Owen Pallett walks onto the stage, and takes off his leather boots.
He sits down to a grand piano and nods to the conductor.
Strong, staccato bows stroke on violins, heralding the opening notes of “The Arctic Circle,” the first track off of Pallett’s 2006 album, He Poos Clouds. It’s odd to be at a Final Fantasy show where he, not his songs, are the raison d’être for the show.
You don’t go to see a Final Fantasy show to hear perfect reproductions of album cuts. You go to see him transform songs that have pianos, choruses and synths, turn into pocket symphonies. All done with the strike of a bow, and the tap of an effects/looping pedal.
This was not your typical Final Fantasy show.
Tonight’s performance was done in partnership with Symphony Nova Scotia and was a teaser for Pallett’s forthcoming album, Heartland: Pallett has hinted before to the press that this album was perhaps his most “orchestral” yet, and that he’s been aching to perform with a full orchestra for some time. He told the audience that some of the songs we would hear this evening had never been performed before a crowd. He even joked that if they didn’t work, that they would probably end up “in a glue factory.”
When the conductor’s baton was done twirling, Pallett had a very satisfied smile on his face. Success.
Part of the fun of attending Final Fantasy performances is the ability to be privy to the ongoing workshop that is Pallett’s songwriting. He is known to change song arrangements and lyrics mid-tour, as he did during his last performance here in Halifax where he performed “The Butcher.” The version he performed that evening is lyrically, as well as melodically, different from that would be released over a year later on “Spectrum, 14th century.”
Pallett did perform a few songs without the orchestra. Accompanied by Thomas Gill (who is currently touring with Pallett), the duo performed the aforementioned “The Butcher” and “This Lamb Sells Condos” with Pallet’s trademarked violin-and-effect-loops combo. The audience seemed none the wiser that there were only two men performing, and only one violin playing.
The highlight was a Charles-Ives-inspired rendition of “The CN Tower Belongs To The Dead.” The song started out as a low, mournful dirge, the melody recognizable, but transformed by dozens of strings bowing slowly. The song slowly built, with Pallett singing softly, “The CN Tower is built upon our bones/The CN Tower will always be our home.”
As the crowd started to leave after the encore, a grey-haired season ticket holder, who had originally voiced her hesitation about the show—she knew nothing about Final Fantasy—looked at her friend and said, “Amazing.”