I don’t really want to call Sam Amidon a folk singer. He plays acoustic guitars and banjo and sings traditional Appalachian tunes, but does so much more with this than anyone else performing live music today. Whether he’s re-imagining R. Kelly’s “Relief” or telling a stream of consciousness tale about Christian colleges and Don Cheadle, he is extremely captivating and refreshingly innovative.
Last night Amidon played at Glasslands with Lone Wolf and The Great Republic of Rough and Ready. Along with him on stage was Shahzad Ismaily, a frequent collaborator. The set was a mixture of songs from I See the Sign and All Is Well, two wonderful albums by Amidon.
I don’t know how to fully express what it is like to see Sam Amidon live. In “O Death” where in place of lyrics Sam just holds a single shrieking note. It is clear during that point that this is not an ordinary singer/songwriter. Songs like “Way Go Lily” with lightly plucked guitar chords and strained vocals. You can hear every single part of the song. Every finger movement against the strings. And the crowd singing along just the word “sometimes” to the verses. When he conducts a crowd to sing along it isn’t just a crowded barroom of people singing along to a musician they like, it is Amidon transforming the setting of a performance. Everyone contributing like they are gathered around a fire singing together and it belonging to no one in particular.
Conversely are the songs like “Wedding Dress,” a fast-paced bluegrassy banjo jam. Before breaking out into a banjo solo Amidon poses the question “What d’ya say, bajo?” The song moves quick but still packs the emotional punch that he injects into every song.
The set ended with his amazing rendition of “Relief.” The crowd singing along the words “What a relief to know that love is still alive.” The R. Kelly song is transformed into a southern gospel ballad. No matter how many times I see Sam Amidon perform this song, it still takes my breath away that he can so fully own a pop song of this caliber and be so fully transformative on stage.