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[scroll to the end for some beautiful pictures of The Decemberists’ performance]

If you dislike raving reviews you might want to avert your eyes dear reader, for I feel a few coming on. The second night of Crossing Border was sublime in my modest opinion. Where to start…

I started the evening with Londonders Mumford and Sons, up in the unbearably hot room suggestively named Paradise. Although I like their debut album Sigh No More, I didn’t know what to expect live. As it turns out these four fetching young folkers managed to get everyone dancing in no time, what an infectious bunch! Yes they use the simple but effective method of building up layers of instruments and gradually picking up speed in most songs and yes the lyrics can be a bit twee, but who cares when it sounds like this? Plus, they can say appelbollen.

There was no avoiding my dear beloved Patrick Watson, I gave in to my slight obsession yet again. What a venue for Watson and his Wooden Arms, perfect for their favourite party trick: the acoustic song (this time Man Like Me) on the edge of the stage. It wasn’t their best show I’ve seen, a bit too short too, but they still make my Crossing Border top three.

I love the way the band plays the songs differently each time I’ve seen them. The only one that has lost its sparkle in a new rendition is The Storm, too rushed an none of the wonderful backing woooo’s. Luscious Life and Beijing still the golden nuggets for me.

No time to waste, off to the venue next door to get in for The Decemberists nice and early. The great thing about Crossing Border is that there is always something going on, and so we managed to catch three poets/ authors in between bands (Flemmish rock ‘n roll poets Andy Fierens and Stijn Vranken and Dutch columnist and language buff Paulien Cornelisse). I would recommend reading all three of them; funny and ripe with sharp observations.

The atmosphere in front of the stage before The Decemberists was one of giddy anticipation. Right in front of me stood a gorgeous little 4 year old girl dressed up like a fairy and her mom, who turned out to be Becky Stark‘s sister. They had flown out especially to see the band perform The Hazards of Love in its entirity for the very last time.

The band came on without being announced, I guess to keep the atmosphere of a performance piece rather than a Decemberists gig, and did as promised: they played the Hazards of Love from start to finish. There was the blossoming love between faun and white fairy (Colin Meloy and Becky Stark), there was the jealous mother come forest queen (the absolutely amazing Shara Worden) and the tragic trade off so the lovers can once more be together. Drama! Passion! Tragedy! Guitars! Drums! (one drum even broke from sheer force of pounding) What’s not to like?

The band were obviously really enjoying this last performance together, smiles all round. The girls were an absolutely amazing addition and were clearly sad to be ending their collaboration with the band, Colin Meloy gave them a warm thank you at the end. We were lucky enough to get a six song encore after The Hazards of Love, what a great perfomance. 

After all that excitement there was one more must see on the list: Monsters of Folk. When we walked in the room there was a really cool juxtaposition of the poshness of the room with the excitedly hollering and dancing crowd to be seen. We caught the last 40 minutes of their near 2,5 hour set (!), and I’m glad we did.

As a band I think their material is a bit all over the place and not all of it is particularly good, but what a joy to see Conor Oberst and Jim James on stage together! They were clearly having a great time playing, Conor in particular bouncing all over stage and jumping up onto the drum kit, their energy spreading to the crowd. I was glad to hear a few Bright Eyes songs in the set and sad not to have seen the whole show. 

In fact, how dare those Bordercrossing organisers, having Decemberists and Monsters of Folk play the samen timeslot! Though to be honest, that would be my only complaint about this great little festival. Next year a little less folk perhaps?

Thanks to Guus Krol here are some beautiful pictures of The Decemberists with Becky Stark and Shara Worden:

 

Sunday, the last day of the festival, absolutely crammed with must sees. Still sunshine galore and sweltering heat, but there’s no time to work on my tan, the race begins!

Fanfarlo

First stop of the day is the charming Fanfarlo: “We’re missing half our band because they missed the plane, we fucked up!” said frontman Simon Balthazar with an apologetic grin, “will you help us with clapping and singing?”. Not a problem!
With no drums or strings they had to adjust their set a bit, but it made the gig ll the more spontaneous and the crowd loved it. In fact, they wouldn’t stop cheering until they came back for an encore, at the Charlie stage! Unusual and justified. I enjoyed their Bonnie Prince Billy cover of A Minor Place too.

