Chamber Folk / Indie Folk / Indie Pop

Patrick Watson, winter comfort food at MTELUS

par Alain Brunet

Two decades of musical great practice have led Patrick Watson to engage and nourish the souls of a loyal audience. This winter rendez-vous set by the Montrealer allowed this fervent relationship to continue. Once again witnessed at MTELUS, on this first weekend of February.

And so the musician invited us to continue his journey alongside him, without however presenting a large batch of recent material. Let’s talk about a program involving several classics. A comfort food show, then, with no major surprises apart from the improvisations and call-and-response games with the audience devised on the spot.

We spent a couple of nourishing hours watching this relaxed performance, peppered with humor, renewed arrangements and special collaborations.

Singers included Lisa LeBlanc (opening for folkie and during the concert), Ariel Engle (La Force) and Ourielle Auvé (Ouri), who swapped electro beatmaking for voice and cello. The singer and keyboardist’s staff included drummer Olivier Fairfield (Fet.Nat, Timber Timbre, Andy Shauf, Leif Vollebekk ), bassist Mishka Stein (Teke::Teke, among others) and a string quartet (Yubin Kim and Robert Margaryan, violins, Jérémie Cloutier, cello, Lana Tomlin, viola).

The curtains were closed when the impressionist piano and the interpreter’s head voice imposed silence on the auditorium. A few tens of seconds passed, the stage curtain opened, the musicians appeared and large tulle canvases could be seen behind them.

On a moderato rhythm, we follow with “Dream For Dreamin”, waved by a bridge of well-felt vocals and strings that are too unintelligible in the final crescendo. It’s always a demanding contract for a sound engineer to make acoustic strings sound good with amplified bass, drums and keyboards… But hey, things got better as the performance went on.

“Wave”, title track from the penultimate album, arrives on the program, preceded by some Watsonian moods and Transylvanian laughter. The orchestral ballad is tinged with the colors of a prepared piano. We stay with the gentle vocals, this time punctuated by pizzicato strings with another title track, from the album “Wooden Arms”. 

Accompanied by a beautiful countertenor vocal complement, this waltz is one of many opportunities to grasp Pat Watson’s harmonic influences,  clearly impressionistic (Ravel, Debussy, Satie).  This is all the more obvious with the ballad “Ode to Vivian”, inspired by the American photographer Vivian Maier. You’d think PW could explore other harmonies, but… we know that songwriters rarely deviate from the collection of chords that have defined their style.  

The singer continued with “To Build a Home”, which he had created with the band Cinematic Orchestra. Here we are, plunged back into the great indie era from which the majority of the fans present – aged 35-40 and over – hail. 

Then it’s the turn of the ballad “Melody Noirto seduce, this time inspired by Venezuelan Simon Diaz, and performed in concert with La Force. The latter occupies even more stage space with the fade-out that follows, “Love Song For Robots” and “Height Of A Feeling”, created and recorded in tandem. The occasion is ripe for a rendition of How Do You Love A Man, an indie folk song by La Force.In the same spirit, it’s a good idea to opt for a chamber music version of “Lost With You”.

The audience starts clapping, as if politely asking for a little more muscle,  a binary rhythm then unfolds, a wandering melody flies over it : “Drifters”. 

Ouri and her cello are summoned to center stage. Known for her electronic productions, Ouri was obviously classically trained before turning to electro, but this is a rare occasion when we get the full measure of it, namely with the piece “In Circles”, matched with  vocalizations and bow strokes. Simple and beautiful.

A little further on, PW will sing one of his rare French tracks, Je te laisserai des mots, a nice effort from the singer who grew up in a bilingual hamlet (Hudson) and has always been close to and admiring of the French-speaking portion of our indie scene. 

We head towards the conclusion with a game of improvised retorts, led by the singer, string section and audience. The aptly titled “Big Bird in a Small Cage” requires the participation of the guest singers. Right to the end, our host and his colleagues will have served music lovers a convincing example of North American indie folk magnified by vocal harmonies and bird sounds from the stage and also from the hall. 

At the encores, we recognized the tracks “Is Anything Wrong” (Lhasa de Sela), “Slip Into Your Skin”, “Lighthouse”, “Sit Down Beside Me”. Klô Pelgag arrives wearing a cap and carrying a backpack, and we dare say his voice has acquired additional maturity and assurance… Singer-songwriters topped it all off with a warm bivouac… By the way, we weren’t sure if the concert was over, when suddenly Pat Watson returned to the stage alone, belted out with spotlights and portable amplification. He sang his way through the MTELUS, just to bring this delightful evening to a close.

PATRICK WATSON SE PRODUIT AU MTELUS LES 2, 4 ET 5 FÉVRIER , 20H. INFOS ICI

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