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Concert Review: Patrick Watson @ Union Transfer 5/3


Canadian songwriter Patrick Watson performed a wonderfully serene and ferocious set at Union Transfer Thursday night May 3rd.  The eponymous group’s songs are like orchestral progressive rock under a folk, blues and indie umbrella.  Their tempo, rhythm and instrumentals shoot off in different directions at the drop of a hat, but are all fundamentally connected.  A smart listener can here those connections and appreciate the beauty of such contrast in a songwriter’s work.

The band started off with “Lighthouse” from their most recent release, Adventures in Your Own Backyard, and it was as eerie and otherworldly as it is on the record.  I felt like I was entering a fantasy world when I walked into the venue’s performance space, as the stage was dark with the musicians playing by little candle-like orchestra lights.  When the kick drum and electric guitar came in, everything was illuminated.  The sound was amazing- full and reverb-y and positively overwhelming.  Watson’s voice sailed into the air like cirrus clouds outstretched across a baby blue sky.

“Quiet Crowd” was somber and wistful, starting out with just solo piano.  Its beautiful, slightly jazzy chord progression called to mind Rufus Wainwright’s tunes, or perhaps even Elton John’s.  The song was “…dedicated to the quiet people, there are a lot of loud people in this world.”  The female fiddle player provided some lovely background singing in the “bum bum bum ba” section, which was followed by a nice little build-up that included bowed violin and tapping percussion.  All of the instruments meshed well together because they were very different in timbre.

The five musicians crowded around one mic for “Words in the Fire”, a nice song to curl up and fall asleep to.  It was written around a campfire in the wilderness, more or less commissioned by strangers the band haphazardly met up with.  It was forlorn and intimate, very true to the recording.  A musical saw was played with a bow, which produced a high-pitched whistle, a very nice addition to the song.  This is a perfect example of how spontaneous music can be; you can convey anything through a song.  Too bad there was some chatter from the crowd during this intimate, acoustic performance, but they were respectful for the most part.

“Into Giants” was also performed with little amplification, its vocal harmony evocative of a barbershop quartet in the line “started as lovers don’t know where it’s gonna end.”  It was dedicated to “… the people you love in your life.  And hopefully there are a lot.”  Unfortunately there was a bit of crackling interference coming from one of the mics during this song, but it was quickly rectified.  Nonetheless, the performance was fantastic and reminded me of a band casually jamming in an old time bar in the ‘20s.

And then there was the title track, “Adventures in Your Own Backyard”, which Watson announced through a mic with a lot of delay and boom that made him sound like the voice of the Wizard of Oz.  It was a solitary experience, with that gently rustling guitar riff to start, and some soft, smooth background vocals.  Watson just sang into the microphone like he was kissing it, his “ohs” coinciding with boisterous electric guitar work as the peaceful intro ramped up to a percussively quick pace.  It eventually recapped to the slow, low strumming, and then ended with just somber, ethereal singing.

If you haven’t yet heard Patrick Watson’s songs, now would be a very good time to check them out.  He writes the kind of music that effortlessly transports you to a different place when you’re listening with your eyes closed.

“Adventures in Your Own Backyard” Live