You could say I was excited to hear that Amos The Transparent was coming around my city again, but it would be a serious understatement. Having crawled out from under my oblivious rock during NXNE, I’ve been spinning and loving their latest CD, Goodnight, My Dear… I’m Falling Apart (review forthcoming). The CD, however, is but an appetizer; live, the band is something glorious to behold.
Before I fall into fangirling (I am writing this at 4am, so I believe I’m entitled to digress), allow me to step back and take a look at the two artists who warmed the stage up (and at times sloshed it with alcohol).
I feel secondhand embarrassed for the audience during Revelstoke’s set. The level of chatter and noise was just obnoxious, on par with prior bands I’ve seen where their entourage screams and laughs through everyone else, just killing time for their buddy and his band. Chatter, I get; chatter so loud that the audience is telling people to “shut the fuck up!” while the artist politely asks that please, for one song, could there be silence – that’s ridiculous.
Back to the music. Revelstoke is a one-man band playing several instruments and creating loops on the fly. He makes Yoav look lazy. Full points immediately to any artist that can juggle the demands of on the spot composition/performance. How to describe the music? Imagine Belle and Sebastian decided to jump on the boxcar of a freight train with a few handy instruments and write an album for a year. Harmonica, banjo, guitar, guitar played with a bow – all of this and more, layered over soft vocals rich in metaphor. Coupled with black and white projections of what appeared to be old CBC stock footage and shots of hiking and nature, Revelstoke is more performance art piece than musical act. It reminded me of The Red Paintings in that respect.
All of that said, I’m faced with the perplexing state of not really being keen on something, yet knowing of others who would absolutely love it. Revelstoke is talented. I can think immediately of people in my inner circle who will love him. It’s just not for me, as a matter of personal taste. I think I would have enjoyed him more if his work were solely instrumental; I found the lyrics distracting and not fully aligned with the melodies, which may be intentional, but just didn’t work for me.
That said, I know he will appeal to many, so do check out his site, where you can download his EP for free and see what you think.
Battle Mountain Band
Up next came Battle Mountain Band, who earned a raucous response from the moment they hit the stage. No wonder, really: immediately, there was a request to turn down the bright stage lights because of “hangovers that could kill a horse”. With a little hair of the proverbial dog, the band was off and rocking.
Now, as I explain this rowdy group of men to you, stay with me to the end. Okay: imagine Nickelback didn’t exist. Imagine they weren’t writing the same two damn songs over and over, polluting the beer-soaked bluegrass-rock talent pool. Imagine the Traveling Wilburys were born in say, 1980 and performed sloshed (who knows, maybe the originals did). There you would find Battle Mountain Band, strumming, rocking and swapping lead vocals amongst four men or better, harmonizing together. Catchy and melodic, their music is something born to thrive in a dark bar where everyone knows everyone and pool tables are in back, and it’s just that right level of grungey.
This is all complimentary, very much so. The stage banter only enhances the experience, taking jabs at each other’s expense and, in mentioning that they’re borrowing all of Amos The Transparent’s equipment, playfully announcing, “And we’re sleeping with all their girlfriends!”
My one and only issue with the band – aside from assuming everyone would know The Rolling Stones tune they covered (most people seemed baffled or too drunk to keep up) – is a lyric in which they refer to marrying a drag queen in a derogatory way. It’s 2012; please grow up and stop insulting entire groups of people. It completely detracted from an otherwise enjoyable song for me.
You can check out their music here, and you should indeed check it out.
Amos The Transparent
We’ve now come full circle back to the band I explicitly came for. Managing to carve out space for the group on a tiny stage, they quickly seized control of the audience with opener “Title Track”. Like the band before them, Amos The Transparent oozes charisma and stage presence, their energy amplifying the audience which amplifies them in turn. There is a sense that passionate fan response fuels their performance, giving it that extra shot of awesome straight in the ears.
As much as I enjoy their CD, live performances are far better. The songs seem to expand and fill the venue, riffs just a little crunchier, vocals unrestrained. It’s a sign of a quality artist when the live incarnation trumps the studio version; it demonstrates versatility, an ability to experiment and stretch the limits of a work to its ultimate potential. With strings, horns, percussion and guitar in the mix, there are so many nuances to shift around, so many ways to reassemble the pieces.
Take, for example, “Greater Than Consequence”. I like the studio cut. It’s not one of my top tracks, though. Live? Love it. It thrives in the space where audiences sing along and perhaps take it upon themselves to swarm on stage and back you up. “Convince The Mayor” is a fabulous studio cut, but it’s all the more enthralling with that ‘in the moment’ passion Jonathan Chandler conjures up.
It’s astonishing to me that this band hasn’t broken out into Canadian mainstream. Thoughtful and sometimes playful lyrics are delivered over a soundscape that might be indie rock at the core, but has evolved into something unique that is at turns ethereal or playful and alternately sly and foreboding. Perhaps this album will be the one that does the trick.
Set highlights: Says The Spark; Convince The Mayor; Lemons; Greater Than Consequence; As Far As You Can Run
Check out Amos The Transparent’s website, where you can download their latest (awesome) album for free, by clicking here.
Setlist: Amos The Transparent @ Rivoli, 8/17/12
Says The Spark
Convince The Mayor
Lemons, aka (BigFishLittlePond)
Sure As The Weather
As Far As You Can Run
Up & Out
Greater Than Consequence
The Stale Scent Of Old Beer