Seeing a band live for the first time is always a crapshoot. That ol’ studio magic can often result in overly high live expectations that some artists just can’t meet in the flesh. However, Friday night at the Wiltern wasn’t my first time catching Amos Lee and Langhorne Slim in concert. I’d been blown away by both artists’ live shows before and knew I was in for a night of stellar showmanship and damn fine music.
I first caught show opener Langhorne Slim live way back in 2009 at the much smaller Hotel Cafe during which he “jumped, kneeled, swayed, and danced over every inch of that stage and a bit of the audience area, too.” Though I’ve continued to enjoy his recorded releases, I’d yet to see him live since and was eager to find out how his raucous live show would translate to the much larger stage at The Wiltern.
After a bit of a delay at the Will Call window, I made it into the theatre just in time to catch “Song For Sid,” my favorite track off the latest Langhorne Slim release, The Way We Move. Written for his late grandfather, the track’s slower tempo and emotional lyrics allow Langhorne’s vocals to truly shine through as he digs deep and bares his soul through his voice. While I love the rowdy Langhorne as much as the next gal (his performance of “Two Crooked Hearts” Friday night was a whirlwind of energy and proved that no matter how large the stage, it’ll never be big enough to contain Langhorne), it’s on slower tracks like “Song for Sid” and “Past Lives,” which he performed later in the set, that Langhorne reveals himself as more than just an entertainer and solidifies his place as an artist.
After an intermission during which the photographer hubby and I waited in a long line to have Langhorne Slim sign our newly bought copy of The Way We Move on vinyl, Amos Lee took the stage. I had caught his live show a bit more recently when he played The Music Box (now The Fonda Theatre) back in early 2011, and while I was unfamiliar with the majority of the songs he had performed at that time, I went into this show with a much more thorough appreciation of his catalogue. Said catalogue spans everything from barn-stomping country to bedroom R&B to rowdy Southern rock, and all of the above were on display during Lee’s performance Friday night.
After kicking off the show with “Windows Are Rolled Down” off 2011’s Mission Bell, Lee played “Tricksters, Hucksters, And Scamps,” the first of several tracks of the night found on his 2013 LP, Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song. As impressed as I was by Lee’s five-piece backing band (young multi-instrumentalist Zach Djanikian was especially remarkable, particularly when he lead the band in a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ About You”), Lee’s stripped-down duet with guest vocalist Priscilla Ahn on “Black River” was a goosebump-inducing set highlight. Just moments after Ahn opened her mouth, an audience member broke the hush that had settled over the crowd to say what we were all thinking: “Aw shit.”
Indeed, this was one vocal audience. Just moments after Lee talked to us about how his grandfather’s passing inspired his song “Jesus,” a female in the crowd implored Lee to “take [his] shirt off,” to which he replied, “I’m singing about my dead grandfather, goddammit.” The ladies in the audience got their share of seductive dancing and sexy vibes from the singer throughout the night, though, resulting in my current discomfort at the thought of how much my own mother loves Amos Lee (you keep those gyrating hips away from my mom, Amos!).
While I knew I was in for two great sets at The Wiltern Friday night, I never could have imagined how much both Langhorne Slim and Amos Lee have grown as performers since I last caught their live shows. Each seemed more confident than ever, and with both currently releasing arguably the best music of their careers, their concerts are benefitting from stronger set lists and larger, more appreciative audiences. Seeing both of these talented performers on the same stage in the same night was damn near overwhelming and an experience I won’t soon forget.
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