Early in last night’s two-hour concert at Lakewood Civic Auditorium, singer-songwriter Amos Lee talked about his recent appearance on The Tavis Smiley Show. He said that Smiley was impressed by the fact that Lee had such a great fanbase and could fill mid-sized concert halls without having anything that resembled a hit. Lee explained that he told Smiley that his intention from the beginning was to build an extensive catalogue rather than just write a few big hits. He put that principle into practice last night as he proceeded to play what he referred to as his “notoriously known” tunes and showed off his incredible range, dipping into rock, folk ,soul and gospel in the process. That approach worked to the guy’s favor and the crowd of about 1100 at the Civic was treated to a terrific show characterized by Lee’s ability to introduce his songs with a series of anecdotes and funny asides that gave the concert a personal feel.
Lee’s terrific five-piece band (several members played multiple instruments and shifted from guitar to banjo and even saxophone) kicked off the show with a spacey jam that preceded Lee’s appearance on stage. It wasn’t just simply intro music, either. The group warmed the audience up with the tight jam that led into “Windows are Rolled Down.” Lee and band then segued into the Dylan-like talking blues number “Tricksters, Hucksters, and Scamps,” one of the best songs on his most recent album, last year’s Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song. Throughout the night, Lee would often slip into falsetto, showing off just how easily he could sing a variety of styles. “Jesus,” a song he dedicated to his late grandfather, was a beautiful gospel number, and “Supply and Demand” was a rootsy rocker that benefited from a bit of banjo. Lee let bassist Annie Clements handle lead vocals on a tongue-in-cheek cover of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”
By reminiscing about previous performances in Cleveland (he fondly recalled playing Jacobs Pavilion and the Kent Stage) and sharing funny stories about meeting people like former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, Lee made the show seem like it was taking place in a living room rather than a high school auditorium. The crowd responded favorably, too, and audience members regularly shouted out requests for songs and tried to engage Lee in conversation, making the concert into a real treat and proving that Lee's theory might just be on the mark. Hit songs can be overrated.