Vampire_Weekend
photo: 3voor12

After that there was some more Brooklyn based indie on the menu: Vampire Weekend. I’d been looking forward to their show as I missed them last year, but have to say I was a bit underwhelmed. They play their songs adequately, all the hits are in there and some new stuff too (bit more electropoppy it seemed), but therejust wasn’t any magic. Was it the heat? Or their lack of stage presence? They could do with a bit more livening up as far as I’m concerned.

Snoop_Dogg
photo: 3voor12

Next stop: the dogg pound in the Alpha tent. As there wasn’t really anything else decent on at that time, absolutely everyone was headed to see Snoop Dogg. I decided to admire from a far, but was still entertained by the greatest hits machine on stage. It would be nice to see Snoop’s darker side a bit more, but in this case it was a well oiled crowd pleasing festival set.

Little_Boots
photo: 3voor12

After heated internal debate I decided to go and see Little Boots in stead of Patrick Watson, who were programmed in the same slot. Reason being I’d seen Patrick  four times before, but never miss Boots.
As I stood listening to her in the half empty India tent though, I got cold feet. Sure Little Boots gave a solid performance, but there wasn’t much excitement there. You can see the potential in songs like New In Town and Remedy, the rest is a bit bland and needs polishing. So after about 4 songs I couldn’t resist any longer, Patrick wait for me!

Patrick_Watson
photo: 3voor12

I rushed into the front of the Grolsch tent which luckily had enough room for me to wriggle in and felt immediately at home. Truth is I could go and see Patrick Watson & is guys ten times a year and it still wouldn’t bore me. They had no problem mesmerising that big old circus tent right to the back with the clever build up of their songs.
For the encore Patrick asked the crowd if they wanted to hear The Great Escape or To Build A Home. What!? “TO BUILD A HOME!!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, but alas.. He let some girl at the front decide and the dimwitted child went for the familiar Great Escape instead. Grrr. Maybe I’ll get my chance at Crossing Border in November.

Florence and the Machine2

And now, for the most anticipated act on my Lowlands logistical schedule, Florence and The Machine. I went to the Charlie stage over half an hour beforehand thinking I could get right in front, think again! Obviously the Florence buzz has spread, there were already quite a lot of people sitting on the floorboards to mark their territory.
I find it hard to describe what happened the 45 minutes after she took to the stage. This is going to sound horribly cheesy, but it was as if everybody there was temporarily transported to planet Florence, where there is love, drama, fairytales, hate, moon and stars and twilight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone, particularly at the age of 22 (!!!), be so vulnerable, real and compelling at the same time.

Florence and the Machine4

She stood there, red locks blowing in the wind, black dress floating up just enough to show gold sequined shorts, belting out one after another amazing song. The hopeful Dog Days Are Over, the tongue in cheek Kiss With A Fist, the hypnotising Cosmic Love, a more sultry version of My Boy Builds Coffins, each one a gem.
At the end of Drumming Song she spun around so vigorously she fell to the ground laughing. In between the songs she’s this slightly mad & chatty young girl, all giggles and funny stories. But then within seconds she has the ability to move you in a song. During her powerful version of You Got The Love a girl in front of me teared up and turned to her boyfriend for a big hug, I almost had a lump in my throat myself.
Florence seduced, mesmerised, shook, twirled, sparkled and sang her way right into my Lowlands 2009 no. 1 spot. My two “Florence virgin” friends who tagged along were also completely bowled over and gobsmacked. Can’t wait to see her full concert later this year!

The Maccabees

Still on a high, we stuck around Charlie stage to see The Maccabees. The first few rows are filled with jumping indie teenagers, by the look of them all Brits. They sure know how to get a party going and Maccabees guitarist Hugo White plays on this to great effect. They perform a crackling set that thrives on their specialty of suppressed tension building up and the cool vocals of Orlando Weeks.
Although the Brit brigade love the more jumpy early work, the songs off their last album get a great crowd reception too. It seems their turning the corner towards bigger and better, I’m interested to see where it takes them.

P1000318

As Lowlands draws to a close and pretty much everyone is on their way to see the Arctic Monkeys, I decide to take the road less travelled with a bit of Grace Jones (hula hooping her way through Slave To The Rhythm) and some festive Mongolian throat singing courtesy of Hanggai. Only at Lowlands.

