AM & Shawn Lee perform at the Montserrat House

The psychedelic/funk collaboration AM & Shawn Lee play at the Montserrat House in Washington DC.

WASHINGTON, September 28, 2012 –It’s not totally uncommon, but it’s still a little odd to see when the main member of a band and who the band is named after is someone who doesn’t necessarily front the band. But that’s exactly what AM & Shawn Lee does. Shawn Lee is clearly the band’s focal point and the artist  who draws the most audience attention from the audience. Or, at the very least, he’s the artist the audience came out to see when the band recently performed at the Montserrat House. But it’s impossible to make an argument that Lee’s the actual front man of the band, though, as his musical partner here, AM, is actually at the center of this particular spaced out storm.

This concept is even acknowledged more or less by Shawn Lee, who gives top billing to AM, effectively acknowledging the Tulsa, Oklahoma singer/songwriter as the band’s true front man. Although AM has been a prolific songwriter in his own right, however, Shawn Lee is definitely the kind of musician who tends to draw the most attention, at least critically. That became clear here at Monstserrat House when the pair stepped on to the stage. From the start, it was easy to focus on the silver haired multi-musician as they started their set.

This isn’t entirely important to the show, though, as AM does manage to take center stage during their set. Whatever the case, these two like-minded musicians manage to create a trippy, psychedelic soundscape fraught with jam band pretensions. Each of their songs has a beginning, middle, and end so to speak, but that’s not necessarily relevant to the way they play either. 

Like most bands or musicians of their persuasion, it’s not about the destination, but the journey itself that will get them where they’re going. AM & Shawn Lee could have easily played one extended number, weaving their way in and out of that one groove, and it’s likely the audience would’ve been content. Of course, they never take things even remotely in that direction. But at times during their set it felt like as though they were.

In fact, unlike most bands who entertain notions of jamming, AM & Shawn Lee kept their set fairly tight, never wearing out their welcome. On the other hand, this doesn’t stop them from twisting each of their songs to make them feel much longer and more expansive than they might otherwise be. The elapsed time of each individual song doesn’t actually resonate with the perceived amount of time a listener spends experiencing each song.

This kind of output might sound a bit monotonous to anyone who hasn’t quite gotten into the jam band mystique. But then, this band refuses to be merely repetitive. They switch things up subtly at times and dramatically at others to keep their entire set interesting throughout. In addition, the band manages to vary their instrumental output enough that their set can hardly be accused of becoming dull.

The Montserrat House has something of an esoteric feel to it, and AM & Shawn Lee plays up that angle to perfection. They take something of a high minded approach to their music without ever coming across as boorish or pretentious. As a result, the entire evening you experience with this band itself seems to become like an ever-expanding and interesting set.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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