle from the comfortably full room, before he deadpanned: “We strive to be better these days.”

The songs sparkled too, further highlighting Leo and Mann’s chemistry, a fine blend of both artists’ cerebral sensibilities.

The set list featured the entirety of The Both, as well as a few solo cuts from the two prolific tunesmiths (Mann dusted off Save Me for a rapt room, while Leo’s grim Lonsdale Avenue was magnificent, muscular poetry).

Some musicians muster little more than brief thanks, if they say anything at all.

Others give generously, whether spoken or sung, from the moment they step into the spotlight — The Both provided just that on Tuesday, in blissful abundance.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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