Maybe it was the first snowfall of the year with its fat, heavy flakes halting traffic for much of the afternoon. Maybe it was the very late Sunday night set. Or maybe most Whistlerites just aren't particularly interested in live music when the snowline begins its annual descent down the mountains. But whatever the reason, Oddisee's Whistler show on Sunday was dishearteningly sparse.
The set at Garfinkel's capped off a North American tour that sent Amir Mohamed — as the hip hop artist from Brooklyn by way of Washington, D.C. is also known — up and down both coasts through the fall. "It's kind of poetic for our last show," he told me, in passing, surveying the room while Whistler's own Animal Nation opened with a spirited set.
Earlier in the evening, after Mohamed and his crew arrived in Whistler following lengthy delays on the Sea to Sky, we talked about his cross-genre appeal at a restaurant in the village. "There's a lot of people who come up to me and say, 'I don't normally listen to hip hop but I like your stuff,'" he said, picking at a plate of calamari. "I think I live a lifestyle of accessibility and it shows in my music."
His solo debut, People Hear What They See, has garnered much attention since its June release. Filled with rich instrumentation informed by everything from soul to electronic music and even indie rock, and sharp-witted, relatable lyrics, Mohamed has established himself as something of a gateway hip hop artist. Too much is made of appearance, rather than the actual music, he says. Hence the record's title.
"Everybody listens to music for different reasons. Especially hip hop, you dress the part, have tattoos, wear this, have these things in your videos, people will think your music is better than it is. We're such a visually driven society and people don't stop to realize a lot of the stuff they listen to is rubbish," he says.
To that end, he admits he's a fan of the hushed, lush indie rockers who have found mainstream success in recent years. "I'm a sponge. When I travel, people I come across, it kind of finds its way into my music," he says. "Artists like Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver borrow a lot from older gospel hymn-style music, Appalachian harmonies. My family from my mother's side is from way in the countryside in Maryland. I grew up watching them sing gospel hymns. My great uncles are bluegrass musicians. When I heard them singing in those harmonies, it wasn't foreign to me. I love it."
Those influences were on display for his pared back, five-song set Sunday. To his credit, he gave the handful of fans crowded around the stage a sincere performance. Opening with the first track off his record, "Ready to Rock," with stuttering brass from a sampler pad — he had to leave part of his live band below the 49th parallel for logistical reasons — the song retained the same layered textures with the help from a guitarist/backing vocalist. The crowd could've been tipped off to the short show by the scarf he kept slung around his neck — but hey, this is Whistler, right?
Leading into "That Real" the guitarist (the set wasn't quite long enough for first name introductions) stole the spotlight during the chorus with his lovely falsetto, a smile playing on his face, despite the circumstance.
Mohamed's own singing chops were also highlighted on "You Know Who You Are," performed simply with the electric guitar and his own smooth croon. Mostly, though, it was his lyrics — delving into greed in America, depicting subway rides and other trappings of regular life, or reflecting his take on current culture — that made the show.
"For the people who stayed, thank you," he said after finishing his last track. While an awkward silence hung in the air before the overhead music kicked in again, he jumped off stage and launched into conversation with those who braved the inclement weather for a show that was understandably short, but sweet nonetheless.