Patrick Watson called his new record Adventures in Your Own Backyard because he recorded it almost entirely inside his apartment in Montreal. Nothing about it is lo-fi, however — it’s a beautiful recording of some of the most beautiful music yet from this excellent Canadian singer-songwriter, who makes delicate pop, rock and folk music with the sort of sophistication and subtle touches heard more often in chamber music or old pop standards. He’s in the same musical realm as Andrew Bird, Rufus Wainwright and the late Jeff Buckley.
And on Friday, Watson and his nimble band brought their musical adventures to Chicago’s Lincoln Hall, playing outstanding new songs such as “Lighthouse” and “Words in the Fire” along with fan favorites such as “Beijing” and “The Great Escape” from previous Watson albums. Watson spent most of the show sitting at the piano, although sitting hardly seems like the right word to describe what he was doing. While he doesn’t dance on his instrument as Jerry Lee Lewis does, Watson did make the piano seem like a living partner in the act of music-making as he coaxed lively but precise runs of notes out of it. The audience clearly included a good number of devoted Watson fans, who sang the backup harmonies impressively and shouted out requests. At one point, Watson apologized for not being able to show a movie he usually screens during one of his songs. “You can imagine the move that’s supposed to happen now,” he remarked. “It’s an imagination game tonight.” And indeed, his music did inspire all sorts of pictures in the mind.
Montréal singer-songwriter Patrick Watson has been making records for several years now, including the wonderful 2009 album Wooden Arms, but he hadn’t played in Chicago until Monday night (May 17), when he finally visited our city with a gig at Schubas.
His talent on the piano was evident even before the show started, when Watson came onto the stage for a brief sound check and ran his fingers quickly up the keys of an upright piano with a virtuosic flourish. Watson spent most of the show sitting at the piano, occasionally moving to the standup microphone at the middle of the stage.
The lighting cast dark shadows as Watson and his backup band, the Wooden Arms, played a delightful set of songs with the sort of complexity and subtlety that you also hear in the compositions of Andrew Bird or Radiohead. His voice was often up in tenor range, and Watson showed a sophisticated appreciation for old-fashioned songwriting craft. But there were also several moments when the music rocked, complete with loud guitar solos.
For the encore, Watson donned a special megaphone suit — looking more like something from the movie Brazil than anything James Bond would be caught dead wearing — which allowed him to sing out in the middle of the nightclub floor without using the P.A. system. (I was not able to get a photo of this, but here’s a picture by another Chicago music blogger, Baby Stew.) And then, setting aside the suit, Watson pulled off a rather remarkable song that began with him singing unamplified out in the audience and leading the crowd in one of the best concert sing-alongs I’ve ever experienced. Was everyone in particularly good voice, or was the music simply inspiring? Then came some drumming from the stage. Watson and the rest of his musicians made their way back onto the stage as the song continued, transforming from campfire sing-along into exquisitely orchestrated art-pop.
What an excellent show. Now, Mr. Watson, please don’t take so long before you make a return visit to Chicago.
Seemy photos of Patrick Watson and opening act McKensie Toma.