Amos Lee | photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN
XPN Fest Recap: Amos Lee and Spoon find common ground in groove
Unexpected match-ups at #XPNFest aren’t exactly uncommon — it’s kind of what we do, bringing together artists and sounds and styles that might not normally be paired together and getting fans of one to consider the other. Mass horizon expansion, if you will.
Last night’s headlining show at BB&T Pavilion was admittedly a puzzler, a little-bit-of-everything mix of The Suffers‘ soul, Chicano Batman‘s psychedelic Latin rock, and a dual headlining set from Austin’s Spoon and Philly’s Amos Lee. The two at the end in particular were a peculiar pair, the former occupying the gritty fringes of aggressive indie rock and the latter a singer-songwriter who takes the stage on stately theaters across the country and around the world.
But they showed that they had more in common than meets the eye — or ear, rather. In a word: groove.
Lee has traversed a sea of sounds and styles himself since his first XPN festival appearance at Singer-Songwriter weekend in 2004. His early records reveled in 70s sides and breezy, breathless soul; a few albums later, on Mission Bell, he was firmly rooted in rustic southwestern folk. His two most recent works, 2013’s Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song and last year’s Spirit, are easily his two finest, drawing on sounds of jazz, rock, hip-hop and pop, and infusing all of them into his singular songwriting. The two constants: Lee’s mellifluous, impeccable vocals — dude has pipes like Sam Cooke, and they only get better over time — and the slick, Stevie Wonder-esque grooves that he concocts with whatever players surround him.
Last night, it was an all-star, mostly-Philly ensemble. With the exception of Solomon Dorsey on bass from St. Louis, Lee was joined by locals David Streim on piano, Jaron Olevsky on keys, Fred Berman on drums and multi-instrumentalists Andy Keenan and Zach Djanikian on guitar, horns and more. They were loose (and tight) and fun, working in covers of George Michael’s “Faith” into the title track from Spirit, and then mashing Hall and Oates’ “Sara Smile” with Ginuwine’s “Ride My Pony,” with Lee’s BFF Mutlu on the assist.
“When we were playing The Fire and The Tin Angel and The Point, it never occurred to me that we would play this crazy place,” Lee said, looking out at the cavernous expanse of the BB&T. “This is a beautiful music community we live in. I had to fight for us last night in Pittsburgh.” Between gliding guitars (both acoustic, electric and slide-driven), warm washes of keys and deep harmonies, Lee’s band struck a melody and followed where it led, accents of sax leading their way. Speaking of horns, Lee was also joined for half the set by Preservation Hall Jazz band — and the groove amped up from smooth to electrifying in a driving take on “Cup Of Sorrow” and Pres Hall’s “Oop Oop A Loop.” They closed with a very Big Easy take on “Sweet Pea,” then for an encore brought out Cam Franklin from The Suffers to guest on a slick cover of “Yes We Can, Can” — an Alain Toussaint song popularized by The Pointer Sisters.
Austin rockers Spoon are loud, jagged and brash. They are unquestionably a rock band of the take-no-prisoners sort, with charismatic frontman Britt Daniel’s six-foot-something frame cutting an imposing figure up front. Another thing Spoon is: sexy. Even on a dimly-lit stage with sinister sci-fi-inspired towers of lighting — references on social media included the Alien franchise and the Death Star — it was clear that their sense of cool came not from reckless abandon but collected confidence. Jim Eno’s sick and suave beats harnessed the band’s experimental edges and brought them to the center, close, comfortable, contented and longing. I mean, even with its existential themes, “Inside Out” could be a “Let’s Get It On” for the Pitchfork set.
There was disco too, in the bump-and-grind of “I Turn My Camera On” from Gimmie Fiction and the slick funk “Don’t You Evah” from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The band turned up the rock on “The Underdog” and “Do You,” but the fluid sensibilities were still there. Daniel wasn’t much for conversation through it all — he did note that this was probably the biggest Philly-area crowd Spoon had played to, and gave as much get-pumped-up attention to the fans on the lawn as he did the die-hards in the front. He also was big on spinning, striking poses, sprawling across the stage, crouching to look cameras dead-on in their lenses, moving to the music, all the way up to the concluding catharsis of “Rent I Pay” — which still managed to swing amid its barreling riffs.
Earlier in the evening, Houston soul faves The Suffers played their second set of the day as the BB&T Pavilion opened its gates. They were followed by LA faves Chicano Batman, delivering its third XPN-centric showcase this year of the new album Freedom Is Free. Below, check out a gallery of photos from last night’s show, as well as setlists from Spoon and Lee.
Amos Lee Setlist
Windows Are Rolled Down
Bottom of the Barrel
Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight
Spirit / Down by the Riverside / Faith
Won’t Let Me Go / Sara Smile / Pony (with Mutlu)
Cup of Sorrow (with Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
Mad (with Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
Oop Oop A Loop (with Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
Shoop (with Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
Sweet Pea (with Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
Yes We Can, Can (with Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
Do I Have to Talk You Into It
I Turn My Camera On
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
Don’t You Evah
I Ain’t the One
Anything You Want
Can I Sit Next To You
My Mathematical Mind
Don’t Make Me a Target
Rent I Pay