Saturday marked a highly anticipated night at the esteemed Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, QC, as Ottawa’s favourite indie rock band Amos The Transparent released their third LP This Cold Escape. The intimate, cozy vibe of Blacksheep was the perfect fit for Amos’s release party, as the crowd reflected what we love most in the band – some calm and unwound, others lively and full of spark. The room was alive and ready for what was to come.
Opening things off were a great band from Toronto called HIGHS. I interviewed lead singer Doug Haynes last year upon the release of their (then) new s/t EP, which I have since really come to love. Although only containing five songs, the EP really paints a picture of how good this band is. I know that’s not much to go on, but I liked how there wasn’t much production interference on the record. By that I mean when listening to it, one feels as though they are sitting right beside the band and hearing exactly what they sound like in “real” life. When David Byrne said, “The better a singer’s voice, the harder it is to believe what they’re saying,” I believe he meant that much can get lost between the moment a note is played in the studio to the moment the album is pressed. With HIGHS, nothing is lost – and their live performance on Saturday night proved just that.
First of all, something has to be said about this band’s chemistry and ability to play/sing off each other. Karrie Douglas not only plays keys with precision, her voice is an equally important addition to HIGHS’s music. She and Doug craft their lyrical melodies and phrasing such that they both layer perfectly and weave in and out like a comfy quilt. In no place is this more evident than in their song “Nomads.”
HIGHS lit up the room with their flaring and intricate guitar riffs shared by Doug and Joel, which seem to guide the spirit and feel of most of their songs. Their music has a Graceland-esque quality to it, which may be a result of the afrobeat influences and infinitely catchy rhythm and melody. They also played a surprising cover of Talking Heads’s “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” The song started off with Joel on synth playing an indecipherable intro that flowed into a unique version of the song that the band really made their own. Not everyone can cover Talking Heads, not well at least. But the crowd joining in on the words with smiles on their faces meant that it was a hit. Hell, I’m surprised the bar didn’t erupt into an all-out dance party during that one. Don’t forget to catch HIGHS on November 7 as they stop at Mavericks here in Ottawa on their tour supporting Twin Forks (featuring Chris Carrabba, ex-Dashboard Confessional).
Amos the Transparent got on stage not long after, and the room seemed to take on a distinct energy. The Blacksheep Inn is one of those little corners of Canada that will bring out the best in musicians. Its dim, candlelit lit interior and pristine sound creates an atmosphere unparalleled anywhere in the region – visually and aurally.
You know those bands that have certain songs that you wish would just be a little different? Perhaps the band tried too hard to achieve something and got lost along the way. Or maybe they made a bad chord change or phrased the lyrics in a way that made you cringe. I have never heard a song by Amos that is like this. Each song is crafted with strong hands and constructed in a way that keeps people hooked, like a good book. There is a simplicity to the music that is refreshing – not too over the top or pretentious in any way. But there’s also a depth to it that allows listeners to be immersed, particularly a concept album such as this. Since becoming a band in 2007, Amos The Transparent has learned how to draw listeners into their grasp better and better with each album.
This was exemplified a couple of years back when I saw Amos for the first time at Zaphod’s. I knew that Amos had garnered a following and received generous airplay across national radio, however it wasn’t until I got there and saw the sold out crowd interacting with the band on stage that I realized how special they are. This is Ottawa’s band. There was a love that existed between the crowd and the band that night in 2012, and that same love was present this past weekend.
Their performance, much like their new album This Cold Escape, exuded emotion and demanded listeners’s attention. At the end of the title track we hear screams and a voice fading out, as if going further into the void until out of view. And then there’s hard-hitting, powerful lyrics:
I lay my love down, as she whispers to me – You’re just as much a part of life to me, as death and his certainty.
Seeing the band play the album front-to-back added to my interpretation of it, as the atmosphere and ambiance fit with its presentation beautifully. Opening with what has grown to be one of my favourite tracks, “Out The Window,” Amos dove right into their new material and reinforced to all of us why that love still exists.
The band had projectors set up on either side of the stage, showing random videos from the past that worked well with the old-time feel of Blacksheep. There were also radio broadcasts included in the recording between songs, which feature local Ottawa radio personalities Jen Traplin and Andrew Elliott from Live 88.5 FM.
The album has a range of songs, none of which sound too similar. The folk-roots feel of “That’s The Life For Me” or the twangy “Bury My Bones” was contrasted with the darkness felt in songs such as “Death & His Certainty” or aggression of “Out To Sea.” The closest Amos comes to the playful catchiness of past hits “Says the Spark” or “Sure as the Weather” is the title track, which had us all wanting to sing along.
Lead singer Jonathan Chandler’s distinct voice was right on, and in perfect harmony with Olenka Reshitnyk’s backing vocals throughout the set. Lead guitarist Dan Hay showed the degree to which he has mastered his instrument and technique, particularly when taking on elaborate solos and playing difficult fills with ease. I also recall watching drummer Christopher Wilson playing so fast that he almost blew a vein in his forehead, without missing a beat.
It should also be mentioned that another adored local musician, Kalle Mattson, was featured on the song “City of Ghosts.” This came as a surprise to me when listening to the record, and it’s so good to see musicians who have played lots of shows together team up and collaborate in the studio. Both Kalle and Amos are having career years in 2014, as both of their recent releases are their strongest, most impactful works (at least in my estimation). The album was also produced by Chandler himself – it’s always so impressive to me that an entire album can be made with the help of a direct-to-fan album funding campaign (PledgeMusic) and then also take care of aspects such as production on top of actually writing and recording the music. Oh, how the industry has changed!
Amos ended things off with not one, but two encores. The crowd burst into smiles and song as the band played favourites “Lemons,” “Sure As The Weather,” and “Says The Spark” from previous records. In fact, as I was by the door watching, I could see a local guy in his mid-twenties doing a very interesting interpretive dance to the songs just outside the bar. I’m not sure the band could see him, but anyone who was there to witness this impromptu routine surely had their night made after that.
Check out their first single and title track off This Cold Escape here.