Montreal artist, Patrick Watson is often compared to an impressive group of modern musicians. However, calling him Canada’s Sufjan or a vocal Nils Frahm diminishes Watson’s uniqueness. They all may travel in similar artiste circles, jetting in to play shows in Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Rome, and Gstaad. Yet, trying to parse the Canadianess of an artist merely for comparison feels arbitrary and puffed up. Whether by design or happenstance, Watson stands alone despite writing similarly emotionally driven songs structured with pop frames papered by gritty or cloud-soft textures and idiosyncratic tones. That word soup sentence just proves that it’s hard to define Watson without listening to his music. And really, definitions are best left for words and 70s Canadian game shows.
Following an almost year-to-the-day postponed show at the Danforth Music Hall, a delighted Watson took to the larger stage of Massey Hall on Dec. 15, 2021. For many, it was the first trip not only back to seeing a live concert, but also the first back to the renovated legendary venue.
Opening the show and featuring with Watson during his set was Kyla Charter. This operatic, soaring vocalist described her music as ‘songs about boys who don’t love her back’. Backed by bass, drums and the odd sample, the star on the stage was Charter’s voice that she wove and built over layers of loops. Creating not only her background vocal, she also tweaked with filters and effects to produce textures within the simple yet personal lyrics. While a pair of songs spoke of her mother and sister, Charter performed an interesting number cheekily named Sebastian Bach To The Future.
On a stage strewn with standing Edison bulbs and likely more fog than Massey Hall has ever seen, Patrick Watson took to the stage. Backed by Mishka Stein on bass and guitar, Joe Grass on guitar and one half of the Barr Brothers, the inimitable Andrew Barr on drums and percussion, Watson opened this show with the gorgeous, lilting Lost With You. Rich on banter, including the inevitable COVID mention joking about how a trip to Toronto feels like a trip to Europe. Bringing out more help, the Cobalt String Quartet took their places behind the band to run through beautiful renditions of Slip Into Your Skin, The Wave and Broken with Kyla Charter joining on backup vocals. The last artist to enter the stage and join the gang was the sublime, Ariel Engle, professionally known as La Force. The regular set ended with the sombre, Here Comes The River. After a slight break, the band returned and Watson asked the crowd for words and phrases to perform an improvised song. The result was the story of meeting a crazy man on the street, which was named Rainbow Boots. It was a very fun portion of what otherwise was an emotional show. For the final song, Patrick Watson asked his lighting tech to put out all the lights. With only the LEDs of his modular synth seen, he performed Lighthouse to end the night.
It was a fantastic performance made all the more special by the venue and life over the last 19 months.
Photo by Jag Gundu / Massey Hall