The Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ON
May 29th, 2012
Review by: Katie Christensen
Photos by: Allison Janzen
I will be the first to admit to putting Canadian musicians on a pedestal, but Patrick Watson (the band as well as the man it’s named after) are producing music at such an inventive caliber that it was obvious the live performance was going to be surreal. As it turned out, that was an understatement.
With it’s ornate molding and beautiful acoustics, playing in the resurrected historical Danforth Music Hall could not have been more fitting, with all 1,100 some odd seats filled with enthusiastic patrons. The lights dimmed till the only thing illuminating the theater was the glowing exit signs and the tiny lights upon the musician’s fingertips as they materialized on stage. In total darkness, the simply dreamy piano melody of “Lighthouse” began, while Watson cooed the delicate lyrics of the song that has always evoked a likeness to Gary Jules’ "Mad World" for me. As he whispered the question “Won’t you shine a little light on us now”, trumpets kicked in with a surge of strings in perfect sequence with the lights booming to life.
My love affair with Patrick Watson’s music began in 2006 when I heard Polaris Prize winner Close To Paradise. However, tonight was all about showcasing Adventures In Your Own Backyard, the bands brilliant fourth album, released in April and recorded mostly in Watson’s Montreal apartment. “Lighthouse” starts the album on such an immense high note that I found it hard to move past it when listening to the album, but the melancholic second track “Blackwind”, with hollowing falsettos, anxious glockenspiel and hints of pedal steel made it easy to sink into this album and the evening’s set.
Circular disks flanked the stage, projecting black and white footage of a parade, swimming hammerheads, butterflies, soaring birds and abstract patterns. Alongside this, the album continued to unfurl with “Step Out for a While”, as billowing smoke and red atmospheric lighting pulsated brighter with each drum beat & symbol crash. It created quite an eerie atmosphere that loaned itself well to the unearthly carnival feel of the song. The next song, “Quiet Crowd”, was said to be dedicated to the quiet people out there on most nights, but that evening was for the people of Montreal, banging on their pots & pans and encouraging people of Toronto to do the same (with this past weekend’s tragic event, I could clash many pots in demonstration). Things got scaled back for “Words in the Fire”, with Simon Angell (guitar) and Watson gathering around one microphone while a singular halogen light shone on. Robbie Kuster (drums) would casually squeeze in with the singing saw, an aptly named instrument that added a delicate sweetness that sounded like a distant children’s choir. They reminisced about creating this song by a campfire in northern Montreal, where they were asked to play Bob Marley and created this subtly brilliant song instead. It felt like we were being serenaded at that very campfire, until the thunderous applause brought me back to reality.
The show was one beautiful new track after another, with songs like the cheerful “Into Giants” that balances triumphant trumpeting and folksy quaintness and showcases Mishka Stein's ability to bring a song together with an unforgettable baseline. The all-instrumental “The Things You Do” is destined to be in many movie soundtracks, as it is so incredibly moving (Patrick Watson did co-write “To Build a Home” with Cinematic Orchestra after all, so clearly a penchant for grandiose anthemic songs is evident). After “Strange Cooked Road” they took things back to 2009’s Wooden Arms with favorite “Big Bird In A Small Cage”, where the audience got to participate in a sing along. Next was sultry “Morning Sheets” that has a wonderful Led Zeppelin “Kashmir” explosiveness to it, followed by the towering inferno of a title track “Adventures In Your Own Backyard”.
The banter was quirky but heartwarming, awkward and honest. Watson would giggle midway through a song, and at one point had to stop as contagious laughter overtook everyone, resulting in Simon having to wipe away tears. Some of Watson’s family was present when he sang “Noisy Sunday” as a retort to a poem in a cookbook his mother had written about her children leaving the nest. I like to think we got an especially inspired and emphatic performance, because what I witnessed was prolific. They claimed to end the night there, but the audience didn’t have any of it, and after a fury of applause everyone was back on stage for Close To Paradise’s “Luscious Life”. Evocative of noisy street life, the band played a stomp-like intro, and when the fire bell rang it almost seemed to go with the song.
Sadly, the evening had to end at some point, and so the entire band came back onstage to wrap things up with a dreamy “Sit Down Beside Me”. The clanking piano, cinematic strings, haunting background vocals, and gentle marimba swirl coalesced into a stunning effect that subsided as Watson uttered the final words "Sit down beside me and stay awhile, till the night runs away, till the morning rises and we part our ways, till the end of our days” with a vulnerable appeal. It was truly an enlightening experience and an awe-inspiring evening.
Patrick Watson will be back in Toronto on December 6th at the legendary Massey Hall.