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Owen Pallett - Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 03/12/2014

08 December 2014, 13:30 | Written by Amelia Maher

“We’re about to make a terrible mistake…”

This is not something you expect to hear from Owen Pallett, a man who is arguably best known for being obscenely over-talented. There seems to be no end to Pallett’s extraordinary creativity, which ranges from his own compositional works- originally under the Final Fantasy moniker - to composing orchestral arrangements for an endless list of other artists that include the likes of Arcade Fire, R.E.M., The National, Taylor Swift, Caribou and Alex Turner. It is almost mind-boggling to get your head around how he manages to fit it all in. So, for this incredible composer to be visibly nervous about how the next song is going to play out seems almost bizarre. How can someone so talented be so human?

Obviously, there was nothing for him to worry about; “Infernal Fantasy” plays out seamlessly without a single fault. It is breathtaking and gorgeous, and heightened by the fantastic sextet that have joined him for the night. There is at once a delicacy in Pallett’s performance and how he arranges the string sections, but also a much more in-depth complexity to his work, particularly highlighting songs from his latest album In Conflict. From distortion and dissonance to the sweeping strings and intricate rhythms that fight against one another, there are few ways he could have made things more difficult for himself.

The whole feeling of the performance is bizarrely heightened by a huge structure made up of mirrors that sits behind Pallett in the centre of the stage. There is, I’m sure, some kind of metaphorical reasoning behind this structure, but I’m yet to work out what it is. While the soaring, looping melodies of Pallett’s violin continue to sweep over the audience, the structure continues to billow with smoke, whilst strobe lights are reflected off of it, like a massive disco ball. It’s particularly effective during “The Riverbed” that builds and builds into a massive crescendo of incredible sound that pushes you back in your seat and leaves you wide-eyed in wonderment.

There is something eternally graceful about the violin, and as a string player myself, I find Pallett’s particular relationship with his stringed accomplice utterly mesmerising. It’s almost as though his violin is just another limb to his body that he doesn’t even think about half the time. The whole performance comes as naturally to him as breathing or getting dressed in the morning. His real talent lies in his ability to amalgamate the elegance of classical, cinematic strings with more contemporary electronic sounds and techniques, and the way he harnesses modern technologies, such as looping pedals and synths, with an instrument as old as the violin. He pushes the instrument to its absolute extreme, and makes it come alive in extraordinarily impressive ways.

And then there’s that voice. Pallet’s vocals are as clean and glorious as his violin playing, whether he’s reaching the highs of the beautiful “The Passions”, or the pop-infused chorus of set-closer “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”, his voice comes across just as powerfully as the sweeping strings that he is best known for. Yet, there is no cockiness to his performance. No blasé, “look at me I’m the most talented man in the room” swagger. Instead he walks around with no shoes on and just his socks, tackles the hecklers with a quick wit and smiles easily between songs, thanking the accompanying sextet endlessly for their efforts.

Tonight, Pallett gives a performance that is as much a testament to the delicacies that ebb and flow throughout In Conflict, as it is about getting the more hard-hitting emotions that form the foundations of the album. It’s a powerful, cleverly crafted and intense in every way performance that proves that there are many, many strings to Pallet’s bow.

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