I’d love to give Patrick Watson the thoughtful, in-depth review that his soaring and cinematic performance at DC’s Rock and Roll Hotel deserved, but I started drinking some tasty Sonoma Zinfandel at 2pm before the show and my memory is a bit, shall we say, foggier, than required in order to offer up a proper review. Perhaps this is apt, however, as Mr. Watson’s music often emerges from a dense morning fog to take the audience in directions it couldn’t see or anticipate.
What I can say, though, is that Mr. Watson is an uber-talented performer who had the crowd hanging on every note for the entirety of his show. He showcased Jeff Buckley-quality vocals with impressively layered melodies that are clearly designed to effortlessly woo your emotions in whichever direction he has deemed fit. Luckily, this svengali approach to musicianship never led the audience astray, and instead culminated with an impromptu encore set held directly in front of me about twenty feet into the crowd. This seems to be a newly re-popularized device lately, and may as well remain so as long as the kids are still diggin’ it.
Montreal is turning out some of the best music in North America these days, and clearly some of the more diverse as well. Watson is an example of both, turning out a mélange of music that could perhaps be described as musical jambalaya…a dish rooted in the Acadian traditions of those who left Quebec for Louisiana long, long ago. There’s some jazz, some classical, some pop, some rock twinges, and clearly some soulful folk as well. Whatever ingredients have been mixed in his creative pot, the end result is one that is best served up in-person. The emotive performance Mr. Watson delivered was mind-bogglingly beautiful and demonstrated that recordings do not do his talent justice.
It’s not often that I encounter Ph.D’s in mathematics performing on stage, but my tour of Canadian under-culture continued last night with Caribou, also at the Rock and Roll Hotel. Caribou is a project led by Daniel Snaith, an Ontario-born performer whose educational accomplishment was clearly reflected in the precise timing and execution of the multiple layers of Caribou’s electric performance. Performing with a full band, Snaith packed the house to the rafters and left no one questioning Bob Boilen’s decision to podcast the show for NPR. Again, this was a performance that was light years ahead of the recorded versions of his songs, a statement of high praise given the quality of Caribou’s recordings.
The most recent record, Swim, is clearly less accessible for mainstream audiences than the psychedelic pop of Andorra, but the evening’s performances from this new record were particularly transcendent. I mean that literally, because while extended instrumentals can easily come off as masturbatory experiences, (such as seeing Animal Collective drop a ping pong ball on a timpani for 20 minutes a few years back), these carefully orchestrated pieces transcended time and place and moved one from the crowded, humid here-and-now into a light, airy, and undeniably happy place.
There were moments during these interludes when I heard the undeniable influence of Sonic Youth, and others where the “indietronica” reminded me of some of Underworld’s better moments, circa Trainspotting. I’ve rarely found it troubling to pray earnestly at the alter of Thurston Moore, (as long as it isn’t solely derivative), and Caribou’s music is clearly art of their own creation. They layered minimal staccato beats against smoothly rising rhythmic chords in mind-blowing crescendos. Sure, I may be more open to electronic music than some of my peers, (perhaps due to wonderful memories of Kronenbourg and the 16-year old French girls who introduced me to the genre in river-side Loire Valley discoteques), but any serious appreciator of music would have to complement the flawless execution of these complex genre-bending pieces. Luckily for a pleased audience, Caribou didn’t allow the beats to overwhelm the blissful sense of adventurous voyage that is found in the layered beauty of its compositions. In this sense, the beats become secondary to the overall sensibility and feeling that is continuously built during the entirety of the song. One was not simply moving to the beat, but was instead moved by the underlying architecture of the rhythms themselves. For electronica, that just may be a revolutionary redefinition of the genre.