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Patrick Watson At First Unitarian Church, Wednesday November 21st 2012

I don’t know what it is with Canadians and music played in church… While Arcade Fire converted an old church into a recording studio, Patrick Watson, another band/guy from Montreal, Quebec, played his dark-uplifting music inside the First Unitarian Church on Thanksgiving eve in Los Angeles.

I didn’t know anything about him, but as soon as the band took the stage one by one, in complete darkness, wearing small lights on the knuckles of their fingers, as soon as the first haunting piano notes of ‘Lighthouse’ filled the very quiet place, it was difficult to resist the invitation. The music was ethereal, a little mysterious and Patrick Watson, who sang most of the time with a very high falsetto, was an interesting boyish character, producing very varied and surprising soundscapes, part spiritual, part indie folk, while giggling or goofing around between the songs.


‘Lighthouse’ built a strange and fascinating ambiance, a slow piano waltz with sparse and cascading notes – think Gary Jules’ cover of ‘Mad World’ for the ‘Donnie Darko’ soundtrack – suddenly exploding with trumpets and strings like an Ennio Morricone’s composition.


Watson had a surprising voice, soaring so high sometimes, you had a hard time to think it was coming from a guy, but his music was going into so many direction from song to song, sad and emotive or playful and exhilarating, that there was not a moment that wasn’t surprising.


There even were some gypsy cabaret rhythms on ‘Step Out for a While’ with a lush orchestration of violins, returning to some beautiful desolated piano melody with ‘The Quiet Crowd’, glittering all over the place like the little lights around the stage, bringing emotion with strings and musical saw, with a definitive Jon-Brion-esque dimension. The set was heavily digging into their latest release ‘Adventures in your own Backyard’, but they also played some older ones like the Blackbird-esque ‘Man Like You’, so quietly, so stripped down you could have heard everyone’s breathing.


I know we were indeed in a church but the audience was attending the show as if they were at a religious service, and it was extremely relaxing to not hearing the usual incessant background noise of endless chatting, bottles and glasses clashing into each other. The round and tunnel-like screens on each side of the stage were producing amazing effects, projecting silhouettes, shadows and other videos, and the Christmas lights all over the stage were adding to the magical atmosphere.


Many songs had this quiet beginning, gentle and sad notes, ascending later toward noise, turning bombast with the whole band involved, and ‘Into Giants’ had this light touch, like an upbeat Christmas carol, not about Christmas, or not even a carol…it was a subtle blend of folk and classical music as if triumphant and glorious Mozartian trumpets could blend with folk guitar and voice harmonies. As someone new to his music, I found it quite unpredictable, sometimes reminiscent of what Andrew Bird or Sufjan Steven do, but unique and oscillating between dense and layered executions and super quiet acoustic numbers, during which the whole group was gathered around one single mic.


Patrick Watson tried to make everyone sing along during ‘Big Bird in a Small Cage’, a song for which he tried to get Dolly Parton, ‘But she said no!’, he said, laughing, instead he got the whole crowd that he was trying to get more excited at each try, ’ give me lots of passion, like you were a bit crazy,…I know you always have the sun here, but tell me your problem, give me all the fire in your belly! Don’t you feel better?’


If the album is called ‘Adventures in Your Own Backyard’, each song was an adventure by itself, an adventure into many genres, Spanish trumpets magically combining with intimate and quiet settings, going from hushed murmurs and silences between notes to loud and epic developments.


They came back for an encore and played a song among the crowd and two more on stage. All show long, all the musicians (Simon Angell on guitar, Mishka Stein on bass guitar, Robbie Kuster on drums, and Melanie Blair on violin) seemed to have a great time all together, as well as a wonderful synergy combined with a comic and charming presence. When the show was over, I saw two young guys hugging each other in front of the empty stage, they visibly didn’t want to leave and put the magic of the show behind,… Me? I left with a wonderful feeling, how come this guy is not more known? It’s such pretty music, an original voice in this world of banality, conformity and redundancy,… If people only knew!




1 Lighthouse

2  Blackwind

3 Step Out for a While

4 The Quiet Crowd

5 Man Like you

6 Into Giants

7 Drifters

8 Luscious Life

9 Beijing

10 Big Bird in a Small Cage

11 Morning Sheets

12 Adventures in Your Own Backyard

13 Noisy Sunday

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