Published May 30, 2012Patrick Watson -- the band and the frontman -- have a homespun, I'm-your-buddy aesthetic that belies and enhances their nuanced, orchestral creations. That dynamic produces a highly effective push-and-pull that played even better live than on disc.
A show that begins almost entirely in the dark and ends with a handful of fire alarm blasts has a natural trajectory: it gets bigger. At a Watson gig, size matters. Songs explore atypical shapes and unfamiliar arrangements, all held together by the singer's ethereal blasts of falsetto and his outfit's layered soundscapes.
Opening track "Lighthouse" kicked off with little more than pretty piano, but a singing saw heralded an inevitable crescendo, which climaxed with a scorching, Beirut-style trumpet. Even when the change is predictable -- and here it was pretty well telegraphed -- it's still stirring.
Follow-up "Blackwind" was a straight-ahead orchestral race, all crashing drums and urgent keys, while "Step Out for Awhile" used cabaret tropes and minor-key tinkering to create discord. The latter was particularly well suited to the shabbily austere surroundings.
While the band were at their finest navigating dense spaces, occasional quiet tracks provided well-timed repose. Self-professed campfire cut "Words in the Fire" had a disarming simplicity. A guitar ballad with just a singing saw and vocals, it offered a troubadour moment (see Damien Rice) that proved Watson could pull it off capably albeit reluctantly. Similarly, a solo, piano-based take on "Big Bird in a Small Cage" dialed down the theatrics for a late-act break.
Throughout, sporadic buzzing and other sound glitches plagued the set, though Watson's affability and maniacal laughter helped to soothe the annoyance. Only "Adventures in Your Own Backyard" couldn't overcome the racket.
On the other hand, when a stray fire alarm went off during the encore, it almost played like an intended accompaniment, adding appropriate stress to a frantic "Luscious Life." Expect fire bells on the next record.