It was the perfect atmosphere in Pittsburgh for what Amos Lee had to offer us. The air was hot and thick with sweat and soul, and it would have seemed like a sin to listen to this Deep-South sounding troubadour in any other setting.
The crowd was rife with energy as a man who looks more likely to be making you coffee than rocking the house takes the stage. I’m unfamiliar with the music of Amos Lee, and looking around the varied types of people in the audience, I’m unsure of what to expect. From college frat boys, to handfuls of girls that could easily be the daddy’s little princess type, middle-aged women and the typical indie-rock kid, every societal caste is well represented at Pittsburgh’s Rex Theatre tonight.
From the moment the music begins, I am in awe. Here stands a scruffy white guy in a pork-pie hat who sings like Marvin Gaye and makes the air feel like sex. Feeling every lyric and melody that he’s singing, Amos Lee plays entire songs with his eyes closed. His vocals are unbelievably smooth, as are the harmonies. As a matter of fact, the 4-part harmonies on “Night Train” were enough to make me audibly moan. The rest of the band—keys, bass, and drums—are just as wrapped up in the music, the keyboardist unable to stay in his seat for many of the songs, bouncing on his stool with every other beat. The band’s excellent use of dynamics is striking and effective in a world where every band keeps everything cranked up to 11, nowadays.
I can tell right away that this is what Paulo Nutini is trying to be. This is what Shawn Mullins wanted to accomplish. This perfect blend of blues, funk, folk, soul, and rock, with hints of Van Morrison‘s ghost and dripping with the sexual tension and release of a romantic evening is exactly what so many other musicians have tried to accomplish and, as close as they’ve come, have fallen short.
Adding to this already spectacular blend of genres and styles is Lee’s lyrical content—both depressing and hopeful. The overall effect makes you feel as though you’re going to spend one perfect evening with the perfect partner and then kill yourself. Some songs, such as “Bottom of the Barrel” and “Shout Out Loud” cause the entire theatre to clap along, almost giving the feeling you’re in attendance of a Southern Baptist Gospel Choir. No matter what, Amos Lee’s songs each evoke some sort of strong emotion.
Whether he tries to or not, Lee connects with his audience. There isn’t a lot of crowd interaction and funny anecdotes from the road and the studio. As a matter of fact, Lee only addresses the audience to introduce the band. Regardless, the entire crowd is swaying and moving throughout the show. On the up-tempo songs, the venue takes on a party-like atmosphere, with everyone dancing and singing every line along with the band. Even on the mellow songs, you can’t help but move and dance. Even the types whom you know would normally be standing there with their arms crossed have their head bopping and a hip shaking with the rest of the audience. The energy is infectious.
Including the 5-song encore, Amos Lee and his band inhabited the stage for over an hour and a half, closing the show with a cover of Queen‘s “Fat Bottomed Girls” fit for a hoedown. Granted, it would be the sexiest hoedown this country has ever seen. The show was well worth the ticket-price, and then some. Where I would complain about most venues being so warm, it helped to set the stage for the sounds Amos Lee made come from his guitar and his throat. At many shows, one wonders when the band is going to be done, secretly sighing at each additional song they play. Amos Lee could have played all night and the party would have just continued. We had girls, we had boys, and we had beer and had the band played on, we would have as well.
Finally, I feel it is my duty to issue a warning to those planning to attend this tour. There is one precaution that I would advise to you, and that is do not listen to Amos Lee while wearing pants. They’ll just get in the way.
Written by: Sara Bellum
Photo: Jonathan Davis