Waiting in line to get into Lee’s Palace on Saturday, it felt like it was going to be a strange night. I’m not sure if it was the guys standing around offering free high fives or if it was the large amount of cold medication I had taken before leaving my house, but needless to say, something was off. After receiving my high five (free of charge) and getting into the venue, I noticed a large camo tarp that took up almost a quarter of the stage and was assaulted by the strangest mix of background music I could ever have imagined. Jumping from arpeggiated synths to early 2000s dance music followed by the X-Files theme song, there didn’t seem to be any apparent connection between it and the show we had come to see. This strange cycle of songs kept going with no rhyme or reason until the opening set began a little more than an hour later.
Jennifer Castle seemed torn from a different time, wearing a faded red kimono over black jeans and t-shirt and with a cherry red guitar. The crowd hushed as she began singing, punctuating her vocals with the occasional strum of the guitar. Her lyrics were awash with imagery, some painting pastoral pictures while others were more sinister, hidden by the sweet alto of her voice to good effect, making you wonder if you had actually heard what you thought you did. The music itself built in complexity as the set progressed bringing elements of country, folk and gospel music together which culminated in Owen Pallett joining her onstage to add backing vocals and string arrangements to the last few tracks. With this small addition, the music began to resemble the soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where art Thou (one of the best movie soundtracks of the last 20 years) and even though I am not the biggest fan of modern folk music, by the end of the set she had won me over.
As the stage was set for Owen Pallett, the tarp came down to reveal a large crystal shaped structure that seemed to be made out of mirrored glass with an aluminum frame. Having changed from the comfortable clothes he was wearing onstage earlier into an equally comfortable looking new outfit, he took to the stage and tuned his violin. I’ve said before that there is something about tuning classical string instruments… It has a certain feeling, like a potential for epicness with the more strings being tuned simultaneously the greater the general effect. The set began with long bowed strokes. Using a loop pedal he added pizzicato plucking and more bowed lines on top building an intricate string quartet’s worth of sound before layering his vocals on top. Far from being the only artist who uses looping as the base for his songs, there is an experimental edge to Pallett’s work, combining classical arrangements with effects and noises you generally don’t expect from a violin, successfully incorporating those textures into the music. He was joined on stage by a drummer and guitarist who filled out the sound for the rest of the set. The glass crystal had began to glow with different coloured lights and billowed smoke from a concealed smoke machine made me expect E.T. step out of it and ask to borrow someone’s phone. This all built along with the music to the climax of the show that pounded my eardrums and dazzled my eyes with lasers, leaving me smiling but slightly disoriented (that could have partially been the medication though). It’s easy to see why Owen Pallett has been so successful. With a clear understanding of both classical and contemporary music, his award winning solo work has held up even though his debut album released under the moniker Final Fantasy is turning ten this year. Those songs (some of which he played Saturday) seem as fresh and unique as when he first performed them.
Follow updates from Owen Pallett here.
Photos by Benjamin Telford (bentelfordphoto) | Review by Tristan Johnston