Owen Pallett mentioned to the packed house at Schubas that he wasn’t feeling well, apologizing for not being his usual “showgirl self”, but any side effects of a lingering illness were invisible on Saturday night. His performance was just as intense and impeccable as it was the last time I saw him, with the only real difference being a lack of between-song banter. But with the high caliber performance Pallett (and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Gill) put on, it absolutely didn’t matter.
I’m still not all that familiar with his older material — the older Final Fantasy albums are ones that I’d listen to when they came up in shuffle but never devoted that much time to really absorbing. More recently, though, Pallett’s music has been hard for me to avoid — he created a lot of buzz over the summer with some of his performances on the summer festival circuit — and between the anticipation of seeing him last November (opening for the Mountain Goats) and of the release of Heartland, I spent a little more time with his music, and so I was definitely excited about getting to see a full show from him.
What Owen Pallett does with technology in his performance is just astounding. Perhaps the layers of sound got lost in the large performance space that is Metro, compared to the tiny music room of Schubas, or perhaps I was just able to get the big picture since I was better able to see him this time, but each layer was so thick and rich to listen to. I’m sure Pallett gets sick of comparisons to Andrew Bird, made by the simple virtue of both men being hyper-literate violinists using looping to create one-man-bands, but in a way, I feel like what they do is so different that a comparison isn’t even fair. Bird’s music has never been so in-your-face experimental as Pallett’s, who draws from his classical education, but who creates the rest of his compositions from somewhere so out there that it’s beyond my wildest imaginations.
His performance is truly something to behold. With one leg often swinging back and forth like a pendulum as he stands and plays, Pallet is full of a nervous energy as he plays. There’s something nearly violent about his technique — his bow was shredded by the second song — which is incongruent with what I can really only describe as the smoothness of his voice. Take away the frantic arpeggios and tremolos and you’ve got just his simple voice spinning extraordinary tales.
While Pallett stuck mostly to tracks from Heartland, you would never know that the album had only been released a few days prior. Sure, it leaked on the internet several weeks ago, but Pallett has also been incorporating many of the new tracks into his live show for a while now. Intriguing tracks like “Keep the Dog Quiet” and “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” are already early fan favorites and fit in quite well with older favorites such as “The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead” and “Many Lives”.
Both opening acts were tremendous as well, and the show is already on my list of contenders for best show of 2010 (if I get around to making a list like that at the end of the year). Sharon Van Etten has a beautiful voice, her gentle singing making you almost forget about how heartbreaking her lyrics can be. “Consolation Prize”, with its line of “the moral of the story is don’t lie to me again”, and “Have You Seen” (“Have you seen what I once called my heart? Have you seen my life that’s now falling apart?”) both really killed me. Her debut album, Because I Was In Love, is pretty clearly a break-up sort of album, described by someone standing behind me at the show as “sad bastard music”. I think that might just be my new favorite genre, actually. I enjoyed her album but liked her live performance even more. Despite the packed room, and despite the fact that Van Etten is one tiny woman with a guitar, her voice managed to cut through all the noise and hush even the loudest and most obnoxious of concert-goers.
But the real surprise for me was the amazing performance of Peter Wolf Crier. I’ve seen Owen Pallett before, and I’ve heard numerous times about how great Sharon Van Etten is live, so I knew I was in for a treat with their sets. But only being familiar in passing with the music of Peter Wolf Crier (guitarist/vocalist Peter Pisano and drummer/vocalist Brian Moen) meant that I was completely unprepared for how great their set was. Pisano’s voice reminded me frequently of M Ward and AA Bondy, having a sort of world-weary quality; this particularly struck me on the track “Down Down Down”. I was really blown away by the intensity of their set, in all respects. Pisano snapped a guitar string early in the set, but luckily there was a spare guitar sitting around. If you ever have a chance to see them live, go do it. You won’t regret it.
No photos from the show, as Schubas had signs posted requesting no photography (so that great photo up there isn’t mine), and Schubas is one of the venues where I’m inclined to consent to their requests. They’re so good to fans, generally permitting all sorts of photography and recording, that when they say to not do something, I’ll listen. Set list behind the jump borrowed lovingly from Muzzle of Bees.
1. E is for Estranged
2. Keep the Dog Quiet
3. Lewis Takes Action
4. Oh Heartland, Up Yours!
5. The Butcher
6. He Poos Clouds
7. This is the Dream of Win & Regine
8. Many Lives
9. Midnight Directives
10. Honour the Dead or Else
11. The Great Elsewhere
12. Lewis Takes Off His Shirt
13. (Encore) The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead
14. (Encore) This Lamb Sells Condos