[10 May 2010]
Opening their one-and-a-half hour set with “Man Like You”, Patrick Watson established a precedent for the evening: dreamy lyrics paired with boiling percussion punctuated by imaginative sounds. (Hailing from Montreal, however, the band naturally first commented on the Canadiens’ playoff series against Pittsburgh).
Patrick Watson, the band’s eponymous leader, sings with an ethereal voice (a constant identifier amongst the band’s varying sounds), not unlike an electron cloud model, hovering around each note it’s shaping, though never singing it directly. During “Where the Wild Things Are” it was similarly nebulous, though this time capable of seizing the song. A string quartet, which played for half the show and was deployed on “Wild Things”, passed along the inertia of the song’s plucked rhythms. Eventually the song grew into a controlled collision—a repeating motif which suggests jam band capabilities, like fellow Quebecois, Plants & Animals.
The quixotic yet charming sounds that compliment the entirety of Patrick Watson’s 2009 release, Wooden Arms, seem like an overwhelming amount to absorb live. Instead the album became an engaging experience, its ideas lucidly and compelling conveyed. “Traveling Salesman” found Watson vocally emulating a trombone with a bull-horn and plunger. Sounding borrowed from the Elvis Perkins catalogue, the song’s hurdy gurdy sounding beginning eventually exploded into an SRV-style dirge. But such range of styles was a common occurrence throughout the set.
Whereas “Salesman” became consumed with electric guitar, “Beijing”, also from Wooden, built into a huge drum break. The song conveys Chinese commotion through a piano two-step, supported by quietly frantic drums and tremolos from the string quartet. It all beautifully melted into each turn around before being slapped back up to speed by a tiny splash cymbal. When the monstrous drum solo was finally reduced to the same turn around above, the crowd began clapping, thinking the song was over. It was characteristic of the band’s great control.
Between songs, Watson is the foil to his own falsetto. An endearing frontman, he charmed the crowd with youthful enthusiasm and disarming appearance. He absolutely won them over during his encore, upon which he strapped an octopus-like bull-horn contraption to his back: his very own, wearable, PA and lighting rig. He used it to sing “Man Under the Sea” from the middle of the barn floor as his band mates strummed behind him and the crowd encircled him. Watson’s pièce de résistance came when, unbeknownst to the now singing crowd, he cued his string quartet to start playing from the back of the venue.
This gorgeous moment was later ruined by a second encore. Improvised, it was to be inspired by a spontaneous song title from the crowd. Instead Watson’s playful demeanor seemed lost in translation, and he spent five minutes rejecting song ideas before settling on something arbitrary about pajamas—seriously. Subject matter was irrelevant, though, as we simply heard a recapitulation of the band’s serious ethereal sound.
Overall the band (Simon Angell, guitar; Robbie Kuster, drums; and Mishka Stein, bass) plays with balance and control, conveying a greater breadth of feeling through their broad dynamics. But everything always sounds easy. The group also made extremely effective use of simple halogen lights. Positioned on the floor and aimed up at each player, they alternated between setting a candle-lit concert or cathartic lightning strikes—like during “Tracy’s Waters” when the music swelled to a howling squall.
Opener Doveman was like a diluted and less interesting version of Patrick Watson. His vocals were nowhere near as confident as his piano playing, lending his set juvenility.