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Review Wed May 19 2010

Review: Patrick Watson @ Schubas 5/17/10

[This review was submitted by reader Rob Reid, who also shot the photo at the show when Patrick jumped into the audience.]

What would a self-described "musical mad scientist," citing influences such as David Lynch, classical legend Eric Satie, and classic rock legend Neil Young, sound like? While it's unlikely that the world has heard anything quite like Wooden Arms, Patrick Watson's third album, it seems even more unlikely that the experiments of this band of musical chemists could have succeeded so brilliantly as to draw a near-capacity crowd at Schubas on a Monday night. Wooden Arms, a deeply-layered masterpiece featuring liberal use of strings, electronics, and found objects such as a tree branch, a bicycle wheel, and wine glasses, relies heavily on studio wizardry to create what could make for an emotionally dynamic movie soundtrack. But how would this music come across in a live setting in real time?

Following an all-too-brief opening set featuring the eerily beautiful vocals and lyrical poeticism of Chicago newcomer McKenzie Toma, Patrick Watson's band took the stage. Simon Angell eased into the opening song with a fingerstyle acoustic guitar pattern, joined by Mishka Stein on bass and later Robbie Kuster's shuffling brush rhythm. "After all the flames in the morning," Watson hushed into "Fireweed's" opening vocal melody, "the quiet ashes fell for hours and hours." Visually, the band kept a low profile on the dimly lit stage, dwarfed by their own giant shadows cast by shifting stage lights. Kuster launched the second tune, "Tracy's Waters," with a haunting wine glass percussion rhythm, and later took the sonic spotlight (still on a mostly dark stage) with a short drum solo in "Beijing." Meanwhile, Watson's piano playing sometimes resembled the whimsical soundtrack of mice running down stairs in classic television cartoons.


Some of Watson's more conventional songs, like the dreamy "Big Bird in a Small Cage" and his solo piano piece "The Great Escape," stood up well with simple arrangements built primarily on interesting melodies, but the band was at its most compelling on more eclectic tunes such as the dark cabaret waltz "Traveling Salesman." Watson sang through a megaphone, and then used a brass mute to emulate (or perhaps very convincingly pantomime) a raucous trombone solo. While so many technical pieces seemed to fit into place perfectly, the audience laughed sympathetically when Watson's mic stand came apart in the middle of the song and he told his band, "Do an extra round, guys!" to buy himself some time before singing the next verse. Despite the mishap, not a beat was skipped in the emotional fabric of the song, which closed with a bold and torrential Hendrix-esque guitar solo.

Eclecticism and experimentation ran deep throughout the set, including a piece in 7/4 time ("Luscious Life") and a track called "Where the Wild Things Are" (yes, inspired by the book) which featured a slide kazoo, the squeal of a deflating balloon, and an angelic chorus sampled spookily with reverse reverb. While Watson wasn't done battling the defiant mic stand ("C'mon mic stand, Jesus Christ!"), the mellow "Man Like You" recalled the subtlety and hushed vocals of Nick Drake at his best. After Watson closed the set with a new tune, "Sit Down in Silence," the crowd made the need for an encore obvious with their feet, their voices, and their hands.

"It's kinda hard to do the encore thing [at Schubas] because you can't really hide anywhere," Watson noted dryly as he strapped on a makeshift backpack device resembling a robotic flower- each stem a megaphone projected from a central battery-powered amplifier. "It's like, how long you been behind the piano for?" Watson and his band climbed off the stage and into the midst of the crowd for an intimate encore, first an unreleased tune featuring a musical saw, and then a major key dirge "Man Under the Sea" that got the audience stomping and singing along, "Just me, the fish, and the sea... Just me, the fish, and the sea."

-Rob Reid

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Christiaan / May 19, 2010 10:44 AM

Hi, Thanks for the review, nice to read. One question for Rob: Didn't the play anything else after Man Under The Sea? They normally do actually :). Hope you had a great time!

Oh and was the "unreleased tune" Hearts in the Park perhaps?

Rob / May 19, 2010 8:35 PM

You're right, the unreleased track was Hearts in the Park, thanks for the link. What do they usually play last?

Christiaan / May 20, 2010 6:50 PM

Usually, they play a rare track, like Between The Bars, Gnossiene #1 or a new one, like Underneath the Morning Sheets.

We're discussing it here btw:

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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