Recent Polaris Prize finalist Owen Pallett played two shows at Lee’s Palace on the same day. An all ages show in the afternoon and a second one later that evening for the 19+ crowd. It was the second time I have been to such an arrangement, as Vance Joy did the same thing last fall at The Phoenix. Local band Foxes in Fiction opened the night playing a set that would pair perfectly with Beach House. Pallett actually played violin for their entire set backing Warren Hildebrand managing not to divert attention from the young man wailing on his guitar.
After a brief intermission Owen Pallett came on stage and put his dry wit on full display (this is the guy who named an album He Poos Clouds and it won the very first Polaris Prize). “My name is Owen Pallett and it is my first time in Toronto. I like it here. I might come back.” For the first several songs Pallet is alone on stage. He plays an interesting line on his violin plucking at the strings getting a deep rich sound, then loops it and adds another beat with him gracefully dragging his bow back and forth across. He does this about four times before he finally has the beat to his song and it becomes beautifully layered sounding like he has a string band army behind him. Before you know it he has launched full force into his first song That’s When The Audience Died.
What is so amazing is not only did every song have so many different styles and influences he managed to change up his style of playing for each layer he added. He plucks, taps, and drags his bow across in all sorts of ways. Watching Pallett play you wonder how he managed to figure out a violin could make so many different sounds. He either would make Antonio Stradivari very pleased or he would roll over in his grave. Either way he is pushing what people would consider a classical instrument in new and exciting directions. This is the man after all who does all the string arrangements for acts like Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Fucked Up and much more.
He was joined part way through his set by Robert Gordon and Matt Smith to round out his sound while telling the audience “You’re a really cute crowd”. On the back of the stage directly behind Pallett’s setup was a large mirrored monolith that was made up of panels. Different colours of light glowed through the cracks between the panels and fog billowing out from underneath it. With a much fuller sounding band his music swelled to a thumping baroque goth pop style. His drummer Gordon is a real highlight playing complicated fast rhythms on his cymbals. Pallett easily switched back and forth between fuzzed out breaks and perfect playing that would make a TSO band member crazy with envy.
The band left for a few more songs and while they exited Pallett quipped “Great band, shame about their personalities” making the crowd chuckle with delight again. The second half of his set consisted fully of songs from his latest album In Conflict starting with I Am Not Afraid, which proved to be even more haunting then the album version. Pallett succeeds in showing his inner demons in fresh new ways. His vocal range would make Mariah Carey jealous as he can hit the highest of high notes with ease and go down to a low register growl. When he played Song For 5 and 6 it was the closest thing to a clubby dance song. It had a rolling drum pad beat and fast paced playing. Pallett danced around while played and got the audience moving around for the first time during the set.
For the encore Pallett came out solo to start and played a cover of the Tori Amos song Pretty Good Year. His band came out and they played a few more songs including the Final Fantasy favourite This is the Dream of Win and Regine. Pallett pushed the boundaries of what rock, classical and folk music can do to the point where he becomes genre-less. His talent is otherworldly and his output is so significant that there will always be more music of his to get into and digest. Pallett will most likely be the first two-time winner of the Polaris Prize and it wouldn’t surprise me if he goes down as the most winning artist celebrating the best of Canadian artistry.