Published Sep 10, 2014Everything Owen Pallett records turns to gold. His sophomore album (under the name Final Fantasy) won the inaugural Polaris Music Prize in 2006, and his subsequent two have both made the short list, while his contributions to the Her soundtrack garnered him an Academy Award nomination in 2014. The live experience is always the true test of a performer, though, and if his evening in Vancouver yesterday (September 9) was anything to go by, Pallett passes with flying colours.
Hunkered down in the fabulously appointed Imperial, he requested intimate lighting, just enough for everyone to see what they were doing, but so that the intimacy of the evening stemmed from the man himself. His stage presence was unbelievably comfortable, owning up to any missteps or mistakes instantly and honestly, while downplaying their significance by maintaining the flow of the performance. He wryly referred to "The Passions" as kind of a bummer before fulfilling the request, and noted that he had been screwing up "Scandal at the Parkade" lately, right before doing so again. At one point, he opened the floor up to questions, and seemed to enjoy being heckled by a guy in the front row, threatening to put the heckler on the mic while they went back stage to wait for the encore later on.
The things he did with a violin transcended the traditional concept of extended technique. Sure, he did some expected things in that vein, like knocking on the back of the violin and playing it like a guitar for "Keep the Dog Quiet" from 2010's Heartland, but his lightning fast plucking did not seem humanly possible. His control of his loops, built from the ground up layer by layer, boggled the mind, particularly in the range of sounds he was able to coax in the loops for "The Arctic Circle" and "Song Song Song" from He Poos Clouds, or the staccato-focussed arrangement for "This Is the Dream of Win & Regine" from his 2005 debut Has a Good Home. He also occasionally processed the string sound into synthetic timbres, like on "Song for Five & Six" from his recent record In Conflict.
Pallett's voice was quite something too, consistently bold and dramatic. It was incredibly powerful in the brooding, minimal setting of "The Passions" and soared in unearthly falsetto for "Infernal Fantasy."
Pallett was joined by drummer Rob Gordon and bassist Matt Smith for most of his set. With their aural support, meaning he had fewer layers to worry about, Pallett was free to become more theatrical with his lyrical delivery, acting out the lyrics to "Midnight Directives" as best he could. His backers held their own too, with Smith adding lower frequencies and backing vocals, and Gordon being particularly explosive on "Infernal Fantasy," which should have been a theme for an '80s fantasy epic.
However, while Pallett's voice was undoubtedly beautiful, he tended to stick with a similar inflection from song to song. This led to mid-set doldrums in the rather plodding triptych of "Tryst with Mephistopheles," "The Secret Seven" and "The Great Elsewhere," though the latter did see some of Pallett's most animated delivery.
Ultimately, he leans more towards Andrew Bird's soul-searching than Kishi Bashi's charismatic whimsy on the looping violinist spectrum, and his songs carry more weight when they aren't trying so hard to pop. Yet, he seemed genuine, from his honest-almost-to-a-fault banter to the mere act of crossing the stage at the end of their set for no reason other than to hug his supporting cast, so the benefit of the doubt remains his.
Read about Pallett's monumental year here.