Concert Review: Patrick Watson at the Café du Nord, San Francisco May 9, 2009

May 10, 2009

I HAD HEARD about this Montreal-based “art-rock” band from a reliable source that had recently seen them in New York, so when I discovered they would be playing in SF I was eager to see what all the excitement was about.

The band played a single set that began just past 8:00 and ended an hour and a half later, following two encores. Watson has a rich, nuanced, soulful, and remarkably versatile voice that he augments at various points with a handheld delay pedal and occasionally a megaphone (his jazzy megaphone solo using a trumpet mute brought the house down). The band is equally versatile, shifting almost cinematically through dramatically different rhythms, time signatures, textures, themes, and instrumentation. Imagine a mash-up of Tom Waits and early Pink Floyd with touches of Bertolt Brecht, Nels Cline, Erik Satie, and the Art Bears, and you’ll be in the ballpark.

The show began with guitarist Simon Angell, apparently seated on the floor (I couldn’t see clearly from where I was standing), furiously scraping a heavily echoed Fender Jazzmaster with a violin bow, while bassist Mishka Stein droned ominously behind him. As Watson and drummer Robbie Kuster joined in, the music evolved into waves of polyrhythmic psychedelic splendor, with Watson’s melodious tenor and echoed falsetto floating above the precisely executed din. Angell began with banjo on the second song, plunking out intricate patterns with a flatpick before switching to a semihollow D’Armond for some gradually intensifying arpeggiated chord cycles. The guitarist would repeatedly change up throughout the show, sometimes using handheld objects of various sorts to elicit Knitting Factory-approved sheets of noise, at other times playing rapid flamenco-like rhythmic patterns, articulating pretty acoustic melodies, or blasting out angular "blues" solos warped enough to give Elliott Sharp pause—usually while simultaneously manipulating an array of pedals.

The show ended with Watson wearing a bizarre backpack containing five or six pole-mounted intercom speakers poking out of it, singing through them as he made his way into the crowd, followed by Angell playing a waltz on acoustic, Stein adding surf guitar riffs on an electric with a battery powered amp, and Kuster playing Theremin-like lines on a musical saw.

I was knocked out by this band, as was the audience. Look for a story on Angell in an upcoming issue of GP.

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