Live at Toronto’s Mod Club, the British singer-songwriter proved he was no Sheeran wannabe.
BY ERIC THOM
Behold a new breed of concert for a new breed of fan. Know that I don’t yet consider myself one – but, having offered to drive my daughter home after the show, I thought I’d stick my head in to see what all the fuss was about. What I observed was a roomful of intensely-focused fans – mostly teenaged girls and youngish couples, obviously smitten by the charms of this 24-year old, British singer-songwriter, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.
Nothing particularly different about that, maybe – except that each fan knew every word and would join Watson in unison (or add harmony) with less than a gesture. From an old fart’s perspective, this was a 90-minute group hug of the closest kind, as rewarding for the artist as it was for the fan. There’s no question an artist performs differently for people who appreciate their music – it’s far more than a payday. This was clearly an elongated love letter between the two. Watson has been seen, by some, as being another Ed Sheeran wannabe – however there’s no questioning his talent as a gifted writer and as a performer. The Sheeran comparison has its validity, primarily for their shared approach to tapping into a certain freshness in the category of introspective, acoustic pop, for their seemingly boundless energy and for that coy hint of innocence. Similarly, Watson possesses an innate rhythmic element (recalling a young Dave Matthews) and – with two LPs and countless EPs to draw from – a pool of material which reveals him as an inventive lyricist and arranger. This simplified, solo set provided an opportunity to zoom in on the strengths of his vocals. Label-free and running his own show with little more than the power of Social Media on his side, the young Oxford native is promoting a well-teased, new, 10-track album, Midnight – rich in blending the expected with a more progressive use of added instrumentation.
Touring the world on the strengths of his loyal, if not rabid, fans, he’s delivering exactly what they want. And while the strengths of these songs depend heavily on the support of a full band sound, Watson exudes an obvious charm, an emotive voice, a deep-dish sincerity and conviction, plus enough sing-along hooks to keep the potentially rowdy room completely spellbound. More power to him. And if that wasn’t hard enough work for one night, he made a heartfelt promise to meet everyone (“no matter whether you buy any merch or not”) after the last song was played (the stunning “Deep The Water”). There was no call for an encore. It was an understanding. And then the entire room queued up to meet their youthful hero – a huge line snaking through the full depth of the room and 3-4 deep. True to his word and with barely the wipe of a towel, Watson preceded to meet’n’greet each and every individual, tapping into utter enthusiasm with tireless energy. Hugs to all, animated conversations (most fans have seen him before), posing for countless cell phone photos for one and all, selling and signing LPs, CDs and shirts and generally adding another hour or two to his evening.
He’s no dummy nor is there any question of his genuineness. This is the job and he loves it like it’s his first time. Had you arrived at the show feeling largely unloved or at all under-appreciated, you’d go home feeling like a million bucks. No wonder he’s catching on.