Patrick Watson means different things to different people. He’s a singer- songwriter from Hudson, Quebec, but also a four-man band from the West Island of Montreal. His/their album, Close to Paradise, entered the Canadian Billboard at #5 last year, but is yet to even get U.S. release date. He’s a melodic, almost ambient musician, who was also once (with guitarist Simon Angell) part of a “high-octane” ska band, Gangster Politics. And on stage, Patrick Watson – the man and the group – can be both hauntingly affecting, and disarmingly down-to-earth.
Patrick Watson was certainly a moving presence at the Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review) on March 1st, in more ways than one. Early in the set, songs like “Giver” and “The Storm” transfixed the audience. And in between their early numbers, Watson and Angell demanded and got the audience to abandon the six-foot semi-circle of space given to the musicians and the stage, after calling it “the axis of evil” (as in, “Oh, they’re Canadians, don’t get too close”), and pleading for the spectators to “get rid of this moat.” With a much closer crowd, almost face-to-face with not only the keyboarding Watson but also the seated guitarist Angell, the band’s energy was distinctly raised for the following “Weight of the World” and “The Great Escape”.
The quartet lagged a bit in the middle of their, with the unfamiliar new song, “Black Wind”, and an extended version of possibly the weakest track on Close to Paradise, “Mr. Tom” (though they were hilarious in decrying the surprising absence of the real-life Mr. Tom). But then they brought it all back home with their raucous finale to the seven-plus-minute “Mr. Tom”, from drummer Robbie Kuster crashing his cymbals to Watson hitting his keys with his entire forearms. The pièce de résistance of the set was the finale, an a cappella rendition of “Man Under the Sea”, complete with accordion. Such an effort might have been misguided in such unfamiliar often oh-too-hip settings, but Watson’s charm made it smooth sailings, not only asking the audience if it’d be alright, but then adding jovially, “If you make noise or have a conversation, I’m gonna make fun of you all night long – and that’s a promise.”
Such lines as, “Just me, the fish, and the sea,” delivered sans microphone, with half a smirk, and eyes half-closed, could appear too ‘precious’ to a crowd, but Watson’s charisma and enthusiasm had made a connection with the audience, which meant such lines were carried over effortlessly. That was a microcosm of the entire evening – intimate, touching music matched with winning, easy-going personalities. All the Patrick Watson’s made quite an impact at the Mercury Lounge, despite the abbreviated feeling of the set: with virtually every song running at least four-to-five minutes (oddly, the single-worthy “Great Escape” was the only one that clocked in under), some pieces were unfortunately going to be missed. The band is on a two-week U.S. tour, taking them from the Northeast to Austin, Texas’ own SXSW in the middle of March; if you get a chance to see them, none of the Patrick Watson’s on stage will be easily forgotten.