Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 | 1:57 p.m.
Amos Lee: soul-baring singer-songwriter or smooth-talking lover man? On Tuesday night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the answer was both.
Yes, that was Philly-born Lee, the man behind low-key gems such as “Arms of a Woman” and “Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight,” doing his best Teddy Pendergrass on the “Love TKO” sound-alike “Won’t Let Me Go” — the most pleasant surprise in a show full of them.
Forgive yourself if you pegged Lee as a coffeehouse act gone big time. His most popular work would not sound out of place in a Starbucks, and his association with Blue Note Records, which has produced all five of his albums since 2005, doesn’t exactly carry the edge it did when Jackie McLean was squonking hard bop classics for the label in the mid-’60s.
But Lee is a savvy performer who knows how to wring the most out of his laid-back repertoire. His band members switch instruments. He rearranges the staging. He drops in well-placed covers out of nowhere. He works the crowd.
He handles them, too, and there were more than a few yahoos taking advantage of the Smith Center’s friendly acoustics. (When will audiences realize that a concert is not a one-on-one conversation with the artist?)
Entertaining anecdotes helped keep the mood light, even when the songs weren’t. He balanced the sedate “Dresser Drawer” by telling a funny sucks-to-be-him story of the song’s inspiration, his buddy Johnny.
Later, he prefaced “Jesus” by reminiscing about his bourbon-loving grandfather. He even lobbed an observant dig at our comp culture: “Vegas is the only town where I’m like, ‘Did these people pay for their tickets?’”
Lee’s multitasking five-piece band made it so the live songs never lost the fullness of their studio versions. Indeed, his live band is the same group who recorded “Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song,” for which his current tour is named.
Zach Djanikian rotated among electric guitar, mandolin, banjo and baritone sax and shared backing vocal duties with bassist Annie Clements. Pedal steel player Andy Keenan doubled on sax, banjo, dobro and guitar, and keyboardist Jaron Olevsky played an accordion for a run of songs with all six musicians, including drummer Fred Berman, gathered around a pair of mics at center stage.
But if there’s a lasting memory of Lee’s performance, it was his outside-the-box turn as lady-killing soul man. I’m not sure how many babies have been conceived to “Won’t Let Me Go” over the years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few audience members went home and made a late-night iTunes purchase.
After all, the money they would’ve spent on Amos Lee tickets has to go somewhere.
Tuesday night’s setlist: “Windows Are Rolled Down,” “Tricksters, Hucksters and Scamps,” “Bottom of the Barrel,” “Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight,” “Chill in the Air,” “Dresser Drawer,” “Arms of a Woman” (solo), “Charles St.” (solo), “Supply and Demand,” “Jesus,” “Colors,” “Fat Bottomed Girls” (Queen cover) and “The Man Who Wants You.”
Also, “Won’t Let Me Go”/“Thinkin Bout You” (Frank Ocean cover), “Sweet Pea,” “Scared Money” and “Street Corner Preacher.” Encore: “Southern Girl” (with “A Long Walk” and “Brown Sugar” tags) and “End of the Road” (Boyz II Men cover).
Philly-born Jack Houston is the editor of Las Vegas Magazine. He didn’t have a chance to repeatedly call out for his favorite Amos Lee song; it was played first.
Smith Center for the Performing Arts The Smith Center for the Performing Arts offers a blend of performances by resident companies and touring attractions. The 5-acre cultural campus features three performance spaces, which includes a main performance area with more than 2,000 seats. This downtown cultural center of Las Vegas looks to educate, entertain and excite community members.
To provide and preserve a high-quality performing arts center that is embraced by the community and recognized as a vital force by supporting artistic excellence, education and inspiration for all.
To entertain, educate, enrich and inspire the southern Nevada community.
Thanks to the generous support of our dedicated founders, members, donors and community partners, The Smith Center continues to provide a wide variety of services for Southern Nevada residents, including access to world-class performances, inspirational Education and Outreach programs for students and teachers, and a unique space to host events, meetings and special occasions. Celebrating our fifth season, we depend upon public support to fulfill our mission and serve as the Heart of the Arts® for many years to come.
With ticket sales covering just 75 percent of our operating budget for each season, the remaining 25 percent comes from the community we serve. Philanthropic support at all levels helps provide programming that entertains, educates, enriches and inspires. By giving to The Smith Center, you play a vital role in providing an important resource for our community.
There are many opportunities to volunteer and play a direct role with your community’s performing arts complex. Volunteers engage with staff and patrons to enhance experiences at The Smith Center, and can serve in various capacities including tour guide/docent, usher, security team member or community ambassador. As important members of The Smith Center team, volunteers help us remain financially sustainable and provide numerous services for the community. Please show your support for The Smith Center’s mission by gifting your time and unique skills.
Members’ annual support provides crucial resources for The Smith Center’s artistic programming, education opportunities and cultural enrichment each year. There are a variety of giving options and levels, and Members receive exclusive benefits and behind-the-scenes opportunities based on their level of support. To learn more, please visit www.thesmithcenter.com/support-us/members.
The Encore Society recognizes those generous donors who have included The Smith Center as a part of their estate plan. Corporate Sponsorship is available to companies to underwrite all, or part, of a program, performance or event.
Fanfare! is The Smith Center’s young progressional networking organization, open to anyone with an interest in the performing arts who is between the ages of 21-40. And our Show Dedication allows for the celebration of an individual or special occasion with unique recognition opportunities during a specific performance.
The Smith Center provides world-class performing arts and outreach and education throughout the Southern Nevada region.
The organization originally formed in 1996 as the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS Myron G. Martin President and CEO Donald D. Snyder Chairman Dr. Keith Boman Vice Chairman Mark Tratos Secretary Michael Yackira Treasurer David Dunn Alan M. Feldman Richard Haddrill Fred Hipwell Nancy Houssels Todd-Avery Lenahan Scott MacTaggart Jerry Nadal John Nelson Richard Plaster Rory Reid Kim Sinatra Roger P. Thomas
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