The sound of the city

Patrick Watson + Doveman – Bell House – May 6

I walked into Doveman’s show, mid set – and in the middle of a depressing string of songs. This one’s about an ex-girlfriend drinking alone in her room in college, admitted front man Thomas Bartlett by way of introducing “Drinking.” It’s got a lot of discordant notes. He leaned far over the piano as if dwelling on memories (or perhaps just concentrating hard on the notes). Doveman features a wide array of musicians, but tonight Bartlett was joined by a trumpet, upright bass, and drums. Sadly, Sam Amidon was not present though the two Vermonters (Vermontians?) have collaborated a fair amount in the past.

Thomas Bartlett of Doveman

For every song, Bartlett had some sort of pithy intro. So You know when you’ve been drinking too much red wine and you get that stain on your lips? Well this song is about that.

And then a lesson about whiskey followed by So I invite you all to get a shot from the bar and start drinking for “The Angels Share.” And a story about playing at a Christian school. They asked me to replace every mention of ‘honey’ with ‘Jesus.’ I think you’ll find it highly entertaining if you think ‘Jesus’ every time you hear ‘honey’ in the song.

The set was very laid back, but the music was also very deliberate. The drums actually had texture and complexity. And, for once, I didn’t even take my earplugs out of their case. Instead of the usual wide open space, a handful of tables and chairs were spread out on the floor, and people sat, respectfully, sipping beer by candle light. With a number of other promising shows happening concurrently (Beach House at Webster Hall and Local Natives at Bowery Ballroom), I suppose that the people at the Bell House really wanted to be there.

There are currently 10 songs up on the Doveman myspace page. Go nuts.

As the special lighting got rigged up in between sets, people sat Indian style on the floor, but once Patrick Watson had started his set with “Firewood,” most rose to their seat.

Watson’s music may be absolutely beautiful and melodic, but it is also quite raucous at times. Soon, the reason for all the special attention to the lighting was made clear. The small flood light attached to one of the amps at the front of the stage periodically lit up, illuminating everyone on stage – if only briefly. Throughout the show, the lighting played an important role in establishing the mood. For some songs, the lights flickered on and off, furiously.

Patrick Watson

At times, Patrick Watson’s music is downright creepy  – especially “Traveling Salesman,” which sounds almost carnivalesque, as if made by a maladjusted and melancholic clown. The dimly flickering lights on stage just add to the unsettling effect.

For much of the set, Patrick Watson shared the stage with as many as seven other people who played the violin, viola, cello, guitar, drums/percussion, bass, guitar, etc. The percussionist in particular, was quite good. He knew when to rock out, he had a lot of different toys to pick from (wooden blocks, overturned ceramics, and much more), and he knew when to sit back and let the melodies take over.

Ever song sounded epic. Every song sounded worthy of being the grand finale… or at least I thought so until I actually saw the double encore performance.

For the first song of the encore, Watson walked off the stage, saying So we built a fun contraption. Just give us two seconds while we put it on. And then he emerged in the crowd wearing this:

Yes, those are megaphones strapped into a backpack that has five inputs and knobs in the back to tinker with the sound. Oh yeah, and those megaphones all have light bulbs coming out of them. So we built this thing so we could play in the audience and have some fun, Watson continued. He proceeded to walk to the middle of the pit with his band, and they played two songs from there. As always, the use of the saw was quite welcome (especially in the audience!).

This is the music for after the zombie apocalypse, said the guy behind me.

The pack on Watson’s back was cool, but presumably, it was also quite heavy. This was a terrible idea, he admitted as he took it off and set it on the ground for the second song, “Man Under the Sea.” Now unencumbered by the pack, Watson led the crowd in a sing along that was so enthralling that I didn’t even notice his band mates slip away and walk back on stage, where they played out the last bit of the song in full force once again.

I think the band intended to stop playing then, but they came back for just one more. Watson took suggestions from the crowd and settled on the ad-libbed title “Where’s My Pajamas.” For the final song, all eight people played this new song, making it up on the spot as they went alone. My bones are getting cold now. I want to put you on, Watson sang softly. He frantically directed his band mates for this dramatic conclusion.

From what I could tell, here’s the set list (feel free to correct it if you know better):

Tracy’s Waters
Big Bird in a Small Cage
Traveling Salesman
Man Like You
Luscious Life
Where the Wild Things Are
Sit Down Beside Me

Hearts in the Park
Man Under the Sea

Double Encore
Where’s my pajamas?


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"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being


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