Cabaret tables, candles, and one short-billed cap.
Patrick Watson stopped by Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Friday night, just a few blocks from the Riverside Theater where the Alabama Shakes were playing a sold-out show the same evening. Milwaukee indie music aficionados were again divided. the Shakes may be the buzzier, more renowned act but Patrick Watson has a passionate following of their own, and the band would play to generous turnout Friday night in Milwaukee.
When I arrived at Turner Hall, a few songs into opener Alpha Consumer’s set, much of the venue was filled with candle-lit cabaret tables, and nearly all of them were already occupied. Concertgoers continued filtering in throughout the opening set, standing on the sides and even opting to sit on the floor space in front of the stage.
Anytime there are seats and/or tables at a concert venue, there’s always some anxiousness as what to do. Do we sit? Go to the front and stand? Sit through the opener, get a beer, then go stand in the pit?
With Patrick Watson, the cabaret-seated folks were set with their places the rest of the night. The floor-seated gathering in the pit also appeared to be comfortable, as no one made the move to stand when Patrick Watson came out on stage. And that wasn’t a huge surprise, as much of Patrick Watson’s music can be chill and tranquil, something you can definitely get lost in while sitting and sipping a drink.
When the band took the stage, they went right into the enchantingly delicate “Lighthouse” off of their latest album, Adventures in Your Own Backyard. Still relatively new to Patrick Watson, “Lighthouse” and the album’s title track were two songs I was looking forward to hearing at the show. Watson himself started off behind the piano, and his impressive, ranging voice immediately stood out: on “Lighthouse,” it was as crisp and clear as on the album recording.
Watson would split time between the piano and singing at his mic center stage, all while wearing his trademark short-billed cap. He moves a bit when at the mic, sort of a jittery sway. It’s as if each note is buried deep within him and he must brace himself before the delivery of each line. Despite this visible concentration, Watson still comes off as relatively relaxed on stage. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. Considering the emotional weight of some Patrick Watson songs, one could easily expect a performer who is solemn and solely focused. Watson is quite the opposite. He jokes around, laughs and occasionally takes a sip from an apparent cup of whiskey; he’s noticeably having fun on stage.
Watson and bandmates gathered around the front mic for intimate rendition of “Into Giants,” before Watson returned to the piano to finish the song’s soaring chants. Things got noticeably more uptempo on “Beijing,” when the entire band flushed out their individual instruments; the sounds orchestrated beautifully together. At some of the more high-strung jam moments, Patrick Watson can really pull off chaotic, Man Man-esque bursts of musical dizziness. Prior to the show I had mostly listened to the band’s atmospheric and gentler tunes, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear some of the full-instrumented explosiveness as well.
Watson worked the crowd on “Big Bird In A Small Cage,” a song he explained was written for Dolly Parton. He repeatedly riled up the crowd to sing along, asking for everyone to pretend they had road rage, and to sing along in that same intensity.
Patric Watson closed with the climatic “Adventures In Your Own Backyard” followed by the haunting “Noisy Sunday.” For the encore, fans finally decided to stand and rush up to the front of the stage. Watson reciprocated the move by singing “Man Under the Sea” in the center of the newly formed crowd pit, again asking everyone for assistance with singing the track.
And the fun didn’t stop there. After the band left the stage, Watson reappeared by himself to again answer the crowd’s applause. “I got nowhere to go,” he declared while taking a seat behind the piano. Watson initially joked it was time for the greatest hits of Elton John, before asking the crowd which final song they wanted to hear. The show came to a full close with “To Build A Home,” The Cinematic Orchestra song on which Watson is featured.
The second encore was a little bit curious, but, more importantly, was fun. And that appears to be the priority for Patrick Watson. For a band and a frontman that are constantly being compared to other artists, they seem to be happily focused on creating an entertaining live show that’s all their own.