On Saturday, November 23rd, The Watchmen’s fans gathered for an assured good time at at the Danforth Music Hall. Set amid the sweet spot between adjusting to winter darkness and the full-on holiday season, this evening was an occasion for friends to get together for one big night out of Canadian Rock and Roll from one of our greatest bands who disbanded in 2003 but have played together occasionally since 2010.
The Watchmen packed their set list full of gems the crowd knew by heart, and still found time for some surprises that reminded us that Daniel Greaves has an incredible vocal range and versatility: on this occasion there were nods to Billy Bragg, Spirit of the West, Bob Marley, and others amid a rapid fire set of The Watchmen’s own classics.
The twin high points of the evening encompassed the story of music in its highs and lows. The band adapted their planned set on short notice to pay tribute to the late John Mann of Spirit of the West, with an unforgettable cover of “Political” dedicated to “The Spirit of John”. The rendition was inspired, a proper tribute. People in the crowd danced wildly or cried discreetly in the moment. Another surprise came in the form of a (long delayed) gold record presentation for their 2001 album Slomotion. Everyone in the room got to feel like friends and family, celebrating this milestone, no easy feat in a country this large and spread out. Celebration is so important and often denied artists, and it felt really special to share the moment with a band who deserves much acclaim. It all reminded us that this band is one of the few holding the torch left by The Tragically Hip, their contemporaries, who can take us on emotional and musical journeys with an ease that seems effortless.
The Danforth show covered all the albums we know and love, featuring Slomotion most heavily with five songs. The selections from that album and Silent Radar are sing-along anthems their fans have held dear for twenty years, and are now burnished as Canadian rock classics.
The evening was fluid with spontaneity: A bit of “I Can See Clearly Now” a dash of “Superman” a hit of “Between the Wars” (for aren’t we still, and always, between wars of some kind or another?) a mention of a song that brewed from an inspired moment “at a sound check in Grand Bend” making us think of the famous camping party spot of our youth, and picturing the band right in the thick of it and still finding time for innovation, a guest vocal from a boy who appeared to be a young friend or Greaves’ son, an acoustic cover of “Highwayman” on piano and an unheard of double encore (after house lights had been brought up) which sent us off into the night with a gorgeous rendition of “Redemption Song”.
Words by Jacqueline Howell. Photos by Dave MacIntyre and Jacqueline Howell.