To appreciate Patrick Watson’s set at the Sinclair on Saturday night in Cambridge is to appreciate the achievement of Thomas Edison’s innovations with electric light in the early 1880s.
Watson’s set was a sweeping, nearly two-hour affair of piano-driven (though not exclusively so) tunes destined to hit you right in the heart. For an artist whose latest album is titled Love Songs for Robots, seeing the Montreal-based singer and his quartet of musicians with him is an all-out human experience. Or, at the very least, sensory overload.
Onstage with Watson and company were nine light fixtures that flickered and faded as the night’s ambient tunes played on. Starting with the opener, “Love Song for Robots,” these lights came on with a crescendo of light to begin the set as Watson pounded away at the keys of the pristine grand piano on the stage.
For the second track, “Good Morning Mr. Wolf,” Watson crooned while strumming away at a ukulele as guitar player Joe Grass went to work on the pedal steel to pace the song’s tempo. As the set progressed the lights got brighter and brighter around the five men on stage, shining a light on a set of music that may have been equally satisfied in the shadows.
Watson’s vocal delivery and onstage choreography is strikingly similar to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. The frenetic movements behind the microphone that Yorke has become known for are similar to Watson’s when he stands and wails his lyrics with absolutely everything he’s got. On this night, the highlight of Watson’s set was “Turn Into the Noise,” a song that was first featured earlier in the year on the AMC hit zombie drama, The Walking Dead. At first the song was protested by Watson as it was “being played too early in the night,” but before you knew it, the song slow-burned its way from slow-sweeping ballad to an all-out fuzz rock fury, thanks to Grass ripping away on his hollow-body electric guitar in the middle of the stage.
Watson, a seemingly jovial guy, had quite the night with the Cambridge crowd, with first cracking a “Hey, how about those Bruins,” joke midway through on a night that found the hometown hockey team long gone from the ongoing National Hockey League playoffs (in fact, they didn’t even make the cut). Leave it to someone with allegiances to the bleu, blanc, et, rouge to try and get a rise out of a New England crowd, though there was a missed opportunity to shout back that his Canadiens were recently eliminated from contention as well.
The other crowd-friendly portion of Watson’s set came in the encore, as he and the band decided to bring their music right to the people in the Sinclair’s mezzanine overhang that hovers above the soundboard. Armed with acoustic guitars, a tuba, a saw (yes, the kind you can find in copious amounts at your local Home Depot) and Watson’s powerful falsetto, the quintet performed a beautiful version of “Into Giants,” a cut off of Watson’s 2012 effort, Adventures in Your Own Backyard.
Of course, the Sinclair crowd lived up to its expectation to help fill the tune in as a choir of 500 or so voices.
Earlier in the evening, that near-capacity crowd was also treated to the sounds of Providence’s own The Low Anthem. The Rhode Island quartet (which last dropped an album in 2011) worked their way through a handful of waltzy ballads including “The Early Morning,” “The Air Hockey Fire,” and :This Goddamn House.”