CINCINNATI – Let me preface this piece by saying that I love Amos Lee’s music. My wife, who discovered him for our household, more than loves him. Our children – a boy and two girls – 17, 15, 11 – love his music. He is an extraordinary songwriter. If labeled modern folk – a bio says that it was a John Prine album that inspired him to begin writing and playing – it certainly is gritty, urban folk that crosses into Rhythm and Blues, Soul, and Country.
In September of last year, my wife and I traveled nearly five hours to Asheville, N.C. to our first Amos Lee concert. It was held indoors at the quaint Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. He blew us away. His sultry voice recreated his studio sound, and his band’s instrumentals were brilliant. Even his slight changing of songs seemed acceptable and his humor and occasional storytelling made us love him even more. The show, over two hours of pure energy – 23 songs on the set list – was so great that my wife immediately began looking for future dates in which we could attend.
Fast forward to Tuesday, July 25, at Cincinnati’s PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center. It had been a good long while since we’d made that three hour trek for a Jimmy Buffett concert. Those Parrothead events are hazy, but I do recall that Buffett shows – and I’ve seen him near twenty times from San Diego to North Carolina – always began in the daylight and ended in the dark. What I didn’t know at the time, and I believe is one of the most ridiculous mandates in modern history, is there is a noise ordinance which states that concerts at this multi-venue center near nothing visible, must cease at 11 p.m. or pay a $1,000 fine for each minute after the hour.
This is no secret to the local consumers, and perhaps that is why the place was half empty. BUT IT IS ALSO A MANAGEABLE PROBLEM FOR AN ARTIST WHO WANTS TO SATISFY HIS FANS. It certainly wasn’t available when we made the decision to take the whole family – five tickets at $57 per – but there was a 12-song set list on the web the day before the show. 12 songs!!
How could Amos Lee have fixed the problem? Obviously, started the show earlier. It began at 8 p.m., and, Lake Street Dive – which I’d seen before at Mountain Stage in Charleston W.Va., and was wonderfully entertaining – was allowed to play for an hour and fifteen minutes, longer than I’ve ever seen an opening act play. Another 35 to 40 minutes to change the stage, and Amos began. JUST BEFORE 10 P.M.
And though my wife mentioned immediately that this had a different vibe from Asheville, he was fantastic! But given the secret time restraints, I would have much rather heard more songs than five-minute instrumentals; more songs than lengthy stories; any of the gut-wrenching songs – Chill In The Air, Johnson Blvd., Dresser Drawer – from Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, than Hall and Oates’ Sara Smile. Why take three minutes to point out a fans’ sign for a song request, and tell a heart-felt story about an aunt, who is the subject of the requested May I Remind You – which you said you could not remember how to play (Bullshit!) – leading in to the beautifully-executed Arms of a Woman? Time management, man! When you played Sweet Pea, she knew it was over. No encore – bow with the band and bolt. Lights come up, roadies throw down.
Give me Violin – from where my title was pulled. I know, I’m bitching. It wasn’t like we paid for floor seats at Madison Square Garden. But 285 for tickets, 60 for two T-shirts, 25 for an album, 30 for beverages, 200 for a hotel room, another 250 for restaurant meals, 40 for gas, incidentals, that’s 900-plus bucks, Amos. You could have made it worth it, but you chose not to.