Amsterband mixes folk, alternative rock
Sep. 19, 2006
The on-stage transformation within Brian Roberts did not take long. The Amsterband lead vocalist appeared reserved, operating in near silence for the entire sound check. But then, with his back still turned to the unsuspecting crowd, Roberts' guitar did the talking for him as he crouched over and busted into the hectic two-chord banter of the band's "Caney Mountain."
Roberts and his band mates were the final act to take the stage before local favorite The Confident Years headlined the free show Saturday at The Blue Note. Dead Girls and Jon Yeager also opened.
Within minutes, any premonitions of Roberts' bashfulness were traded for an innocent charisma as he serenaded the crowd with the band's mix of folk, bluegrass and alternative rock — swaying frantically and seducing his microphone in a Wilco meets Adam Lazzara-in-a-jean-jacket manner.
The opening song, "Caney Mountain," shows the true versatility of the band, both musically and atmospherically, with Lucas Long's powerful bass chords contrasting the lightly deliberate sticking of Lennon Bone.
An electrifying rock guitar intro leads to a verse that is filled with religious persecution and hypocrisy and then transitions smoothly into a foot-stomping a cappella chorus that refers to a "sequin buckle in the middle of that Bible Belt."
Bible Belt, a term used to describe Christian Evangelism predominantly in the South and Midwest, is commonly used in reference to the band's stomping grounds in Springfield. The social constraints of the area and the simultaneous themes of poverty and vices that are born out of a backlash for it are evident in Amsterband's lyrics, which paint an elaborate picture of contrast in scenery.
"I think it (Missouri) has literally defined what style of music we play," Roberts said. "When we began work on the new album, we collectively asked ourselves, 'What would an indie rock band from the Ozarks sound like?' We tried to answer that on the record with four-part harmonies and foot-stomp rock."
After greeting the crowd, they soon launched into the bass drum heartbeat, which begins the band's first single, "St. Nick," which boasts a video shot in Columbia. The song, from the band's recently released Buckle In The Bible Belt, takes on a possibly self-reflexive aspiration with the lyric, "This glimpse of brilliance is better than a long look at mediocrity."
After a few songs, Roberts swapped stage spots with shaggy-haired guitar/keyboardist Brett Anderson, who takes over lead vocals for the lighter ballad, "Falling In."
Shortly after, the band shifted course once again. They left their instruments of choice behind to gather round two microphones for an intimate rendition of their all a cappella "Hangman," an old Ozarkian folk song cover that showed the impressive vocal range of Roberts and created a sound reminiscent of ballads from decades long gone.
"We'd had it in the back of our minds to put an a cappella track on the record," Robert said. "It was really just a matter of finding the right tune. We chose 'Hangman' because of its lyrical content and somber melody."
Even with a unique blend of sound and lyrics worthy of further examination, the heart of Amsterband is the atmosphere.
This atmosphere is captured in its trademark finale, a cover of fellow Missouri band Big Smith's folk jam "12 Inch 3-Speed Oscillating Fan." On this night, the song actually featured a brief falsetto version of "Tiny Dancer" and was then properly returned back to its clap-infested feel-good ode to ventilation.
But at the end of the night, a humbled Roberts was just awestruck at playing The Blue Note stage.
"To think that Jeff Tweedy has shat on that stool!"