Amos Lee’s myriad influences were on display as the Philadelphia singer-songwriter ran through his four song set Tuesday evening.
The private performance at John Varvatos Bowery came in anticipation of Lee’s upcoming album, Spirit, scheduled for release August 19. Lee’s first five albums were produced by Blue Note Records, and Spirit marks his inaugural endeavor with John Varvatos/Republic Records.
Many of those in attendance Tuesday had a hand in this latest production and in Lee’s career. They perched comfortably on the sofas and armchairs assembled in front of the stage, flanked by rows of jackets and shoes, in the space formerly occupied by CBGB.
Lee sang with his eyes closed, unprepossessing in his oversized glasses. He was mostly still. His hands, though, when they were not strumming the acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, flew about him, following notes as they stretched, ran or tapped staccato beats. Citing Schoolboy Q as an influence, Lee and his band launched into “Vaporize”—one of the pre-released tracks off Spirit—a catchy tune better tailored for mainstream radio play than the more squarely R&B/soul songs performed during the evening.
Lee’s honeyed vocals were in evidence in “Till You Come Back Through.” But the band seemed to find its best groove in the long instrumental jam session that finished off “Walls.” The song might have come direct from the ’70s, the keyboard creating a sort of random atmosphere, sometimes evoking sax, until, in a series of head rolls, Amos wound the number up to a climax.
“I’m a lucky-ass dude, what can I say, man,” Lee noted of his trajectory from a schoolteacher and a bartender to a performer. The crowd certainly seemed to feel lucky as well, intimately engaged with the music, and cheering at particularly heartfelt moments.
Lee finished with an encore, the title track off of Spirit. Hands in his pockets, he disappeared into the gospel-inspired melody he wrote in New Orleans. “Beautiful,” an audience member remarked as Lee’s last note faded.