Great Lake Swimmers (Toronto, Ontario) and Patrick Watson (Montreal, Quebec)
September 5, 2012
9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

If anyone reading this has been toying with the idea of going to a Patrick Watson show at some point during his current tour, get tickets. Now.

There’s no question that their recorded work is magical, but to truly get a sense of what Watson and his band are about, they must be seen live to be believed.

Tortonto-based quintet Great Lake Swimmers opened the show with an indie folk set, accented with a hint of county fiddle.

Watson kicked off his set on a dark stage. The only light in the room came from his illuminated knuckle dusters as he played the piano accompaniment to “Lighthouse” from his latest album, Adventures in Your Own Backyard (which was drawn from heavily throughout the set). Watson was gradually joined by the rest of the band, their hands also illuminating as they began to play. The sensory deprivation of the dimmed venue, save for those few small, blue lights forced focus onto the music.

Watson and his four bandmates are spectacular performers. They manage to achieve live what many musicians would struggle to find in a studio environment, weaving a lush fabric of sound. From Watson’s often soaring vocals, to the plucked violin notes and Morricone-esque guitar fills, what they create onstage is pristine and beautiful.

And they clearly have a great time while they create it. Often, at the end of a song, Watson would let out an excited giggle. He has a boyish charm, wearing pants that are slightly too baggy and rolled up to show his brightly-colored socks, frequently grinning from ear to ear. Between songs, he playfully bantered with the audience, telling stories about how some of the songs were written — “Luscious Life” was apparently the result of a drunken evening, and Watson had hoped Dolly Parton would sing “Big Bird in a Small Cage.”

At a few points, he got the audience singing along and had some fun with it. “Put your hands in there air, it feels better,” he said. “Like Mariah.”

Though they were clearly enjoying themselves for the entire set, during the show’s encore they really let loose. Watson and the band’s guitarist performed “Man Under the Sea” from atop chairs in the middle of the audience, with the rest of the band off-mic on the edge of the stage. For the final song, Watson appealed to the audience, suggesting two of his songs and, jokingly, “Oops I Did It Again.” Clearly the latter suggestion amused him enough to improvise a song from that prompt on the spot, midway laughingly acknowledging that what he was doing was “dangerous.” Dangerous, perhaps. But entertaining? Absolutely.

Watson will be on tour in the U.S., Canada and Europe through the end of the year. If he’s headed to you, be sure not to miss him. And if you’re dying to hear this particular show, NPR was on hand recording it, though it isn’t online just yet.

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