Amos Lee survives Westcott

Review: A rowdy crowd filled The Westcott Theater Friday night to see the folk singer.

Only so many artists can say “the last time I was here, was in ‘07 with the Bob Dylan tour.” And one of those artists is Philadelphia soul/folk singer Amos Lee.

After four years, Lee returned to Syracuse Friday night at The Westcott Theater, this time with singer/songwriter Pieta Brown.

Brown opened the show with her brand of country folk. She played with collaborator, producer and guitarist Bo Ramsey, whose cowboy hat would have made Little Jimmy Dickens proud.

Photo: Peter Caty
Singer-songwriter Pieta Brown, who sees a common ground between herself and Amos Lee, opened for Lee at The Westcott Theater Friday night.

Both with guitars, the two played off each other, layering dark, moody tones on “Are You Free,” a song that has a similar patter to Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding.”

Brown remarked she sees musical common ground between herself and Lee.

“We’ve got a lot of threads because we both write songs about wishes, flowers and love,” she said.

Lee took the stage a little after 9 p.m., accompanied by a five-piece band that included banjo, upright bass and pedal steel guitar.

They played for possibly the most unruly crowd of middle-aged people on record, who jostled and shouted throughout most of the show.

Regardless, Lee and his light and effortless rasp launched right in to “Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight,” from his 2005 self-titled album.

The band was in top form. For as densely layered as Lee’s music can be, the live sound was perfectly balanced.

Lee told a story about one of the first times he played “Cup of Sorrow.” He was visiting a hospice where his friend’s mother was in care. The staff had told him that one particular elderly lady — Dora — didn’t want anyone playing for her. Lee, being obstinate, stood outside her door and played anyway.

“By the time I got to the second verse, she was up out of her bed dancing around the room,” he said. “So, this one goes out to Dora and I always imagine her dancing around my mind.”

Next up, they busted out the pedal steel on “Flower,” a song from Lee’s most recent album, Mission Bell.

Mission Bell is Lee’s fourth release since 2005. He brought on Joey Burns from Arizona band Calexico to produce. Only occasionally does the Calexico sound, which pulls from Latin influences, seep through, but it’s an interesting tone to add on to what writers have called Northern blues with a twang.

In one instance, the slow and soulful “Hello Again” is set against a tango, but really leans closer to 70s pop than anything else.

Still, Lee seems to do best on those slow burning songs like “Out of the Cold,” though his raggedy “Street Corner Preacher” didn’t disappoint as he stomped his foot and bit his words.

As the show wore on, the crowd became increasingly demanding. They’d been shouting since almost the first song “play ‘Black River,’” another from Lee’s 2005 self-titled album. When Lee finally got to it, things didn’t go smoothly. A few bars into the quiet, melancholic tune, he stopped and told a guy in the front row to shut up and go away. It’s not necessarily something you expect at an Amos Lee show, so when a large glittery “I love you Amos” sign rose out of the crowd, it felt a little like bad timing.

After that, Lee played “Windows are Rolled Down” followed by a one-song encore of “Arms of a Woman.”

At the early hour of 10:36 p.m., the band left the stage, glittery signs were packed up and the crowd emptied out of the theater.


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