Monday, 2 May 2011

Owen Pallett ~ San Gejtanu Band Club, Hamrun, 01/05/2011

{Published in The Times of Malta, 04/05/2011}

A Pallett of Sounds

Taking his cues from a multiplicity of realms, violinist and composer Owen Pallett has formulated an atypical and idiosyncratic musical conglomeration that has earned him, among other things, the prestigious Polaris Music Prize – the Canadian equivalent of the UK’s Mercury Prize. Yet his output thus far has been somewhat overshadowed by his affiliation with more commercially successful acts, such as fellow Canadian folk rock ensemble Arcade Fire.

Now signed to Domino records, Pallett is starting to gain wider attention and is currently touring in support of his most recent album Heartland, performing in, from all places imaginable, the outside courtyard of San Gejtanu Band Club; surprisingly, a characteristically appropriate venue for this variety of intimate event.

Local indie folk band Stalko opened proceedings armed with a set of organic instruments, their wistful melodies equally poignant, as they are playful. A tendency to revert to sweeping vocal chants in most of their songs was at times overkill, but the four-piece provided a fitting start to the night.

A hollow resonant wave of grimy dissonant chords gave way to the twinkling piano-motif exordium of A Man with no Ankles. Having formulated this musical nucleus, Owen Pallett began to blend in layer upon lush layer of looped strings and other assorted sounds not habitually anticipated to exit the wooden chamber of a violin. The effect was nothing short of spellbinding.

Within the space of a heartbeat, the Bohemian musician had already segued straight into Scandal at the Parkade, continuing to showcase the one-man whirlwind of polyphony that he is.

“I’m from Toronto Canada,” was Pallett’s matter-of-fact self-introduction, before he acquainted the audience with his two intercontinental sidekicks onstage: “My violin is from China and my synth is from Sweden.” Not allowing for petty chitchat to get in the way of musical extravaganza so early on, Pallett busily recommenced doing what he does best, with the violin at his shoulder now evoking the sounds of sonorous icicles dripping in a glacier cave.

Across each melodious segment of the gig – song would be too imprecise a word to use here – Pallett’s violin morphed into whole sections of harmonised strings, bass lines, percussion and on occasion even provided a makeshift voice box. The effortlessness and flawlessness of his highly intricate sampling techniques was a show in itself, and despite all the virtuosity on display, there was hardly a whiff of showboating.

Sipping on a glass of wine, Pallett took a well-deserved breather after an incendiary performance of Lewis Takes Action, and in an unconventional format asked whether the audience had any questions or comments. As happens too often on this island nowadays, divorce was the topic at hand, with Pallett offering a rather plausible, if humorous, scenario as to how Malta could make an industry out of gay divorce.

Each aspect of Pallett’s performance was staggeringly versatile and dynamic. Vocally he was a silky tenor one minute, Theremin-like choirboy the next. His lyrics were as equally enchanting, as was evident with lines such as “He spends an hour a day composing little eulogies … But it's mostly garbled phrases and apologies,” on E is for Estranged.

With nowhere to hide offstage, Pallett refrained from doing the usual encore trivialities. Staying put, he finished off with a joyous cover of Mariah Carey’s Fantasy, while some in the audience blew bubbles into the warm night sky. With a wave and a bow Owen Pallett’s aural imaginarium came to an end.

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