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Amos the Transparent’s homecoming

By Matías Muñoz on August 17, 2012

With their latest LP Goodnight My Dear…I’m Falling Apart, Amos the Transparent have sent a message that their music knows no bounds. Having received critical acclaim for their previous two albums, their most recent release is a testament to their ability to fuse diverse instrumentation and more experimental songwriting tactics with the honesty in lyrical content that has come to define the band’s music. While tracks like ‘Says the Spark’ and ‘Sure as the Weather’ have infiltrated the eardrums of indie music lovers across Canada, the album in its entirety is a journey through tame melodies, percussive onslaughts, and complex vocal patterns that never leave the listener unsatisfied. Variable instances of tranquility and vigor define the character of this album: both light and dark. These contrasting features make for an effective and balanced record.

The band is beginning its fall tour with multiple Canadian tour dates, the second of which was last night (August 16th) at Zaphod’s. Friends, family and a dependable fan base crowded into the venue in what felt like a fraternal gathering of sorts. Halifax native Ben Caplan started things off, with a voice that CBC’s Chris Norris describes as having a “rough around the edges, bar room salooney, Tom Waits vibe to it”. Caplan was sans his usual band, The Casual Smokers, but managed to rile the growing crowd up with just his acoustic guitar and pure vocal power. He is a true musician, creating unmistakably unique sounds that just happen to go well with bands like Amos. He also assured me he would be back to Ottawa in the coming months.

The night continued with Toronto’s Battle Mountain Band, a group that was formed by friends who also belong in other bands. For a side-project band that seems to be around just for the sake of a creative outlet, their opening performance of “My Weekend” gave the impression that this band had been around for years. Their set was fun, free-spirited, and laden with bits of humour as they encouraged everyone in the crowd to get closer to the party on stage. Echoes of folk rang through in many of the guitar riffs, and flowing bass lines gave many of their songs a classic feel. In the footsteps of bands like Good Old War, all the members of Battle Mountain Band are lead vocalists, trading verses and bringing a different style and sound to each song. Even in songs like Detroit, which is about one of their ex-wives, all members shared the stage equally. The only shortcoming was some missed vocal harmonies; while not a major issue, it was distracting at points. The overall performance, however, was rhythmically sound and well executed. Ottawa native Trevor James explains, “Now all engines are firing, we’re back writing lots. We just recorded three new tunes, doing lots of shows… but typically we’re always working and writing no matter what. While transitioning from Montreal to Toronto there was a bit of a lull, but yeah everything is very casual with the Battle Mountain Band since we all have our own projects outside of this one.”

Amos the Transparent came on as the headliner, opening with the song ‘Title Track’ from their debut album Everything I’ve Forgotten to Forget. Their band chemistry was apparent right away as Chandler’s vocals carried perfectly with the variety of instruments on stage. Much like their latest album, their set flowed through peaks and valleys of emotion. Eloquent cello playing by Mike Yates tempered the crowd’s liveliness, which was quickly invigorated by the triad of guitars and two-piece brass. Throughout the entire set it was obvious that the band and audience were thriving off each other. During the performance of ‘Lemons’, Chandler got the crowd singing the background melody without having to persuade them. This dynamic reached a new height when the crowd screamed the refrain “I was meant to go alone” during the song ‘Greater Than Consequence’, which I found to be surprisingly different from the album version I was familiar with.

‘We always look at it in two ways’, says lead vocalist Jonathan Chandler, ‘there’s live Amos and there’s studio Amos. Live Amos always plays the songs that we come up with in the studio, but we kind of take a no-borders approach. We can go ahead and have two drum parts going at the same time as well as a quartet of vocals and three guitar parts in the studio, it sounds cool through the speakers but how are we going to do that live? I think that’s where having seven of us up there allows us to do more, we can each add our own thing on stage.”

One aspect of the show that cannot be overstated is the presence of Kate Sargent. Being the only female on stage, Sargent’s vocals compliment Chandler’s in such a way that it adds another layer to the band’s identity. In songs like ‘Up & Out’ and ‘Sure As The Weather’, her singing is just as pervasive as Chandler’s is, bringing more depth and beauty to their performance. I was as impressed as the girl standing next to me, who happened to be screaming “You are blowing my mind” repeatedly to Sargent between songs. I don’t blame her. Her stand-alone verse in ‘The Stale Scent of Old Beer’ made the entire crowd go silent, after which drummer Chris Wilson took the opportunity to end the song with thunderously climactic percussion. Chandler explains, “We added Kate and Mike after the album was recorded, and I really wish they had been there through that process, because they really do have great ideas and a neat perspective on things”. Wilson also says that, “It’s allowing us to explore more sonic possibilities than we did as a three-piece or four-piece. It’s allowed us to reach greater heights, dynamically and in the intricacies of our songs”.

As far as indie music goes, Amos the Transparent is arguably Ottawa’s greatest export, having their music heard nationally through CBC Radio 3 and on shows like Studio Q (where Jian Ghomeshi referred to the band as “The Canadian Wilco”) and internationally at SXSW Music Festival. It isn’t hard to imagine that this is only the beginning.

Matias Munoz is the founder Ottawa Showbox, a website dedicated to featuring the local music scene.