CONCERT RECAP / PHOTOS: Patrick Watson @ Great American Music Hall, 11/19/12

This time of year usually finds music fans in a state of (often hazy) reflection of the past year’s audio experiences. We begin to construct and debate our “best of” lists (ahem, coming soon to your very own LMB.com), and after deliberate consideration, I thought I had it all wrapped up. It’s been an amazing year of music. Then I saw Patrick Watson last night at GAMH in SF, along with openers Half Moon Run. Now, I’ve got the red pen out and I’m making cuts.

Patrick Watson are currently touring in support of their fourth album, Adventures in your own Backyard, released earlier this year on Secret City Records/Domino. (Although the lead vocal and songwriter’s name is Patrick Watson, the band ascribes the moniker to their group collectively.) Watson is their clear leader, but the collaborative efforts, passion and sheer talent of each band member is astonishing. Violin, drums, bass, piano, acoustic and electric guitars, a marimba, an old saw, a toothbrush, and a solid drum click were all featured last night alongside Watson’s enigmatic and haunting vocals.

The crowd listened with beating hearts and baited breath through the darkened opener, “Lighthouse,” where each of the performers spotlighted their musical intent with white, lit gloves. Round screens behind the piano and drum kit showcased dramatic silhouettes, shadows and video, while oversized light bulbs bathed the stage in warm light. It was a stunning effect and one not lost in the experience or photos, but truly the music held its own throughout the evening. Watson played many of the night’s songs behind piano, and the band met at center stage for a few intimate songs crowded around a shared mic. Here the crowd heard “Man Like You,” dedicated to an old childhood friend and his family who were in the audience, as well as “Into Giants,” a smartly chosen track being promoted off their latest. Watson encouraged an ever-challenging and hilarious crowd sing-a-long to the storied, “Big Bird in a Small Cage,” all the while teasing us and scolding himself with the kind of charm often found within the talented. He’s special, y’all. He crowd-sourced the encore selection and when it was a close call, played the one he wanted to play anyways (“To Build a Home” from his time with The Cinematic Orchestra.) Their final encore was a reworking of “Where the Wild Things are” into, “Where the Wild Girls are,” presumably in tribute to the bright lights and trashy strippers prominently featured in the Tenderloin, where the beautiful Great American Music Hall lives.

Song highlights for me include: “Lighthouse,” “Step Out,” “Into Giants,” “Beijing,” and “Adventures in your own Backyard.” Mostly new songs. I enjoy their earlier music for sure, but the newer stuff actually feels more comfortable and more collaborative to me. I am a sucker for epic, and there is a synergy in this band that seems to elevate each note played. The songwriting is engaging and warm; it often feels narrative in lyric and tempo, tugging the listener along a twilit path. The album was recorded in Watson’s home studio in Montreal and is said to be a tribute to the enticing and fun aspects ‘home’ can come to represent after traveling the world. The band is effective at creating that exploratory and enjoyable vibe, and it makes for a really fantastic live experience. One of my best in 2012.

I should also mention how glad I was to have shown up early and caught every minute of opener Half Moon Run’s set. This young and extremely talented band hails from Patrick Watson’s same neighborhood in Montreal (is it something in the water?), and I expect to hear much more from them. If you’re into Radiohead, Alt-J, Local Natives and/or Citizen Cope, you should probably check these guys out. They have a natural driving force, fantastic stage presence and energy level and play very well together. Plus, the lead guitarist looks like a young Leonardo Dicaprio. Like, Titanic Leo. (Did I just date myself?)  It only took a quick Google search to learn there is already a lot of buzz around this band.  See them when you get the chance!

Patrick Watson and Half Moon Run continue their tour in mostly the Northern United States and Canada until mid-December. Tour dates are here. If you’re in the South and want to experience them anyways, npr posted their September show in D.C in it’s entirety here.