The pious pilgrims trek into the music mecca of Union Chapel from all corners of subculture and all phases in life, united by a single force - Owen Pallett, alias Final Fantasy. They have come to see their god. He is benevolent tonight.
Before the show, they buzz with anticipation as they share stories and surnames across the bounds of decades and pews in a most somber fanboy/fangirl fellowship. Everyone seems to list Final Fantasy in their top ten favourite artists, if not their top one. These are no common gig-goers, but connoisseurs of the greatest geeked-out proportions.
Tonight, they are out for blood. The rabble rip first opener and sacrificial lamb Castle Music with merciless maws - her tongue-in-cheek, hetero-abnormative, sailor n' whiskey folk songs sadly find no sympathetic ears. None of this - we want Owen! they implicitly cry through their groans. Poor Castle Music—we hardly knew ye. Luckily, second round of “special guests” Cryptacize succeed in securing a precious share of the adulation Final Fantasy worshippers have stored up to lavish upon their deity.
But the beauty of FF's project is his penchant for failure - that for all his cult of fandom, FF is not a god, but a man—sensitive, fallible, scared. “If you're betting, bet against me,” Owen deadpans amidst a few false starts for a new song. Fear is a theme and an inspiration for Final Fantasy, but tonight Owen Pallett holds court over his dedicated subjects - he curates a polished cabinet of curiosity with weighty sceptre in quaking hands.
Yet, what competent hands - Owen is on fire this evening. He grins frequently during his spot-on performance, a good sign that he is pleased with this flat screech of his violin, that fragile belting of his lyrics. And when the god is happy, the people are elated. And not just elated - they are perched slack-jawed and wide-eyed at the edge of their seats, sitting wonder-bound on the floor like children being told fantastic fairy tales, tearing up joyfully from taking in too much beauty in one go.
For, as if the awe of Owen Pallett at his finest live form were not enough, there are also the formidable visuals emitted from Stephanie Comilang's overhead projector. Her light-and-shadow show plays a counter-melody to Owen's aural artwork, drawing rich links between the lyrics and imagery of his entire corpus.
From the mouth of Final Fantasy spring loved classics and recent favourites, with enchanting new material interlaced throughout. Forthcoming album Heartland promises to be an illuminated manuscript worthy of following the outstanding He Poos Clouds. Best of all, Owen rewards his highly knowledgeable audience with rarer gems, opening with “The Sea (Tenderizer)” from lesser-known EP Young Canadian Mothers. The FF experts appreciate his liberties taken with the arrangements, and note Owen's increased strength and confidence that make live renderings of “The Butcher” and “This Lamb Sells Condos” heartburstingly handsome.
And burst the heart might, as Owen disperses his frenetic power and emotional energy to his hungry congregation, it is worrisome that he may not be saving any for himself. Magnanimously generous to a self-destructive fault, he relinquishes his ability to see his instruments: “Let's take the lights from 9 o' clock to 11 o' clock. Like 'really, really nasty restaurant'-dark.”—so that the grand dame of the overhead projector might be able to “do whatever she wants” in the way of her craft.
Owen's munificence results in not one, but two well-earned encores, finishing with “Your Light is Spent,” taken as an impromptu request from a few young aficionados whose devotion in waiting hours to secure seats front-and-centre is justly rewarded. With care and intimacy maintained despite a house filled to the second tier, Owen lays bare the evidence for why indie stalwarts Lightspeed Champion and Laura Marling also convene in this surreal fellowship.
Tonight is ritual, sacrifice, renewal, rejoicing. It is a celebration and affirmation that true genius exists in the world, and it has shown its face in the form of Final Fantasy and his special guests. We are beyond honoured that it has smiled upon us.
Click HERE to read about Crytacize's support set.
Photos by Fiona Petch: