Live Review: Owen Pallett at the Crocodile 5/08

Last Saturday night I went to the Crocodile to see Owen Pallett, formerly performing under the name Final Fantasy. Opening for Pallett were Snowblink and local band Cataldo. Each of these bands is driven primarily by a single musician, but they are not solo projects as such because the primary musician always engages others to fill out the music, both in the studio and live.

Cataldo’s leader is Eric Anderson; for this show, he had a half-dozen other musicians with him, including two drummers and a trumpeter. I came in about halfway through his set to find him playing earnest-sounding mid-tempo pop rock. Not being familiar with Cataldo’s work, all of the songs were new to me, but Anderson did note several were brand new for an upcoming recording. I particularly liked the last song, “Fog on the Glass,” which I felt made the best use of the two drummers.

Snowblink is led by Daniela Gesundheit on guitars and vocals; although she had a dozen or so contributors to her latest album, Long Live, she brought along just one, Dan Goldman, to provide additional guitars and vocals with just a bit of synthesizer. They augmented their sparse instrumentation in an unusual way by stringing out a cloth rope with bells attached along the front of the stage; in a few songs, Goldman would ring a small handbell, prompting the audience alongside the stage to pick up and shake the bell-rope. Stylistically, Snowblink played art-folk post-rock, somewhat akin to Fleet Foxes. Gesundheit had a strong and pretty voice capable of hitting high notes and yelps, and Goldman harmonized well with her. As with Cataldo, Snowblink’s last song “Membrillo” stood out the most, using a sampled conga-drum rhythm track and vocal and guitar loops for a multi-layered sound. I’d have liked to hear a few more like that, but the rest of the set was lovely too. I picked up Long Live and will look forward to hearing more from Snowblink.

Of the three acts, Owen Pallett is the closest to being a solo artist, making extensive use of loop pedals to build his songs just with his violin, keyboard, and vocals. However, percussionist and guitarist Thomas Gill is also considered a band member, and he joined Pallett for about half of the songs in the set, playing a tom, snare, and pair of acoustic wood blocks as well as guitar and singing backing vocals. As a violinist myself, I know how difficult it can be to play complicated parts, and Pallett’s ability to layer and manage multiple parts in loops while continuing to play on top, without losing the beat, brought a big smile of admiration from me. Pallet’s performance wasn’t all technological trickery; he’s a virtuoso violinist who, in addition to juggling multiple parts at once, could play a melody with the bow on a high string and pluck the lower strings at the same time, definitely an advanced technique. Pallett’s other unorthodox techniques included tapping the violin to create rhythm loops, using the back of the bow instead of the hair, and even shouting into the violin body for vocal effects—techniques that are not unique to Pallett, but are certainly unusual even in the classical world, let alone for violin used in a pop-rock context. For his solo encore, he took an audience request for “Blue Imelda,” a song he claimed to have never performed live before. Taking just a few moments to figure out the sequencing and necessary pedal banks in his head, he delivered a flawless performance on the spot. I’ve been enjoying hearing the songs from his latest album, Heartland, on KEXP, and so made sure to pick up a copy after the show; I’ll also be sure to see him next time he’s in town.

Snowblink:


Owen Pallett:

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