Last Saturday I spent another excellent evening at the National Arts Centre Studio, where I would be treated to the music of the Canadian indie-pop sensation known as Owen Pallett. This show was an explosive and passionate example of why the NAC presents series should certainly not be overlooked.
Opening the evening was Lydia Ainsworth and her spacey, atmospheric tunes. While the music itself was quite gripping and powerful, there was one aspect of her performance that I could not accept and that really killed her performance for me. Despite the fact that she was on stage with three other musicians, she relied rather heavily on pre-recorded backtracks that were not being actively managed by any member of the band. I found this to be a kind of breach of trust with the audience, considering the fact that most of the music was produced by people on stage. The backtracks included vocals, some percussion, and plenty of effects and synthesizer lines. This is quite a bit different from electronic or DJ music, in which one person uses electronic equipment to manage various samples and other sources of sound. In that setting, there is still a person who can actively modify and manipulate the music. Lydia Ainsworth would have been much better off if she included additional musicians or adapted her music so that it was playable as a four-piece. Using recordings essentially means the musicians become irrelevant, and the audience may as well listen to the album on the NAC’s wonderful sound system. The music was still unique and enjoyable, but that element alone was enough to keep me from looking up Lydia Ainsworth after the show.
Moving on to greater things, Owen Pallett took to the stage to show the audience how a singular musician can in fact create many layers without relying on music that is not created live. Beginning on his own, Pallett approached his set up, which consisted of his violin, a synthesizer, and an array of pedals. He played one intricate line on his violin, stomped on a pedal, and lo and behold, the loop was born. He continued to deftly stack violin parts until we heard the lush, textured sound that Owen Pallett fans are used to. He used incredible speed on the violin to give the music a classical orchestral feel, then added his pristine voice to carry the melody. With the precision of the NAC studio, and the addition of each individual line, the audience could easily separate all of the layers and contemplate them as separate entities. The whole arrangement was wall of sound that threatened to knock me out of my seat. This continued for the duration of the set, with just enough lulls and softer moments to keep the show diverse and constantly interesting.
At various points during the show, Owen Pallett was joined on stage by a drummer and guitarist/bass player. These two musicians meshed perfectly with Pallett, and matched his eclectic and rhythmically challenging loops. I was particularly impressed by the drummer, who accented the rapid dynamic changes of each song with expertise. There is no doubt that the addition of more musicians served to vary the set, but I would not say it necessarily was an improvement. Owen Pallett solo allowed the audience to focus uniquely on his violin stacks and his voice, whereas the three-piece songs allowed us to appreciate the ability of these musicians to interact.
This was a quality performance overall, and I will be sure to keep an eye on Owen Pallett’s tour schedule in the future.