Patrick Watson at the Doug Fir, Portland, 5/11/2009

Should have wrote about this yesterday, but I got caught up in the Celtics game (they had no business winning) and then the season finale of Fringe (good but a little too Golden Compass for my liking).

Regardless, Montreal’s Patrick Watson made their first visit to Portland on Monday night and they were every bit as impressive as they were when I saw them as unknowns in 2007.  Of course it helps they had one of our favorite songs and albums from that year. It goes without saying that we’re excited they’re back on the scene, two years removed from their impressive introduction.

In fact, I’m pretty sure these guys have it in them to be considered in the same breath as Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, etc. when talking about the top tier of bands pushing the boundries of what pop music is and can be.

High praise for sure, but Monday night did nothing to dissuade me from that belief.  Their set was brief and filled with cuts off their superb second album Wooden Arms (Secret City Records), but the standouts were “Beijing,” “Traveling Salesman” and “Big Bird Small Cage.”

Surprisingly, they shied away from their Juno-winning 2006 eponymous record playing only the standout tracks “Luscious Life” and “The Storm.”  Still, despite that, the band delivered it’s trademark swooning, psychedelic jams with a plethora of offbeat instruments – kazoos, banjos, balloons, bazoukis, an octopus-like megaphone, etc.

Patrick Watson at the Doug Fir in Portland

The real instrument to hear, however, is Patrick Watson’s voice.  It’s an evocative instrument.  He doesn’t so much sing with it, rather, it’s used to swoop through songs providing a gorgeous counter-balance to the pulsing rhythm section and guitar licks.

Three things really stood out for me during the night.  One, they put on a scary good light show.  The duration of the set was basked in dark red light, or had giant shadows projected on the concrete behind them.  It was sultry and evocative of the music they play.  Secondly, I was taken aback by just how much their music is influence by early 20th Century German composition – specifically the theatricality of Bertol Brecht and Kurt Weill.  And third, I don’t recall their drummer being as top notch as he was.  Either he played off his ass that night, or the guy is something special.  He kept the whole show in check with his snappy drum fills and unique beats.

This is a guy and band who cares deeply about his audience, evidenced by playing several songs amongst the audience, even letting a girl in the audience sing the harmonies from “The Storm.”  She was good and Watson acknowledged that by essential letting her take over the song from him.  Few performers would have the confidence in themselves to do that.  When he was amongst the audience you could see how everybody would get quiet to soak it all in.

At the end of the night, after the encore, when the audience refused to leave, Watson brought his band out to the stage for one more impromptu song.  It’s a cool thing he didn’t have to do, but the tiny audience of 100 people or so wanted more.  The band had a little fun with it by doing an improv tune, taking ridiculous song-title suggestions until someone suggested they play the song “Brave Young Cowboy.” Patrick Watson and co. obliged by making the above song up on the spot.  It’s a very good little western ditty.  If you didn’t know it wasn’t made up on the spot, it would be easy to think the song was a B-side.

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