Amos Lee at the State Theatre, 3/24/11
March 24, 2011
State Theatre, Minneapolis
Last night at the State Theatre was as surprising as the most recent snow accumulation throughout the Twin Cities at the start of spring.
Amos Lee is on tour in support of his most recent album release, Mission Bell (which features musical guests Sam Beam of Iron & Wine, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, Priscila Ahn, and members of Calexico). The show wasn't sold-out, but you couldn't tell from the audience; the crowd energetic, loud, and absolutely thrilled to be sitting before Amos Lee. All I kept thinking was 'there must be a lot of tourists at this show,' because Minnesotans have some of the most reserved and laid-back dispositions out of any crowd in the United States. Yet, this wasn't the case last night.
Surrounded by a seven piece band including two back-up singers and one hell of a piano player, it was obvious the emphases wasn't solely on Mr. Lee's phenomenal vocals -- turns out, he's one hell of a showman. He told stories over his incessant guitar tuning, and played songs that had never been recorded much less rehearsed in what he noted as "off-the-cuff performances." Lee confessed that he had fallen ill the day before his show here in the Twin Cities, experiencing strep-throat like symptoms, to which a man in the back of the crowd yelled, "Amos I'm a Doctor!" And this was prior to the woman sitting to the right of me screaming, "I want to have your babies!"
Now I'm sure I know what you're thinking, Amos Lee... Isn't that the sleepy-folk singer? I was shocked myself to find out that he isn't. Last night's show was anything but sleepy; it was fun, and vigorous. Switching up band members to cover different segments of songs, Amos was comedic, and above all playing the hell out of the best songs from all four of his albums. Infiltrated with soul, folk, jazz and R&B, Lee and his band filled the State Theater with so much sexiness. I'm quite sure the man could have shown up in a burlap bag, sans a guitar, and sat up on the stage simply breathing into the microphone, and his fans would still have been just as thrilled.
"Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight" was a highlight of the night, as fans stood and sang every single word aloud, screaming and hollering at Lee; his disposition was appreciative and laid-back. I still can't believe the outpouring of love from the audience. (I really wish fans would do that at more concerts. You can tell how much your energy affects the artist's performance for the better.)
During his solo/acoustic performances of some of his more soulful, personal songs, the crowd lowered down and realized precisely why they fell in love with Amos Lee in the first place - his voice. His voice could draw out every droplet of emotion and leave you yearning for more. As large as a church choir and with the stagnant compassion of John Prine, Amos uplifted the audience and brought them back down all at once. Which is of course why he covered "Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone" by Prine, and with no ill-reception from the Twin Cities audience. Everyone knew all of the words, and loved every second of the dedication.
The highlight of the evening was a hilarious performance involving the entire band. One of the back-up singers, Angel, came out in a white zoot suit, a large man with a voice like Whitney Houston who took center stage with Amos shadowed behind him. It became Angel's stage, for a moment we forgot Amos was even performing. Together, in one of the most spontaneous and most entertaining visuals I've ever seen, the band performed a song I would like to call "Shower of Love." The lyrics were freaky, and the chorus was soulful and full of R&B. It was as if Marvin Gaye, GAYNGS, and R.Kelly did a remix of "Let's Get it On." The entire audience was at their feet attempting to sing along and laughing furiously.
All in all, Amos Lee might surprise you; his recordings are classy and soulful, poppy and breezy. But live, he is a performer above all others. The slow songs were compassionate and riveting, and the upbeat songs were enticing and full of life. Even if you're not a huge fan, I wouldn't miss this one live.
Critic's Bias: I was first introduced to Amos Lee through his song "I'm Not Myself" (2004 EP release). That song could break you apart if listened to it at a weak enough moment in New Jersey.
The Crowd: Mid-20s to 40s, eclectic and excited. Women and men, lovers and friends.
Overheard In The Crowd: Someone in the crowd yells out "Free Bird!" Among the long list of song requests thrown out to Amos during the show. But this one caused the entire crowd to turn their head towards the voice and burst out laughing.
Random Notebook Dump: I wish he had played a bit longer. The show began around 9PM and ended just shy of 10:30PM. Too wonderful, and far too short.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Steve Cohen.
Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight
Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone
Out of the Cold
Stay With Me
Cup of Sorrow
Shower of Love
Arms of a Woman
When the Windows are Rolled Down
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