Live photos/review: Sam Amidon at 92YTribeca
Mon Apr 12 2010
Photos by Jens Schott Knudsen. Review by Joe DeFranceschi.
Sam Amidon's brand of neofolk is a covered-wagon spaceship, an 1850s iPhone, a banjo-plucked cover of R. Kelly (the last one is true). The roots-revivalist, who continues to indulge his unapologetic infatuation with antique Appalachian music, sold out 92YTribeca this past Saturday, as he celebrated the release of I See the Sign, his new album on the Icelandic label Bedroom Community. The Vermont-bred New Yorker's arrangements of songs by Dock Boggs, Ralph Stanley and the anonymous "traditional" match his hypnotic, unkempt vocal drone with synthesizers to extend their expiration date by at least a century.
Amidon's disarmingly charming stage presence is what made the concert experience special. Engaging the crowd in sing-alongs (including on a cover of R. Kelly's "Relief," which is a highlight of the new album) and introducing songs with odd anecdotes—such as an account of a recent dream in which his pillow turned into a cuddly, yet ornery, "small, furry donkey"— helped Sam win our hearts. Joining Amidon onstage were Thomas "Doveman" Bartlett (piano and synth), whose opening set was pleasantly melancholic, and longtime collaborator Shahzad Ismaily on bass and electric guitar.
I See the Sign picks up right where 2008's All Is Well left off; minimal orchestral accents enliven somber murder ballads. Amidon is a 21st-century experimentalist caught in a folkie's body: His simple and endearing ditties are sturdy enough to please both nostalgists and avant-garde devotees.