Photo by Matt Riley
Reggie Watts is a truly unique talent; an idiosyncratic, improvisational comedian with impossibly elastic vocal cords and the ability to create captivating compositions with just a microphone and a smattering of effects pedals. While Watts is certainly not the first artist to blend humor and music, few others can exist so comfortably in both the music world and the stand-up world, especially in the same set. The former Montanan brought his formidable talents back to Missoula’s Wilma Theater for a set that had his audience bobbing their heads to the beat between fits of laughter.
Having grown up in the relatively nearby city of Great Falls, Watts was able to draw from his knowledge of Montana to great comic effect. Riffing on everything from his favorite local pizza joint to Montana’s obsession with the rivers that crisscross the state, He wove commentary and rambling stories together in a stream of consciousness flow that kept the the crowd in rapt attention. After a while he made his way over to a table full of effects pedals, grabbed another microphone and began a series of improvised beatbox loops that slowly built into a fully fledged song catchy enough to sing along to – or at least would have been if any of the syllables Watts delivered were discernible words instead of simple abstract sounds.
Watts has a music pedigree that stretches back to the late 1990’s, from fronting the genre-hopping Seattle outfit Maktub to throwing down soulful, funky vocals with Soulive. His impressive range and control combines with a keen pop sensibility, filtered through a series of disorienting effects and loops to create a sonic experience comparable to Bobby McFerrin on hallucinogens. It’s simultaneously impressive and – because it’s being delivered by a man with a tremendous bobbing afro, black t-shirt with a simple white text reading “FAKE ART” and abundant dance moves – hilarious. Unlike most comedians who incorporate music into their act by relying on the campy humor of their lyrics, Watts’ wit is usually more subtly ensconced in his delivery and process. He’s plenty capable of goofy lyrics too; at one point he sat down behind a piano and busted out a satirical power-pop ballad about Montana life.
For nearly ninety minutes, Watts traversed through his free-form blend of music and humor, leading his audience through various faux-rap flow one moment and a rambling story about drinking too much Robitussin the next. Near the end of his act he pieced together an industrial beat loop and paced the stage headbanging and letting out his best metal growls, and during his set closer he paced between his effects workstation and his keyboard, alternating microphones and delivering an impressive keys solo. The audience ate up every minute of it, and after cheering him out for an encore they took to their feet in the front row for a dance party as Watts assumed full pop diva caricature, sashaying about the stage and dancing like a madman on the subwoofers.