AM & Shawn Lee @ The Rhythm Room


by: Amanda Savage

It was a slow Tuesday at The Rhythm Room. An open entrance absent of a line welcomed the 20 to 50 guests who entered throughout the evening.

Inside the clanking of glasses, beer pouring from the tap, and a faint murmur of conversation competed with the sound of feet walking on an old stage setting up musical equipment. The small venue was dimly lit, like relic from a time that had passed.


Los Angeles band Caught a Ghost was almost finished setting up.

Six performers positioned themselves on stage. A petite female vocalist (the only female in the group), saxaphone player, trombone player, keyboardist and drummer. The lead singer (Jesse Nolan) positioned himself center stage — dressed in a slim fit grey suit, brown dress shoes and slicked back hair — holding drum sticks, standing behind a freestanding snare drum. He stood out among the other casually dressed band members.

Nolan humbly introduced the band and attempted to raise the energy levels in the otherwise stagnant room. The crowd responded with a few claps and cheers. Not quite the energy the band seemed used to, but Nolan performed like he was under the spotlight of an arena tour.

Caught a Ghost’s sound is a modern twist on big band and blues. Soulful vocals pour over a mix of upbeat vintage-inspired pop-rock and slow tempo, bass heavy blues. Saxaphone and trombone bring color to the sound. Nolan’s voice packages the band’s sound with strong, baritone and at times raspy vocals, with lyrics that tell stories of lost love and moving on.

Nolan is a textbook entertainer and the obvious focal point of the band. He started the performance accompanied by a snare drum, switched to guitar and sang a few songs without instruments.

Nolan would move to the edge of the stage, attempt to engage the crowd with a story. At one point he talked about a local pizza spot the band stopped at before the show. He explained that the pizza the band had eaten was a lot like the style of their music, “home cooked and covered in tomato sauce.”


After a solid hour the band finished and retreated to various locations in the venue: chairs, the patio and bar, as AM & Shawn Lee started to set-up.

The crowd slowly swelled between this transition as friends, family and fans of Am & Shawn Lee showed up. Shawn Lee’s mom was present, glowing as any proud mother would be.

The energy moved from Tuesday to Thursday, but never quite reached what a Friday or Saturday might feel like.

AM said hello and that it was the duo’s first time in Phoenix together (they were joined by a drummer and a keyboardist).

Shawn Lee’s long white hair laid over a vintage, bright yellow sweater decorated with a large, iron-on cobra. Throughout the set he would drift off into the music, then come back to the crowd with a dramatic facial expression like wide-eyes or a smirk.

AM was on crowd control. The band is accustomed to a lot of dancing at their shows, but when they started they were singing to an empty dance floor. AM would encourage the audience to dance and to get out out of their comfort zones (his persistence eventually worked).

Despite the energy the duo put into getting people moving, the band gave a flawless performance. AM’s voice stood out. It sounded better live than in their recordings. His ability to deliver such high notes with power and confidence consistently, really put the cherry on the impressive instrumental quality of the show.

AM & Shawn Lee’s music is hard to categorize, AM said earlier that week in an interview, that if he had to describe it with three words it would be “cosmic, soul-pop.” It flows between ambient, experimental, rock, dance and funk. The band has heavy electronic qualities, but they do not use any pre-recordings when they play. All the sounds the audience hears are created live. The band switches out instruments, they brought shakers on stage at one-point and asked the crowd to help them sing.

This is all part of the AM & Shawn Lee experience.

AM explains that unlike many popular indie and electronic acts, the duo does not use any samples or pre-recordings on their records or on stage. There are no loops or sequences used in their live performances.

“This can get confusing to people when you fall anywhere near the electronic music category — which we kind of do dip into that — but we approach it from a completely organic stance. Meaning that we play everything.”

AM described the overall performance perfectly: “it’s like seeing a jazz or funk band, there’s nothing to hide behind. It’s just us, up there, for better or worse, giving it our all and playing every note of music, that isn’t that easy to play. But it’s fun, and that’s the good part. It doesn’t take itself so seriously to where you cant dance.”

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