Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gig: Thirty Years of Owen Pallett (Part I)

Thirty Years of Owen Pallett (feat: Final Fantasy, The Two Koreas, Slim Twig, Electric Canaille Trio, New Feelings, $100, Laura Barrett, Snowblink + Luxury Pond)

Lula Lounge. Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Celebrating his thirtieth birthday, Owen Pallett decided to live out every boy's fantasy: an all-day concert, with performances by collaborators and friends, a show where Owen could request songs, dance at the side of the stage or hop up to sing on a chorus — just because it's his birthday. Not a secret show by any means, but not so widely publicized, the show was PWYC and attracted a good crowd at all points of the day, with plenty young folks and a reasonable turnover as the early-comers tired out and were replaced by the night-time crowd. A testament to the breatdth of Owen's musical interests, there was a real variety of music on the stages, and the whole thing also served as a kind of mega-showcase for the Blocks recording Club.

Owen served as master of ceremonies, cheerleader, roadie and stage manager, keeping his eye on the time during both his own set and others, acting as arbiter when bands asked, "Do we have time for one more?" The left side of the room, the seating area beside the bar at Lula Lounge, had been stripped of its table to create the second stage, perpendicular to the main stage at the end of the room. With sets scheduled every twenty minutes, the bands could set up while the other stage was playing and for the audience, only a ninety-degree pivot was required to change vantage points. When it clicked (and throughout the day it mostly did) bands would be ready to go chop-chop, and several sets were separated by only seconds-long gaps.

Suffering from some bad TTC luck, I arrived at about ten minutes after the listed starting time of 3:40, and was planning to stay to the limit of my tolerance and strength. As it turned out, I lasted the whole damned day. This is gonna be a bit of a long one, then, and even split into thirds, there's a lot to go through — do excuse the abbreviated, blurb-y nature of some of these reviews.1

3:40 Final Fantasy — arrived at ten to four, paid what I could, and stepped in to catch three songs from the man himself, playing on the side stage. Armed with only with violin and no keyboard, Owen played two Heartland tunes plus "Independence Is No Solution" in the time I saw him on stage. A canny move to put himself in the leadoff spot, as there was a nice-sized crowd at hand at this early hour.2

4:05 The Two Koreas — Been a while since I've seen this local crew, consisting of a combination of local media scribes and slumming "real" musicians. Well, slumming's not the right word, as they aren't just on a lark — they've been dishing out their "jangular electric beat muzik" for more than a half-decade now, and are rather proficient at kicking out the jams in that wide-ranging subgenre that claims The Fall as supreme progenitors. The set started with a couple quick smash-and-grab originals, featuring frontman Stuart Berman's barked vox and shift-stepped dance moves and ended with a massive, frothing cover of Swell Maps' "Helicopter Spies" that veered into something else, and crashed briefly into The Feelies' "The The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness" for about a ten-minute non-stop rock onslaught. Reasonably good fun.

4:21 Slim Twig — Although I've seen him with Tropics a couple times and once with his avant-rockabilly combo, this is the first time I've witnessed Slim Twig's current incarnation with sample-based material. And although the raw sonic stuff is different, it feels like a different facet of the same musical sense — in this case, Slim's "ahurgaburga" Ballroom-Blitz-on-cough-syrup vox backed with drum loops and sundry other effects, including, in the first song, percussive samples of breaking glass. Though I've always found Slim to be an... interesting live presence, I've never been compelled to go out of my way to see him. This set didn't radically alter my opinion, though I did appreciate its energy and flow, and it got right catchy for the last couple songs with the guit, and then went out with one relying on a sample lifted from "These Boots Are Made For Walking".

Listen to a track from this set here.

4:40 Electric Canaille Trio — The latest offshoot of Jeremy Strachan's Canaille project is a reed-less trio with Strachan on guitar, Mike Smith on bass and drummer Dan Gaucher. Playing from lead sheets, the music was a sort of abstracted surf rock, and although there was an improvisational jazzy undertone, Jeremy seemed to be channeling Hank Marvin more than Bern Nix.3 Another touchstone might be some of the more laid-back, exploratory numbers by The Minutemen. Regardless, this was proficient without sacrificing spontaneity, and a really inneresting set — five compact numbers in fifteen minutes.

Listen to a track from this set here.

4:57 New Feelings — Meanwhile, the side stage had been filled up with a table full of electronic gear for New Feelings, a three-piece consisting of Matt Smith (a.k.a Nifty) and Rob Gordon (former members of Les Mouches along with Owen Pallett) as well as Alex Snukal. The trio's music was "organic-electronic" with all the sounds created live and then looped into increasingly complex beat-driven constructions. As any of these musicians would be capable of creating a fully-fledged live electro-thing on their own, it was interesting to try and see how the division of labour was achieved and how the musicians were playing off each other. Not really my go-to kind of stuff, but enjoyable to hear, even if, like most knob twiddling music, I'm always left with the feeling that it would be more fun to be making it than to watch it.

5:20 $100 — Always one of my fave local acts to catch, I was pleased to note we were getting the full four-piece band (with new bass player?) and not just the Ian/Simone duo. The band led with a mellowed-out version of "Black Gold", chased by its sequel, the lamentin' "Courting My Heartache". Even a broken string on Ian Russell's acoustic could hardly slow the band down, getting out six tracks in their twenty minutes. The set closed with a special birthday request from Owen, a cover of The Judds' "Why Not Me" with Byrds-y guitar work from Paul Mortimer. A good time as always.

5:43 Laura Barrett — And then another local artist that I would go out of my way to hear on almost any day. Laura Barrett — sporting a fetching new hairdo — came backed with Doug Tielli (guit, theremin), Randy Lee (violin) and Dana Snell (flute, glockenspiel, vox). The added oomph of the extra players allowed her to dig into some of the more textured sounds of Victory Garden, featuring four songs from that album. The opening "Wood Between Worlds" was quite lovely, but the vocals were a bit lost beneath everything else, but that was sorted out, and we got stellar takes of "Bluebird" and "Consumption", the latter driven by Tielli's bolero-like guitar. And closed out, natch, by the still-and-always swoon-inducing "Deception Island Optimists Club". Would it be too much to ask for a full set with a lineup like this?

Listen to a track from this set here.

6:09 Snowblink + Luxury Pond — This sneaky double billing in fact looked deceptively like Snowblink, Luxury Pond being Dan Goldman's bandonym and the flipside to Daniela Gesundheit's Snowblink moniker. As to which of the five songs performed belonged to who seems a bit beside the point, given the simpatico collaboration between the two. As I witnessed last week, the pair's songs cause a sort of beguiling fog of wonderfulness to descend. A small, sculptured "Shhhh..." placed on top of an amp didn't entirely dispel chatters in the room, but it wasn't so bad as to overwhelm the band. Perhaps not quite as beguiling as a week ago — I wasn't being taken by surprise this time and had raised my expectations accordingly — but still lovely stuff.

A non-materialization by one of the scheduled bands led to the first gap in the day to change over the main stage, but by this point, three hours in with pretty much no pause, a bit of a break was more than welcome.

The rest of the goings-on will be posted in the day or two.

1 And for the first chunk of the day, please excuse the lack of photos — I was fooling around with camera settings, and in the early going took photos that were essentially blank.

2 Although it appears that no few people ducked out after the set, or at least retreated to the tables, as the floor was much quieter after his set.

3 Although the band's final selection certainly leaned more towards a Ulmer-esque kind of jazz rock, with Smith adroitly handling a tricky, nimble double-timed bass line.

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