Amos Lee - Mesa Arts Center - 8/4/2014
It's been six years since Phoenix has seen Amos Lee. With his Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song album climbing the charts, it's only fitting that he plays intimate shows across the country, and last night's Mesa Arts show was intimacy paired with dark sunglasses and Americana flare. It was clear from the moment I entered the venue that this night was going to be spectacular.
The opening band was Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers, but the only reason I knew that was because that's what was stated on the venue's website. They never once addressed who they were during their entire set. Even later, Lee referred to them as "Amy Helm and her band." Helm took center stage with mandolin on the first two songs, and lackluster dance moves on the rest of the set, but her voice packed a punch and delivered what her stage presence lacked.
The "handsome strangers" were a bassist, a drummer, and an acoustic guitar. They sounded like a straight-from-the-south roots-rock version of Grace Potter blended with Sheryl Crow. The third song contained train-like harmonies. The three-part harmony supplied by the Handsome Strangers complements Amy's melodies very well.
Finally, after the fourth song, she reached the mic and said the first words any of us have heard from her: "David Berger, our wonderful drummer," and motioned to him as he was preparing a washboard, which he laid flat on top of his snare and smacked with a spoon and drumstick. As far as the stage presence goes, the guitarist and bassist were dominant as they play back and forth between parts. The guitarist wailed and shredded on his acoustic guitar (not a normal sight to see), while the bassist showed off a jazz-inspired solo. Before singing an old-style hymn, Amy dedicated the tune to loved ones who have passed. The three vocalists of the group gathered around one mic, and sang a fast-paced hymn about going to heaven. Amy's voice is a powerhouse showstopper, and the way she handled the microphone was playful and polite, just as mic technique should be.