Watson Melkweg 09
Pictures thanks to Toofonky

It’s no secret, I’m a bit of a Patrick Watsonite (as can be read here and here). I’ll refrain from an all out gush-post, although it is quite tempting as tonight was the best I’ve seen them yet. I was expecting a regular here’s-our-new-material gig with some of their tried and tested numbers mixed in. I was however treated to a surprise, because low and behold, when the screen with the tauntingly repetitive cartoon show lifted, it revealed the band was considerably bigger than usual.

Enter the Wooden Arms (incidentally the title of their 2009 album release), a string quartet with violin, viola and cello. Their fusion with the band made the new material sparkle all the brighter, a warm glow reaching all the way to the back of Melkweg‘s captivated audience. This glow was enhanced by some great (low) lighting, making it all feel very intimate.

When time came for their tried and tested acapella song amidst the audience the set-up was different: Watson dons a Terry Gilliam-esque structure of megaphones towering over his head and we are treated to a bare version of The Storm rather than Man Under The Sea. It still works a charm.

All of the new material really worked well, with Kuster’s awe inspiring percussion at it’s vigorously beating heart, as could clearly be heard during his solo in Beijing. Other memorable moments included the intrumental Hommage, Where The Wild Things Are (with a tongue in cheek battle between the original band and the stringplayers), Machinery of the Heavens and oldies Luscious Life and Drifters.

On the down side I really missed the female vocals, particularly on Big Bird in a Small Cage. Maybe Dolly would be up for some guest performances?

patrick-watson.jpg

Getting to Patrick Watson on Thursday proved to be a bit of an ordeal. Having spent the whole week teetering on the edge of sleep I was not in my most alert state, and it wasn’t until I met friend MB at the station that I realised I had forgotten the concert tickets. Blast and damnation. No choice but to jump back on my bike and cycle through gridlock traffic in a combination of rain and hail to get the tickets back at my house and then race back to the station again. I decided I should laugh it off rather than spending the rest of the night cursing my stupidity and the horrendous weather, and put Watson’s The Storm on repeat on my iPod to add a touch of drama.

By the time we got to Paradiso in Amsterdam we had been drenched in downpours twice over. It was quite a funny scene in the bathrooms downstairs, watching everyone attempting to dry their hair under the hand dryers. The whole we-all-braved-the-storm-to-get-here vibe added to the atmoshere. Paradiso is probably my favourite venue anyway, such a difference from the vastness and anonymity of Ahoy.

Voicst
The support act was a treat: up and coming Dutch band Voicst (from Amsterdam) played a nice little set and really got the audience warmed up. Their singles are well worth checking out: Everyday I Work On The Road, which got a lot of airplay on 3fm, and the older Whatever You Want From Life.

Patrick Watson & co took their time getting on stage, but then proceeded to mesmerise the audience for a good two hours. They came out looking as if they’d just woken up, hair disheveled, washed out clothes and Patrick sporting that same old cap he seems inseperable with, but there was nothing stale about their performance. They gave every song their all, sometimes a bit too much it could be argued. Particularly when some songs evolved into an all out noise fest, you could sense the audience got a bit disconnected the longer it went on.

pwatson-paradiso.jpg
But they know their boundaries and would then switch to a small intimate song such as the beautiful The Great Escape or Slip Into Your Skin. The band were still experimenting with chains, toothbrushes, balloons and saws, as I remember from their Lowlands gig last August. Although there was more room to experiment in Paradiso, I got the feeling there was a bit less energy and fun on stage compared to that festival show. But then I guess constant touring is a tiring affair.

It’s not to say they appeared lackluster, on the contrary. Luscious Life (my favourite) was played with real intensity for instance, and the acoustic in the audience performance of Man Under The Sea (“it’s become a bit of a party trick” Patrick chuckled) was still a lot of fun and had everybody grinning and participating. Most notably one guy in the audience who seemed so swept up by the moment he didn’t realise his screechy vocals were almost drowning Patrick out.

Well this was one concert well worth getting drenched for! I particularly enjoyed the insane and insanely talented drummer Robbie Kuster and of course the charming man himself, mr. Watson. Sweet oh luscious life.

pwatson-paradiso2.jpg

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