It's only after listening to it so many times that I've been able to appreciate the differences between Heartland and the live shows he does. The guy has progressed from the (mostly) solo or looped or layered violin for Has a Good Home, to the centrally string quartet and also some other orchestrated stuff on He Poos Clouds, to a fully orchestrated fully realized concept album for Heartland...and yet his shows, though expanding slightly with the addition of the stellar and sweet Thomas Gill, are still really in the spirit of Has A Good Home's elegiac construction of a song before your eyes. Thomas has the harder role of the two, I believe, since he has to accompany that spirit, and he doesn't get the chance to redo his mistakes over the loop like Owen (often) does. He has to mold himself around Owen's presence, both because Owen is the songwriter, and because Owen has that looping privilege. It's Owen's force out there. In this particular show, Thomas played the snare clicks on Lewis Takes Off His Shirt, something which only happened on-album and which I've never heard recorded live before. Just that little bit of independence really changed what that song did, what it felt like.
So we can listen to the St. Kitts orchestra all we like, and hear the contours of what he's made for people to perform for him, but when we're live we hear what he does for himself. I was privileged to buy the Heartland Orchestra Scorebook, which is in limited edition of 300 and too heavy to bring on tours, so is shipping for $80 rather than the normal price of $40, and the performers were given an absurd among of independence. That opening, swirling mass of strings at the beginning of Tryst With Mephistopheles? Improvised: "ponticello, play around with this motif, no player the same". The subtle creeping around on Keep the Dog Quiet? Improvised: "with loose bow / ponticello, durations of trills improvised" . On Lewis Takes Action: "arco / with lots of air / turn to random pitches, descend and die away" Every song as at least a few glissandos, in voice or violin or otherwise.The wailing to start off E is for Estranged walks the line between a trill and "like a wide vibrato." Owen can't control any of that, but he controls everything in his live shows. So they become a lot more personal, since he's not just speaking through an orchestra. That would explain why he's never recorded Honour the Dead or Else: too intimate, requires too much of his own spirit.
Anyway, let's jump in. After spending 2 hours waiting for doors, talking to a Junior from McGill and a crazy lady named Sheila, and 1 hour waiting for the opener, here we go:
I had listened to "All Yr Songs" quite a bit beforehand, but I didn't know anything else he was going to play. His shows walk the line between musicianship and performance. He sets up his beats and bass beforehand, and then either sings, sings and plays guitar, or sings and plays keyboard over what he has. Usually that kind of stuff makes me uncomfortable: I feel like musician really isn't, xe isn't displaying per talent or anything. But...god, the guy at such Charisma. He clearly put effort into getting everything ready, choreographing himself, and plus he was just...so energetic! Dressed in his denim jacket, zebra-print chaps/leggings, purple socks and sneakers, with all sorts of sparkles and makeup, he was able to be over-the-top dramatic without killing his dignity. He's a pretty good player with a great, great ear for melody, so even his sometimes awkward piano playing yielded exciting results. He's a fine guitarist, as well. Great, great, great voice, very deep and uses it well. I guess what it made me think of was a 90's throwback: synthesizers and purple sneakers and raising two fingers to rhyme with "too" or "to" and falling over when saying how he's "losing balance." Lotsa fun.
Owen Pallett (and Thomas Gill)
The setlist is via Scarychips, a member of the fan forums who was also in attendance, and who decided not to say hello to me even though he recognized me and I was pretty sure who he was, and didn't feel like asking people if they were scared of chips or something. Anyway, he was a sweetheart and posted this: