Owen Pallett + Jessica Says - The Thornbury Theatre (15.01.11)

Bathed in the warm glow of candlelight, the Thornbury Theatre would host a truly remarkable concert, featuring Owen Pallet - now free from his Final Fantasy moniker - and a showcase of divine orchestral-pop brilliance. The anticipation in the room was palpable.

Before the main event, however, patrons would receive local Jessica Says as the opening act. Self-described as ‘gothic pop’, Jessica Venables is right on the money, a murky, melancholy performance unfolding. Initially, the starkness in her approach is intriguing and will, more often than not, challenge an audience. In that sense, it was a strong enough beginning, a muddy, alien-esque forging a dampened, modest plateau, the basis for a sulty vocal performance. Venables is both tender and captivating in her delivery, her vocal style used to bolster a steely emotional climate, proceedings tempered without stooping to dreary drudgery. A bass guitarist and violinist were soon introduced, prompting a new chirpier stratagem, whilst Venables’ contribution on cello would become both an exquisite and integral part of their repertoire.

The only real issue is that Jessica Says’ music seems to succumb to the vacuum of monotony. Each song operates strictly within the framework of a genre, only meeting and not exceeding audience expectations. The performance possesses very little in the way of surprise or intrigue beyond the first few songs. The second problem is, perhaps picky: on various occasions, members of the band are under-utilised. Although a drummer would be present for much of the performance, programmed drums often assumed her place. It was confounding to see the musician relegated to dead weight on stage, particularly when the generated rhythms would not be beyond even the most basic of drummers. One could argue that their choice could directed by a desired aesthetic for the band, but then that only feeds the first, aforementioned concern. Overall, Jessica Says succeeds in standing out from the crowd, but first impressions aren’t necessarily everything.

Canadian Owen Pallett took to the stage to modest applause, approaching a deceptively sparse workstation. It would, in fact, provide the entire basis for the exhilarating performance to come. In a wonderfully resourceful display, Pallett combined keys, loop pedals and his trusty violin talents to weave stunning compositions. The first of his pieces would be The CN Tower Belongs To The Dead, followed by the twinkling pizzicato of Arctic Circle. Wave after wave and layer after layer of sound, a cool, calm and in control Pallett assumed the role of a one-man orchestra with masterful precision, each dimension of his craft rich and vibrant. The violinist possesses an uncanny knack for not only building entire songs from scratch, but making it seem entirely effortless. Not only that, his vocal ability is certainly nothing to overlook, Pallett’s smooth crooning complimenting his approach well.

His freakish perfection in bringing everything together is simply awesome. Pallett himself, however, would remind us of his humanity, remarking upon the loss of his calluses. “Things will get a little bloody,” he joked, dryly, before - in modest fashion - a magic world would again form from his fingertips. Keep The Dog Quiet became a highlight, a crazed, discordant oddity enchanting the theatre.

The final three songs before Pallett’s first break, however, were the greatest of the performance, the plodding Lewis Takes Action and the shimmering beauty of Lewis Takes Off His Shirt joined by a cover of Caribou’s Odessa. Pallett’s resourcefulness would constantly prevail, percussion at one point thrown into the mix courtesy of the wood of his bow doubling as an instrument. The self-assurance of Pallett, a lone performer, is truly astounding, shouldering the weight of each and every component of his studio work to date without so much as missing a beat. Everybody in attendance felt suitably awestruck, as you would expect, demanding an encore. Fortunately enough, they would receive two, Pallett delighted to reappear before the theatre’s appreciative patrons. Many Lives > 49MP and Independence Is No Solution helped close out proceedings, leaving those in attendance assured in the knowledge that they had witness a marvelous display.

The Thornbury Theatre was precisely the venue for this kind of performance, Pallett’s touch of class aligned with the decor and dining experience to bestow a special quality upon the concert. One had not been privy to a night of entertainment, but rather an evening of entertainment. The distinction is important and solely attributed to Pallett’s penchant for classically-infused indie-pop gems performed flawlessly.