REVIEW: Sadness, Stories, and Songs – Amos Lee

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Photo by Kellen Nordstrom

It was Sunday, March 31st when rock/soul singer took to The Riverside Theater to a packed house of mostly middle-aged fans. With an unmatched cool factor, Amos Lee paired his pained soulful voice with stories of his family, his love life and his admiration for the city of Milwaukee. Saying that we were on a short list of places that he’d do a 5-day stint just as long as we promised to bring all our friends. A 5-day stint, would have at least meant that the show would’ve lasted longer.

The Band
Philadelphia born folk-soul singer Amos Lee has been writing music for some time now. Originally a school teacher and bartender, Lee found his calling in 2003 when he decided to pursue a career in music. Since then he has been opening acts for Norah Jones, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and many other prolific singer/songwriters.

His sound is that of folk and soul reminiscent of Ottis Redding, Luther Vandross, and Joni Mitchell. Choosing to sing about life experiences that his audience can relate to Amos Lee has no problem connecting to his audience in a largely emotional way. Something that I was not particularly prepared before. This culmination of sound is brought to life by his extremely talented band that ranges from guitars, horns, and percussion to mandolins, sitars, church organs, and a few keyboards.

The Experience
Amos Lee has an undeniable swagger that comes with a singer/songwriter. There’s something about being able to manipulate an audience’s emotion to fit whatever song it is that you might be playing. With a hint of fun pretentiousness for good measure, Amos Lee knows how to work a crowd into a frenzy or to sink them into their chair with everything they might feel in their darkest moments. Not knowing his abilities to do this, it made the show a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

Coming out to a gracious welcome from The Riverside, Amos Lee began the show with All You Got Is a Song off his latest album. The sultry hit displayed the range that we would be experiencing for the show with impressive vocals tinged with pain, matched with whimsical orchestral sounds backed by his band it was clear that the audience wouldn’t be prepared.

Amos Lee matches his singing abilities with his incredible storytelling. Sometimes storytime can really detract from a show, but in this case, it truly added to every song we experienced. There is something to be said for a singer who isn’t afraid to share with the audience what he felt at the time he wrote his song. And man did some of those stories hit hard. In particular, Amos Lee told us about how he was there for his grandmother’s, the woman that raised him, death. The ability to convey such a tragic story can sometimes be an absolute buzzkill on a concert vibe, but in this case, it geared up the next song even more. Hang On, Hang On is an incredibly moving song and I think you’d be hard matched to find someone that can’t relate to it.

As he went on to tell stories and sing songs it almost felt that he should’ve been there for a few more days just so we could all participate in his experiences too. It’s sobering to go to a show that you wait with so much anticipation to hear what his next story might be, was he alone, was he happy, who was with him, each song held weight to it that was as uplifting as it was striking. It’s easy to idolize musicians, but every once in a while you come across a show that hits home on so many levels that you realize they aren’t just making music about their experiences, but are also reaching out to their audience in hopes of some sort of semblance.

The Verdict
Amos Lee’s band is incredible, almost to the point that they overshadow his singing and songwriting. They could’ve upped his vocals, but at the same time, I think he wanted people to witness his ragtag crew of Philadelphians. This show was much different than any other show I’ve come across. I was there for the music, but what wowed me, even more, was the storytelling and comradery I felt with relating to his music.

It was haunting. It was beautiful. It ended too soon. I wanted more and just like that, the show was over. While that can be a detracting factor in a concert, after reflection I find that it was just perfect. It was a great Sunday night show and The Riverside couldn’t have fit his sound any better. Highly recommend seeing his live shows. It brings you in on such a larger volume of understanding his music than just listening to the studio sessions are.

Setlist:

All You Got Is A Song
Supply and Demand
Crooked
Jesus
Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight
Hang On, Hang On
Spirit / Down by the Riverside / Faith
Violin
Baby I Want You
Sweet Pea
Flower
Little Light
Windows Are Rolled Down

Encore:
Night Train
Arms of a Woman

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