Watchhouse made a welcome stop in DC at the 9:30 Club on July 17th, touring for their 6th studio album, a self-titled album via Tiptoe Tiger Music released in 2021.
They missed their last scheduled show at the 9:30 Club (meant for 4/15/22) due to being hit by a car in a crosswalk in Iowa City. Thankfully no one was seriously injured, and they received ‘doctor’s orders not to get back out (playing shows) this soon’. The July 17th show was the make-up date, and it was great to have them return to DC for an evening of subdued and hauntingly beautiful Americana and folk music.
You probably know Watchhouse from their original name, Mandolin Orange. Andrew Marlin (vocals, mandolin, guitar and banjo) and Emily Frantz (vocals, violin and guitar) formed the band in North Carolina in 2009. They retained the original name until early 2021, when they finally committed to the new moniker, Watchhouse. The name was inspired by Andrew’s place of childhood solace. ‘We’re different people than when we started this band,’ Andrew says. ‘We’re setting new intentions, taking control of this thing again.’
Michaela Anne, currently based in Nashville, opened the show, this the last night of their short run of shows together. The 9:30 Club had a raucous crowd, many people shouted things to her, which she took in stride as she told stories during her 8-song set. The biggest crowd reaction came when she played “If I Wanted Your Opinion”, about all the times she received unsolicited feedback, mostly from men, on how to be a successful singer/songwriter. We have reviewed Michaela before, and highly recommend giving her music a listen!
Watchhouse got their 16-song show on the road with a slow, sublime intro that featured a mandolin, that blossomed into “Wondrous Love”, from their new album. Andrew’s understated voice set the tone for the evening, each song he sang had a quiet restlessness yet assertive quality. Despite its hushed cadence, “Wondrous Love” speaks to the joy one can feel when reflecting on the grandeur of life, letting the distractions go, leading to a world where everyone is kind to each other.
Next came the low-key “Belly of the Beast”, about dealing with the consequences of the beast in our lives, but it can all be overcome with a little love.
They were joined onstage by four others in their backing band, Nat Smith (cello), Kyle Keegan (drums), Josh Oliver (guitar) and Clint Mullican (bass). Aside from the use of a few stage lights, the onstage accouterments were minimal. Each performer could move where they pleased, should they please.
Then came “New Star”, a change in tone to something slightly more upbeat. The song is the first single from their new album, and speaks to the actual doing of the living the happily ever after, where the chorus was sweetly song by both Andrew and Emily, ‘Someday we’ll be older’ culminating in ‘at least we’re all here together’.
Four of the first five songs performed came from the new album, the outlier being my favorite song by them, “Hey Stranger”, also one of the two or three songs that Emily took over lead vocals. There are songs you listen to, with a hint of tears brimming in your eyes, that takes you to a different place. We all need a few of those songs from time to time. Andrew brandished a harmonica at one point, giving a shout out to his father who had driven up to see them, and had been requesting his son play the harmonica live for 15 years.
They mixed in a few songs from their older albums as Mandolin Orange, including four from 2016’s Blindfaller. Like “Wildfire” about the undercurrents of hatred still stemming from the US Civil War, even to this day.
They told a few stories, including one about their 4-year old daughter (Andrew and Emily are married) exploring DC earlier that day. She was zooming around on her self-propelled scooter on The Mall, when she commented that all the big scooters have batteries in them, and it changed her worldview. Why she doesn’t she have one?
The backing band also exited at one point to let Andrew and Emily play a couple wistful songs on their own. When the full band returned, they went in for a mashup of two songs from Andrew’s recent instrumental solo albums (Witching Hour and Fable & Fire), the second half of which reminded one of a jovial Irish jig.
They ended the main set with two songs from 2019’s Tides of a Teardrop, “The Wolves” and “Golden Embers”. The latter is a love letter to Andrew’s father after his mother passed away, with some hefty violin notes that tug hard on your emotions.
The encore was the singular “Gospel Shoes”. As a song they hadn’t performed live in years, Emily set up the rationale for re-introducing it to their set. It was a song that Andrew wrote early on about the right to abortion. Andrew also directed everyone in the band to move to the left of the stage and forego the microphones, and by way of explanation, ‘We have lots of ideas right now.’ It was hard to hear Andrew sing without a microphone, but the 9:30 Club crowd was quiet as a mouse, and hung on every word.
This was the third time I’ve witnessed Watchhouse live (second time at 9:30 Club), and I think you should make every effort to play their latest album for your musical enjoyment. Also, I’m especially keen on their album Blindfaller, so give that a listen as well!
- Wondrous Love
- Belly of the Beast
- New Star
- Hey Stranger
- Lonely Love Affair
- There Was a Time
- Better Way
- Old Ties and Companions
- (unknown) – This was a mashup of two instrumental songs from Andrew’s recent solo albums.
- The Wolves
- Golden Embers
- Gospel Shoes
Michaela Anne’s Setlist
- Chasing Days
- If Only You Knew
- If I Wanted Your Opinion
- I’m Only Human
- It’s Just a Feeling
- Oh To Be That Free Again
- Who You Are