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Review Mon Jan 18 2010

Review: Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy) at Schubas 1/16/10

Owen Pallett, formerly known as Final Fantasy, made waves as string arranger for The Arcade Fire, but that was only the beginning. While still a steady and integral member of the powerhouse Montreal group, Pallett has built an ambitious and impressive career by remixing tracks by Grizzly Bear and Stars, contributing string arrangements to Beirut and Pet Shop Boys and recording three solo albums. The second of those, the majestic but tragically-titled, He Poos Clouds, was the 2006 winner of the Polaris Music Prize. Pallett, because he just wasn't awesome enough, decided to donate his prize money to struggling colleagues.

His latest album, Heartland, is a far-reaching and often strange concept record concerning a farmer's one-sided conversation with his creator, Pallett himself. The record was recorded with a slew of artists, including the Czech Philharmonic, and his live shows draw all the more attention since he often performs solo or with the help of one or two musicians. When I saw him at the 2009 Pitchfork Festival, it was just him and his instruments, alone on a gigantic stage in front of thousands of sweaty hipsters, a bemused look of wonder across his face.

Schubas' moody, intimate space is a much more appropriate venue for Pallett's intimate aesthetic, and Saturday night, on the penultimate evening of the Tomorrow Never Knows Festival, he didn't disappoint.

Kicking off the evening was Peter Wolf Crier, a wailing dose of jangly folk rock that surprised those who thought this was gonna be a low-key evening. Straddling the line between the loopy feel-good folk of the Dodos and the rollicking lo-fi shred of Black Lips, lead singer Peter Pisano had the audience with his first aggressive strums.

Go from that to the soothing, almost ethereal music of Sharon Van Etten. Cute as a button, holding a guitar that nearly dwarfed her tiny frame, she had quite a task on her hands. But from the first lilting arch of her mournful voice a hush fell over the space. A few simple strums, a few simple plucks, Van Etten's croon stands out as the star. Thick and hypnotizing, it transcends her above simple comparisons to other indie darlings like Marissa Nadler. Her latest record, Because I Loved You, came out last year. Buy it.

Right on time (so rare, but so wonderful), Owen Pallett took the stage shoeless, accompanied only by a bearded cohort on drums and bass. Without a word, he launched right into Heartland standout, "E is for Estranged", a soft ballad showcasing the refined classicism of his voice, maintaining its richness through such blistering lines as, "Pathos is borne, borne out of bullshit." Seamlessly, Pallett brought us next into the funky bounce and string-noise of "Keep the Dog Quiet," a burst of violent pop (for Pallett, at least) that got the crowd bouncing. Energy was high during the early songs. Pallett cranked out sing-along anthems like "Lewis Takes Action" and "The Butcher" while screaming into his violin, bouncing to the beat, feeding off the crowd. I think it took everyone by surprise when he confessed to being under the weather right before launching into a stripped down version of the title track from He Poos Clouds. It was only then that his sickness became evident. The song felt a little too stripped down. The energy lacked and the audience desperately tried to make up for it by belting out the lyrics. This lull was short-lived, however. Unbridled performances of crowd favorites such as "This is the Dream of Win and Regine" and "Many Lives" brought the place back to life real quick. What's especially fun is listening to the crowd voice the string hooks as much as the actual words. By the time he hit his encore, always a standout at his live shows, Pallett was back in full-form. Stripping down to a blue and white tank top, he launched into oldies "The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead" and "This Lamb Sells Condos", two songs that have always sounded better live.

Pallett's live performance is so distinct because you're watching him build a song from scratch. It begins with a string of plucks, which he records. As that loops, he taps the wood of the instrument, a drumbeat, which he records. As that loops, he plays a simple riff on the violin, which he records. As that loops, he plays a more complicated riff, which he records. All of this loops until he's created a tornado of sound, a cacophonous frenzy that swirls beneath his voice as he adds and removes layers at every turn. These are songs that live and breathe, that weep and scream, that, much like Heartland's fictional protagonist, take a journey.

It's a rare kind of live show to watch someone not just play music, but construct it.

Read all our Tomorrow Never Knows coverage.

 
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Patrick / January 21, 2010 10:18 AM

Nice review. I have a download of Owen's 'Lewis Takes Action' on my site. Check it out at http://theyaretheimitators.blogspot.com/

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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