Everyone's heard of the Final Fantasy video game series, but few people have heard of the Final Fantasy I'm writing about: Owen Pallett. What does one have to do with the other, you may ask?
Pallett, who opened for The National at Marquee Theatre last night, the Canadian violin virtuoso, used to perform under that name. That is, until he retired it to avoid a copyright infringement issue with Square/Enix, the game's developer. So now he performs under his given name, but his sound is still as epic as the video games from which his original moniker was taken.
It is surprising, however, that Pallett is still such an unknown, since he has lent his musical talent to indie heavyweights Beirut, Grizzly Bear, and Arcade Fire, and won Canada's prestigious Polaris Music Prize for his 2006 album, He Poos Clouds (for real, that's what it's called). He was also shortlisted for this year's prize for his most recent oeuvre, Heartland.
Last night at the Marquee Theatre, however, he did nothing less than astonish, despite his meek beginning. As he progressed through his ten song set, he gained vocal strength and presence, moving about the stage and playing more and more powerfully until the last note from "Lewis Takes Off His Shirt." He was in his element, which appears to be creating and performing chamber pop that sounds like it's scored for a maniacal and demented Disney movie.
Since he was only the opener for The National and not the main act, the room was under-filled, actually making his music soar higher than it would have to a packed crowd, which made me realize that that's should be how his music should be heard. It belongs in cathedrals, with high ceilings and stained glass windows, where the décor is as dramatic as Pallett's music. Nonetheless, the Marquee did what it could to lend a hand to the sound and the ambiance. In the sparsely populated concrete room, his voice floated and echoed, and the orange lights hitting the fog on stage gave his set an eerie and dreamlike quality.
Even if you're not a fan of Pallett's, you have to admit that the sound he creates is pretty amazing, especially considering it's coming from just one guy. Well, two, since he's got a guitarist/percussionist who joined him quietly after the third song ("Oh, hey, this is Hans," was his introduction, like he was a roommate who had just walked into the living room while guests were over). But he loops his bowing, plucking, vocals, and percussion, and blends it all together until the room is full of sound, like in "Many Lives -> 49 MP," and removes each loop one by one at the end of the song until the audience again remembers that it's just one lanky Canadian on stage doing all of this.
As a kid who did a really shitty job of playing violin in middle school, it was great for me to see how he created all the sounds he did, using all of the violin in nontraditional ways, like hitting the strings with the back of the bow, knocking on the instrument, and yelling into the f-holes to create a hollow vocal echo.
Last night, Owen Pallett's violin was perfectly tuned, his voice was belting (and sometimes primal scream-ing) loudly to the rafters, and his angsty, tortured lyrics were paired with their sweet and sometimes distorted string accompaniment, and he gave one hell of a performance to a crowd that largely didn't come for him. But if you didn't hear it or haven't heard of him at all, you need to change that. Quickly.
Personal Bias: Since I was introduced to Owen Pallett's music, I have had a soft spot for him. He's a great big nerd, like me, and only called himself Final Fantasy because he grew up playing the games like I did. I think his music is fun and quirky, and a little off-kilter, which is refreshing in a world of churned out pop music.
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The Crowd: There to see The National, but mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings in t-shirts and jeans, there to have an indie night on the town.
Overheard In The Crowd: After the set, a drunk girl was exclaiming to her friends that, "Oh my god, my little sister just got a violin on Craigslist!" Maybe that was the same drunk girl I later overheard throwing up in the bathroom.
Random Notebook Dump: "Kind of video gamey, with bleepy-bloopy sounds from keyboard."
The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead
He Poos Clouds
Scandal at the Parkade
This is the Dream of Win and Regine
The Great Elsewhere
Lewis Takes Action
A Man With No Ankles
Many Lives -> 49 MP
Lewis Takes Off His Shirt