Wintery Oregon air was nowhere to be found inside the McDonald Theatre Saturday night when opening artist Vusi took the stage with warm South African soul music. His solo performance included just an acoustic guitar and a mic (sometimes a soapbox), but his mix of upbeat, socially aware tunes packed more than your average one-man-show punch. If anyone was in a poor mood when they arrived, they were certainly smiling by the time Vusi’s set was done. And after his first song, crowds here to see Amos Lee cleared from the lounge and entryways to hear his message. Vusi, an activist/poet who still lives in his native country and has close ties with Nelson Mandela and Dave Matthews, really found a connection with the Eugene crowd, and was a perfect introduction to the main act.
Once Amos Lee and his band entered, girls went wild. I overheard a female fan declare “I want to make out with his voice” and male fans got agitated when other concert go-ers blocked their view of the stage. Everyone was ecstatic and men and women, young and old were swaying, clapping, and singing along. Fairly impressive for an artist who’s currently releasing his fourth studio album.
Lee was joined by an ensemble of seven, featuring two backup vocalists, a keyboardist, and a pedal steel player. The set was a mixture of a solo acoustic sound which resembled his latest album, Mission Bell, as well as a full band sound with everyone on stage grooving together, keeping the audience amped up.
A few songs into the night Lee proclaimed to have a “shattered voice” after asking the crowd how he sounded. Apparently the Portland show from the previous night had taken its toll on the band, who did not seem nor sound affected. When I asked Andy, the pedal steel player, how the show felt in comparison to Portland, he said that “every show has its charm, and tonight’s was great; more of a theatre feel than a club feel.” Sometimes that’s bound to happen at the McDonald Theatre, I guess.
The audience wasn’t fazed by the comparison, nor was Lee when an attendee shouted loud enough to be heard over the music “don’t touch me!” Lee comedically carried the theme throughout the rest of the show with fans following suit shouting an additional “touch me!” here and there.
The band briefly left the stage to let Lee perform “Out of the Cold”, a song on Mission Bell he wrote after playing for wounded American troops. When they returned they brought Vusi with them who sang “Jesus” and did the song wonderful, blues justice. The encore featured a guitar-less Lee, who, with his glasses and plaid, had a very Robert Downey Jr. effect.
After a flawlessly executed performance there should be no doubt as to Lee’s talents and loyal fan base, and hopefully sales of Mission Bell, which releases January 25th, will attest to that.