Monday, July 6, 2009

Patrick Watson Rocks

Patrick Watson played the Montreal Jazz Festival this evening, and I have to say I was blown away. Shadow puppetry, a parting of the crowd to march through while performing (crazy megaphone-backpacks involved), and a bicycle mounted atop a skyjack all were used as part of this incredible show. While I’m not really one for dissonance and falsetto wailing √† la Coldplay, the showmanship more than made  up for it, making for a thoroughly enjoyable show. The Montreal Jazz Festival needs to be commended for bringing the band to the main stage of the festival and working together to put together all of the logistics for what must have been an incredibly difficult show to organize. The concert, a free outdoor concert featured for the 30th anniversary of the Jazz Festival, illustrated that creativity in musical performance doesn’t stop with the music.

I’m sorry to say I have no pictures to present as my camera batteries died. I’ll see what pops up on teh netz in the next few days and report back. Check out the band for yourself though, they’re brilliant.

Check here for music videos, the show was supposedly broadcast live there, though either the window has passed or I’m to stupid to find out how to see it. There were definitely serious filming going on, so the video is out there somewhere.

As for the show, it opened up with crew flapping 5-foot sheets of metal on all sides around the crowd to build to a thunderous roar, at which the curtain was drawn and the band began. Images were projected onto adjacent buildings, creating stunning visual imagery to accompany the music. The song Beijing included a bicycle running in place, far above the crowd atop a 50-foot platform. Perhaps escaping the notice of some listeners, the musicians kept perfect time with the ticking of the bicycle wheels. That sort of thing takes incredible talent.

Some time later, following a duet with Lhasa de Sela, the band strapped on insane-looking backpacks with audio equipment and megaphones to broadcast as they slowly wended their way through the crowd to a small stage set up in the middle of the audience. There they handed out kazoos and encouraged us in the crowd to play along. A drum solo by Montreal drummer Guy Nadon let the band get back to the stage, where they joined him in performing the next song, punctuated by a particularly memorable tin can drum solo.

A song written inspired by the book Where the Wild Things Are was accompanied by a world-class shadow puppeteer, who produced a remarkable shadow-likeness of Patrick as he opened and closed the song. Also notable was the image of a fox (wolf?) running, the pace of which followed the music, and monsters of various sorts, to go along with the song’s theme. The last piece of the main set, written for Patrick’s son, featured silhouettes of boys jumping on trampolines projected on the walls and ended with a bundle of huge white balloons rising above the stage. All came together for stunning imagery to enhance the music.

The show finished with the obligatory encore, which Patrick specifically commented was a little silly, as we’ve all come to expect them at any show of this scale. After the big finish, including fireworks along the length of the crowd, and everyone was about to leave, they came out again for not one, but two more encores before the lights finally died and they sent us home. The trickster - his comment about encores wasn’t really expressing cynicism, but setting us up to be actually surprised by the real encores. Fantastic showmanship.

All through, I couldn’t help thinking that while the crowd was in the high thousands, it seemed as if the performance were just for a few people. With all of the expensive effects, security, and the like, he maintained a personal setting with the crowd through casual banter, being unafraid to laugh at himself or technical issues, and a general attitude of earnestness. Perhaps this was best highlighted when the shadow puppet projector died. Patrick stopped the show, restarted the band, and continued the song with the projector working again. This comfort and casual attitude on stage makes Patrick Watson the person and the entire band fantastic performers and as (in my mind, at least) performing ability tends to dictate longevity in music, I have the feeling they’ll keep amazing, innovative shows coming for years in the future.

Update 12.07.09: As promised, here’s some of what has hit the webz over the last week since the show:

The Montreal Gazette: Patrick Watson in his Elemental

Montreal Jazz Festival: Day Five at Nyani Quarmyne Photography
and Photos of the Show

Patrick with his speaker-backpack on Flickr via Kipourax

Photos from the Jazz Fest site itself

And here at

Oh, and the live stream of the concert is up now where I mentioned it above.

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