Owen Pallett’s Lonesome Symphony

This review can also be found on Monday Magazine’s website:

http://www.mondaymag.com/articles/entry/concert-review-owen-palletts-lonesome-symphony

By the time I got to the Alix Goolden Hall on Monday night, a long line-up had already snaked its way east down Pandora Street.  Many of the people there that night had been waiting for a long time to see Owen Pallett (the artist formerly known as Final Fantasy) as he was forced to cancel his much anticipated show at Rifflandia last year due to a combined case of the flu and strep throat.  Pallett felt bad about the cancellation and made good on his promise to return; the warm spring air was thick with anticipation.

It would be hard to imagine a place better suited to Owen Pallett’s music than the Goolden.  From the outside, the place looks like a castle. The blueprints of the building may have quite easily been plucked from the complex lore of Dungeons and Dragons, which just so happens to be one of Pallett’s obsessions as evidenced by the magical lyrics of his previous effort, “He Poos Clouds”.

The inside of the building is no less impressive, as it offers something that is often missing in our contemporary musical experience—space.  In a time when songs are often compressed into the smallest of formats before being crammed into digital urns and channeled through equally claustrophobic ear buds, the Alix Goolden Hall offers a perfect counterpoint; here, songs are given room to breathe.  The hall’s high, vaulted ceiling allows songs to open up like early morning flowers as they resonate through holy, stained glass sunlight.  Such is the perfect atmosphere for Pallet’s spacious songs.

Snowblink, a duo from California, opened the show.  Before that night, I had never seen or heard the band, but was encouraged by the fact that the lead singer Daniela Gesundheit’s Gibson SG had miraculously sprouted horns. The horns, coupled with the string of sleigh bells the duo gave out to the people in the front row, added to the tangible excitement of the near capacity crowd. On this night, it was obvious that magic was afoot.

As Snowblink started into their set, I was taken aback by the depth of their sound.  Gesundheit’s voice was looped: whole choirs of her singular voice soon swirled around the hall.  These cloned, choral backdrops swelled to stunning climaxes before disappearing completely, extinguished with the tap of a toe; bells rang out, both on stage and off. The highlight of the set was a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”  Snowblink’s interpretation of the song emphasized its overwhelming sadness, much more akin to Nick Drake than the King of Pop.

After a brief intermission, the house lights dimmed once again, prompting a thunderous applause.  Owen Pallett dodged a few people who were headed for the washroom at the wrong time before he confidently hopped up onto the stage in his stocking feet. He nodded to the crowd and immediately launched into his set, playing the first few songs alone before inviting multi-instrumentalist Thomas Gill to the stage.

It became immediately clear that Pallett is an absolute virtuoso.  Throughout the set, he juggled more loops than I could count while switching back and forth between violin and piano effortlessly.  Pallett’s ability to weave disparate threads of sound into ornate and textured musical tapestries is astonishing.  Not only is he the conductor of his orchestra of one, but he also plays every instrument. Small wonder he is often sick; it must be exhausting.

Throughout the show, I found myself feeling sorry for Pallett’s violin. The old thing seemed to scream in Pallett’s grasp as he strangled impossible sounds from its neck, beat on its body in order to lay down percussive foundations, and even screamed into its belly to evoke fierce and haunting vocal effects. His bow fared no better. By the end of the night, Pallett’s possessed hand commanded the bow’s loose horse hair to dance manically in the dull blue spotlight, leaving his audience entranced.

The trance was only lifted when Pallett left the stage. The entire audience rose to its feet to try to coerce him back on stage.  He came back, eventually and played a few more songs before taking his last bow.  We reluctantly left our padded pews, wondering when the one man orchestra would return to our fair town and our spacious hall of sound.

Photo by Mat Henley:

flickr.com/photos/inthemidst_ofadaydream

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3 Responses to Owen Pallett’s Lonesome Symphony

  1. Jeanette Lodoen says:

    I LOVED reading this!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. Barb Bennett says:

    Thank you for this Nick, it brought the whole experience back to me! Fabulous review for a fabulous show. Your words are like a string of magic!

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