Published Jan 16, 2020For all of his continually growing talents, Patrick Watson's buzz peaked early. His second studio album with a full band, Close to Paradise, won the prestigious Polaris Music Prize in 2007. The same year, he co-wrote Cinematic Orchestra's Ma Fleur, which featured arguably his most famous composition, "To Build a Home." To top it off, Watson also won a Juno for New Artist of the Year.
His 2009 album Wooden Arms made the Polaris short list, while 2012's Adventures in Your Own Backyard and 2015's Love Songs for Robots landed on the long list. Clearly, the hype train slowed down, but Watson has consistently put out high quality music in the similar morose indie pop vein. Indeed, his fans have stayed with him through to his sixth album, 2019's Wave, as evidenced by the fact that the concert at Victoria's MacPherson Playhouse sold out two months in advance.
Unfortunately, many of those fans couldn't make it after around 30 cm of snow fell the previous evening. First responders and city crews asked the residents of the greater Victoria area to not leave their homes for the day, so many ended up having to sell their tickets. Undeterred, Watson and company made it safely to the venue, as did opener Brad Barr.
You may know Barr as half of the Barr Brothers, who have earned Juno nominations for all three alternative folk-rock albums they've released to date, as well as being a third of experimental jam band the Slip. This solo performance marked his first time in Victoria, and apparently would have been for his brother Andrew as well, if he didn't get stuck in Vancouver.
Brad made the best of it, though, performing solo seated at the front of the stage. As he was gearing up in his rendition of "Cloud (For Lhasa)," from the self-titled Barr Brother album, he noted the spot when the drums were supposed to come in, which received a light chuckle from the crowd.
You wouldn't know he hadn't intended to be alone the rest of his set, though. He began his set by pinching a thread attached to his guitar strings, which started a warbly loop, over which he played a mini acoustic guitar, later performing an instrumental that was the first song he wrote after moving to Montreal from Rhode Island back in 2005. Granted, there was a little gravel on the fringes of his voice for "Song That I Heard," but he wore his emotions all over his face.
Though most of his set was acoustic, he pulled out an electric guitar for a cover of "Don't Talk," from the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. He did struggle to hit the high notes, but it kinda worked in context, contrasting the lush harmonies and deep production of the original with bluesy guitar and pained, lonely vocals.
Following that, Patrick Watson gave British Columbia's capital city the full brunt of his personality as soon as he hit the stage. For his first time here since late 2012, he immediately mocked the Island's sensitivity to inclement weather, saying it looked like Montreal in spring before launching into "Dream for Dreaming," the opening track from Wave.
Watson faced many challenges while recording Wave. His mother died, his partner left him and percussionist Robbie Kuster walked away from the project he was part of since Close to Paradise. That much compounding loss would emotionally cripple the average person, yet Watson channelled his inner Bon Iver, and turned his pain into catharsis. If the quirky laughs he let out after "Hearts" and "The Wave" were anything to go by, he seems to be doing just fine these days.
Flanked by guitarist Joe Grass, drummer Evan Tighe, bassist Mishka Stein, vocalist Erika Angell of Thus Owls, and keyboardist/French horn player Pietro Amato of Bell Orchestre and the Luyas, Watson played piano and belted out his buttery falsetto. Around them was a series of huge incandescent bulbs swarmed by rotating glass that, along with the sheets of plastic spinning around a giant oval at the back of the stage, made it look like they were performing inside a deconstructed mirror ball with certain lighting.
One of the most powerful staging moments came during their rendition of "Melody Noir." The song was inspired by a gorgeously voiced Venezuelan singer named Simon Diaz, starting off as a cover but ending up as more of an response. The stage was dark except for one naked light bulb in front of Watson's mic, and he sang the DeVotchKa-cum-mariachi song with Grass and Stein softly strumming guitars by his face, and Angell standing just behind him until she sang the hook.
The whole band were really cooking for renditions of "Broken" and "Hearts," the latter of which Watson quickly explained was about two lovers chasing each other with knives before mockingly claiming that four more centimetres of snow had fallen outside and we were all going to die as a result. Watson was particularly animated during "Turn Out the Lights," pointing, swaying and shaking as he belted out the crescendo, and later guiding the crowd in singing the uplifting wordless vocal refrain for "Slip into Your Skin," a song he said he didn't know why he sang until he met his new lady friend, and, sticking to a theme, noted it was a good song for a snow storm.
As he was about to get into "Here Comes the River," he thanked the crowd in earnest for braving the conditions to be there. Then, during the encore, he improvised a song using suggestions from the audience, ostensibly creating a song called "It's a Wet Cold," for it is quite humid around these parts, a cold that cuts to the bone. The song also referred to a story he'd told about his first time touring to Victoria as a teenager in a ska band, watching his bandmate and Erika's future husband Simon Angell get chased around a parking lot by a guy with a machete.
Left alone with his piano at the end of the encore, Watson gave the crowd the choice between three songs. They elected for him to play "To Build a Home," and it was goddamned gorgeous, almost worth the price of admission alone.