Monday, August 18, 2008

Amos Lee at the Gothic Theater

Television producers love Amos Lee. Since his self-titled debut album in 2005, Amos Lee songs have been featured on nearly a dozen primetime dramas. His voice usually accompanies a montage near the end of an episode, when the doctor/boss/protagonist is sitting alone in the dark after making a major mistake. In the past, an artist who had such a specific niche would go unnoticed or be forgotten. However, thanks to the interweb and iTunes, Amos Lee’s career has benefitted from his knack of creating soundtrack-fitting songs. This was painfully apparent Saturday night at his show at the Gothic Theatre.

The venue was jam-packed with every demographic primetime television is shooting for. Sitting along the back row was the over-40 crowd. Men in Tommy Bahama shirts and the desperate housewives of Douglas County drank light beer. On the floor, 30-something guys with blue-and-white striped dress shirts with jeans and thin-framed glass discussed how much they love the Garden State soundtrack. Birkenstock wearing pseudo-hipsters with patchy beards were rubbing elbows with teenage couples. In the middle of this scene were pockets of early 20-something nursing majors drinking Coronas and complaining about tall people standing in front of them. The crowd could have easily been expecting to see an advanced screening of this season “Grey’s Anatomy” premiere.

Instead, opener Pricilla Ann took the stage first, and all the chatter about Garden State and exams abruptly ended. With only half an hour, Pricilla Ann managed to steal the crowd’s hearts with her quirky, girl-next-door demeanor (at one point telling the crowd she was drunk because of the altitude after drinking wine out of a Starbucks cup). Her angelic voice held the audience’s attention despite only being accompanied by her guitar. When her set ended, all the guys in the crowd probably wanted to get her number, while the women became anxious for Amos Lee.

After about a 45-minute break and a request that no photos or video be taken, Amos Lee and his band took the stage and immediately went into “Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight.” This subdued and soulful song was greeted by howls of delight from the crowd. Without missing a beat, the band changed tempo and went into “Supply and Demand,” an upbeat and polished song off his second record of the same name that had the 20-somethings screaming, “I love you Amos.”

Amos Lee’s set spanned 20 songs and what seemed like half as many genres. “Bottom of the Barrel” played like an upbeat Southern church hymn. “What’s Been Going” had an acoustic melancholy that might land it in the next Cameron Crowe film. And “Won’t Let Me Go” sounded like Amos’ love letter to ’70s soul. In the middle of this journey through influences, Amos went into crowd favorite “Sweet Pea,” but instead of a simple ukulele pop tune, the band played a bigger and fuller version that had the whole audience singing along.

It wasn’t just the songs that showcased Lee’s influences, though. His stage performance featured Buddy Guy’s plucking, Waylon Jennings’ gunman grip and posture, Justin Timberlake’s shoulder shrugs, head bob and hand gestures during breakdowns – which were originally Michael Jackson’s. Amos would close his eyes whenever a big note came belting out. It was clear that he had been groomed for the stage.

By the time he finished his set, the crowd started making their way to the exits. They were either gassed by the passion of the set or were unaware that encores are an inevitability. Nevertheless, Amos came back out for a five-song encore that began with “Soul Suckers” and ended with a crowd-favorite of a cover, Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls.”

After nearly two hours of music that sweat folk, soul, blues and gospel, everyone in the crowd was left exhausted. Amos Lee’s passion permeates off the stage, but it doesn’t feel put on. His genuine love of music and performance is contagious, and it leaves people feeling the same way he probably felt when writing each song; happy, lonely and depressed – which is probably why television producers continually use his songs to capture the right moment at the end of the episode.

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