Amos Lee @ 9:30 Club / A Review

Amos Lee was at his best last Wednesday night at the 9:30 Club, where he played a full hour and a half set of new songs from his recent release, Mission Bell, as well as several well-loved older tunes that helped launch the singer/songwriter's career.

Lee was surprisingly well-suited to the venue, which tends to lend itself more to harder rock and dance music (Girl Talk's show was a sensation here a few months back). But from the sweet-singing opening act, the Secret Sisters, to Lee's mellow yet soulful on-stage vibe, the openness and high volume packed in the club resulted in a friendly, feel-good atmosphere.

Starting things off with a relaxed track from "Mission Bell" called "El Camino," Lee performed an impeccably crafted, dynamic set. There were ups; the bluesy "Jesus" made particularly good use of the two backup singers to create a full, punchy sound with a kick, and the crowd-pleaser "Sweet Pea" brightened even the dark walls of the 9:30 Club.

Lee struck a quieter, more melancholy note with his best known tune, "Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight," and a hint of bluegrass with "Clear Blue Eyes," which the harmonizing Secret Sisters sang, filling in for Lucinda Williams, who sings the duet on "Mission Bell." Other songs included "Violin," "Bottom of the Barrel," "Black River" and "Cup of Sorrow," again with a mix mostly of songs from Mission Bell and the artist's first album, Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight.

Lee's voice was undoubtedly the star of the show. Gruff and raspy at points and clear as a bell at others, his vocals jumped out in a way that gets muffled in the recordings. Part of this was undoubtedly a product of the spontaneous nature of a live show. But Lee's improvisations were spot-on, actually improving the experience of his music (not always the case when you grow to like a particular track on an album).

His band, while clearly comprised of strong players, lacked chemistry. For the most part, the song arrangements were simple and precise, leaving little room for spontaneity. The musicians came across as a strong studio band, playing exactly what was written on the page and adding little else by way of personality or finesse to keep the audience interested. In fact, Lee's acoustic set hit home the relative superfluity of the band.

While that was Lee's last date in D.C. for awhile, he does come to Richmond, Virginia and Baltimore in May. All in all, the show framed Lee's talents nicely and allowed fans plenty of opportunity to enjoy his bluesy songs and rich voice.

**Special thanks to Jess Righthand for contributing this post**