Let me start by saying that Final Fantasy is no novelty act. When Owen Pallett performs solo live, using just a violin and a handful of pedals, it’s not because he’s trying to be cute about it. I think the problem is just that we’re not used to a rail-thin Canadian sauntering on stage with just the aforementioned tools and putting on one of the best live shows you’re likely to see all year.
I’ve always loved seeing great bands in intimate settings, but this one was so to a fault. It’s the age old story of weekday booking: bar books great act and no one shows up, presubably because they have work the next day. Well, those willing to wake up groggy-eyed or after noon were rewarded with a performance that was both emotionally charged and passionate.
For those who complain when songs in concert stay too close to their album version, you won’t find this problem at a Final Fantasy show. Again, because of his particular solo layout, Owen had to completely rework songs like the piano-heavy “The Lamb Sells Condo” into a violin-only composition.
Similarly, “Song Song Song,” which draws its power from multiple layers on the album, was stripped down a bit. Live, he tapped the strings with his bow, looped that with the thudding sound of his thumb against the violin’s body, and then sang over all of that. But that’s not where it ends. For the section where Owen cries out “concern yourself with the invincible,” he yelled into his violin like one might do into a cave. The resulting echo and distortion through his instrument’s microphone gave his voice an eerie, otherworldly quality.
While attendance was low, and the venue was hot, Owen still put on a remarkable show. To perform solo, arguably the scariest thing in live music, and do it well, that’s something that warrants praise. And it’s worth mentioning that his between-song jokes were pretty hilarious. Here’s one exchange:
Owen: We have stuff for sale, too.
Guy in the audience: Where?
Owen: That’s a good question. Someone just pointed ton the mens room. (laughs) I don’t do that…..anymore.
While flipping radio channels on the way home, I happened across Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” playing on a classic rock station. I’ll admit that I chuckled a bit to myself because of the line “it just soothes the soul.” Owen’s music–about as far from classic rock as you can be without getting too weird–is hardly soothing to the soul. After having spent an evening listening to it, I can safely say that it challenges the soul. And thank God someone’s not afraid to challenge us.