Sometimes it’s the happy accidents that make being a music fan oh-so-exciting.
Back in 2012, one such accident was going to see Great Lake Swimmers open for the reasonably hyped Patrick Watson – the show was actually broadcast/archived on NPR – without knowing a thing about the man, his music, or what was about to happen. And what happened was revelatory, awe inspiring -- in short, MAGIC. The eschewing of traditional lighting in favor of a more personal approach – tiny tealight-like devices were mounted on guitars, fingers, wherever they could be fit – amplified the angelic weirdness of Watson’s music, pitching the audience into an almost dream-state euphoria, where magic and whimsy and wonder were all real and happening right now in front of you.
That show set a bar, not just for what Patrick Watson, the band (the band is the man is the band…it’s metaphysically weird but just roll with it) was capable of, but legitimately, what we should expect from ALL live shows going forward from this melodious singularity. So to say expectations were high for Watson and his band’s most recent stop in Washington, D.C. would be putting it lightly. Throw in the fact that their new album, Love Songs For Robots, is one of the best releases of 2015 to date (we reviewed it on the podcast here), and really, there’s no way for anything to live up to the hype.
And yet…Patrick Watson found a way.
On a stage lit by incandescent globes that threatened to erupt into bursts of Tesla-fied lightning, Watson and his bandmates – which include Joe Grass on guitar, Mishka Stein on bass, and Robbie Kuster on drums/percussion – brought these Love Songs to life, creating new worlds for the audience to explore with practically every measure. From the Radiohead-esque trip through the universe-at-dawn swell of “Good Morning Mr. Wolf” (tbh there’s a LOT of Radiohead in Watson’s music) to the jaw-dropping twists and turns of “Grace” – a track that plays indie rock like some alt-universe resurrection of The Beatles at their weirdest/best – the music the band was laying out continued to up the ante for the duration of the evening.
It was only during two brief interludes – one for a scandalous impromptu solo rendition of Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again”, and another that found the entire band performing on one of the bars of the club – that the spell was dropped. And even then, it only seemed like a minor trip down some lesser wormhole in a universe where all roads lead to Planet Watson. Which is to say, if this is what Patrick Watson is capable of at the very start of the tour for this new material -- if this is what he’s going to not just give the audience, but to challenge them to demand from their experiences late at night in darkened clubs -- then we’re in for a hell of trip by the time the tour has run its course.
Make a great album. Play a great show. Let your audience in. Rock n’ Roll ain’t rocket science, but rarely does anyone get it THIS right. This perfect. This magical.
All photos by Kevin Hill. Click to embiggen.
Special Note: The Low Anthem opened up the show crammed in between a grand piano and the side of the stage, and despite their crammed-in-ness, or maybe because of it, performed an entirely different but no less potent form of magic. It’s been awhile since the band has been in the spotlight, and in that time there have been lineup changes, sonic shifts and more, so it’s nice to see them back and prepping a new record for release at some point this year.
Love Songs For Robots
Good Morning Mr. Wolf
Adventures in Your Own Backyard
Alone In This World
Turn Into The Noise
Places You Will Go
Oops, I Did It Again @Info[Improv based on the Britney Spears song]
Know That You Know