Parley – typically a discussion often between enemies to negotiate a truce. However, having experienced an Amistat gig a couple of times now, I’m guessing that here it’s used as it originated, from the French, meaning, “to speak”. And speak to the audience, Jan and Josef Prasil, do!
Wandering aimlessly along Bourke Street one sunny day in 2015, I stumbled, (almost literally), across Jan and Josef, serenading an inquisitive crowd, and like many in the crowd, I was effortlessly won over by their subtle tightly knit harmonies and haunting acoustic sound. So it was not surprising that only 11 months later I was at Northcote Social Club for the release of their debut album, “Parley“.
One of my favourite singer/songwriter’s, Adelaide’s Ryan Oliver, (this time without the other members of Oliver’s Army), guitar in hand, took to the stage, to begin the night. I’ve often felt that when an audience at a gig sits on the floor to listen to an act, it can somehow create a feeling of distance and detract from the performance. I’ve even been at gigs where the band has asked the crowd to stand up so that people can dance and feel more connected to the music. But on this night, as Ryan’s crisp delicate vocal and reflective lyrics, captured our emotions, the crowd sat and silently absorbed his music. Music that could be described as atmospheric, alt-folk, with an Americana and sometimes alt-country feel, as evidenced by the drum/guitar combo on songs like “Shallow Water” and particularly “Lonesome Man”. This acoustic set not only retained this feel, but the acoustic guitar/vocal combo gave “Liquor Store” and the Tom West cover “I Drank All The Rum” a vulnerable fragility. Add a haunting, slow, version of the single “Born To Breed” with it’s looping harmonies and, like the crowd, I couldn’t take my eyes from the stage.
A hard act to follow, next Ben Whiting, accompanied by bass, guitar and drums got the crowd to their feet. Again, a performer I’ve seen a number of times and keep coming back for more. Alt-Folk is a favourite, and Ben would be one of the best local folk acts around. Folk, alternative, even Rock, a singer/songwriter whose lyrics seem introspective reflections or musings on all that we ponder ourselves. Every gig, he seems to be evolving, songs that you want to play over and over with a vocal that is unique, gentle yet strong. A mix of favourites and songs I hadn’t heard before, the set was tight and like always, for me, over too quickly. Every time I see Ben perform I wonder why he isn’t already headlining huge shows, but judging from the ever growing enthusiastic crowd, I get the feeling that won’t be too far away.
After a break, the curtain starts to open and there’s an unmistakable push to the front. Some audience almost on the stage itself, they couldn’t get close enough. The lights kept low, Amistat begin the journey through the new album. A narrative of their experiences, loves, losses and life all intertwined by an emotional thread highlighting their love of performing and music which creates an instant connection with the audience. “Charlatan”, a song about how although we have inner happiness, at times we struggle to acknowledge or feel it. Then the very introspective “Born Without A Mask”, a song that resonates with many, surmising that the older we get the more we put on a mask and therefore hide the real us. Finally, the poignant, “Addictive Pain”. The songs have a strong acoustic folk sound and harmonies that have a synergy that makes them distinctly Amistat. The set, (over an hour), is a mixture of song and stories, some anecdotal about the lyrics or life on the road, others, the musings from Josef that we’ve come to expect. Amistat continue to grow in popularity and have an ease of performing and connecting with their audience in a way which also manages to retain their busking roots.
After a night of folk storytelling, melodic guitar and soaring harmonies, I think of a line from “Liquor Store”………..this thing’s got a hold on me.