STORY WRITTEN BY JARREAU FREEMAN
@JarreauFreeman on Twitter
The crowd was filled with 30, 40 and 50 somethings who bobbed their heads, thrashed their arms and surrendered to other unusual gesticulations that are the norm when the atmosphere pulsates with the melodic rock anthems of David Gray and the soulful, folk tunes of Amos Lee.
Gray brought the energy and Lee the grit to The Mann Center June 19. Each playing 90-minute sets, that didn’t seem to disappoint.
Never did instruments seem to rock as hard as Gray’s as he rotated from the piano, to the guitar to nothing at all, illustrating his versatility and vocal stamina during a non-stop set. His voice was stronger than ever, finding its home boldly amid the full band that accompanied him on stage.
The 47-year-old Brit, whose career spans a few decades, and is comprised of a number of highly-acclaimed records, didn’t miss a beat.
Songs with poignant lyrics such as “My Oh My” from the album “White Ladder” (1998), an acoustic driven ballad, morphed into a vivacious, rock crusade with Gray charging the stage while thousands of voices sung in union, “It takes a lot of love/ it takes a lot of love my friend to keep your heart from freezing/ to push until the end/ My oh my.”
“Back in the World,” from “Mutineers” (2014) also summoned great enthusiasm from Gray’s followers as he chanted “It’s the only way to be/ it’s the only way to be/ I’m naked like a tree/ It’s the only way to be.”
Gray’s fluidity seemed to be the perfect complement to Lee’s subdued performance.
Lee sauntered on stage, cool and collected, grabbing his acoustic guitar, and without speaking a word, entered into a performance of “Windows Rolled Down,” from “Mission Bell” (2011).
Lee, a Philadelphia-native, performed a collection of songs that told his Philadelphia story. His upbeat, folk tune “Tricksters, Hucksters and Scamps,” from “Mountains of Sorrows, Rivers of Song” (2013), which for a moment might had had fans thinking he was from the Louisiana bayou, was about the Schuylkill river.
The lyrical ballad “Arms of a Woman,” was the first song he performed at the Tin Angel Accoustic Café on South Second Street and “Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight” is about the years he lived in Northern Liberties. They’re both from his self-titled album “Amos Lee” (2005).
He also played “Violin” from “Mission Bell” (2011), a beautifull dreary ballad about being in Philadelphia in the middle of January.
“You know, when the cold sets down deep in your bones and you get angry,” he said with a chuckle. “But I tell people, we in Philly don’t get angry, we’re just irritated.”
“Lately I, I’ve been heading for a breakdown,” he sung. “Every time I leave my house/ well, it feels just like a shakedown/ between the street sweepers and the pushers/ are the lawyers who may as well be butchers/ Between the small timing hustlers who all seem to feed upon each other.”
But a moment that seemed to make the audience realize why they loved Lee was his acoustic cover of “Zombie” by the Cranberries, which at one point was performed a capella with Lee and his bandmates transforming the rock song into a haunting experience.
“In your head/ In your head/ Zombie zombie zombie ei ei/ What’s in your head.”
At with that, the crowd erupted.
“When I get to play music it’s like my birthday,” Lee said. “It’s all good to me.”
It seemed to be all good for the crowd too.