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Owen Pallett + Jessica Says live @ Old Museum, 25.01.11

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As we awkwardly shuffle into the back row of the cramped Old Museum studio, pleasantly littered with mismatched chairs and couches, Owen Pallett’s national touring guest Jessica Says has already begun her routine. I say routine as that’s exactly how it feels. Is she a serious performer, deftly striking resonating chords on her cello in a maudlin stance, or an auditioner for Australian Idol, springing perkily up to hold a microphone sensually to her lips while fingers gesticulate in Madonna-esque ‘Vogue’ poses? This is my second experience of her live show and I’m still unsure. Her classically trained voice never cracks or wavers even as tinny keyboard drums pulse over the sniggering laughter from sections of the audience.

Raucous applause sounds as Owen Pallett finally takes to the stage bedecked in demure, dark clothing – to match his ‘black humor’, as he remarks in one of the deadpan asides that delightfully punctuate the evening. Delving straight into older, familiar material, ‘The CN Tower Belongs To The Dead’, the audience’s pleasure is apparent. Fervent clapping and cheers, catcalls and yelps for favourite songs pepper Pallett’s technical, precise performance of his intricate orchestral pop gems. The rich textural layering of his songs is one of Pallett’s strongest points, but it’s always a gamble to see a loop performer play live. However, Pallett’s nimble fingers work his violin’s bow and neck with ceaseless, extraordinary dexterity, while simultaneously embellishing the majestic whirlwind of violin plucking, striking and tapping loops with enough electronic flourishes to create a lush one-man orchestra in front of our eyes.

The performance is intimately playful: admitting he had not prepared a set-list beforehand, Pallett calls upon the audience for suggestions. He obliges with ‘Jars Of Lars’, a sombre piece from his previous band, the fantastic Les Mouches, which draws cries of glee from a number of more obsessive fans.

The layered complexity of some songs do present some technical hiccups, notably when Pallett rounds off with ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’, the elaborate, ethereal centerpiece of his new record Heartland. The carefully moulded beat suddenly falters and glugs to a stop, to which Pallett laughs and quips in his deadpan voice: “That’s live music for you”.

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