Thought The Imperial has been open since 2013, I’d never heard of it until I saw Owen Pallett would be playing there. If not for the fact that there’s a giant ‘319’ address on the side of the building on google maps and the fact that there was a long line-up to get inside, I would’ve had a hell of a time finding it.
There was a long corridor on the way in, with a nice little red carpet but the place is pretty bare-bones as far as décor in the main entrance area (though the place hasn’t even been open for 2 years yet, so it’s not unexpected with all the work you need to get a your venue started in the first place). Once you get into the heart of the place, you’ve got a lounge area with an island bar and a fish tank separated from the main theater room by sliding glass doors. The main theater area had another bar and table area which led down to a medium-small floor space with a raised stage. With some nice, clear sound, Foxes In Fiction started off their first show in Vancouver.
Foxes In Fiction is Warren Hildebrand (guitar/vocals/midi-controller-synth-whatever) and, at least for the evening, Owen Pallett and Emily Reo (keys/vocals/synth). They played a 6-song set of slow, atmospheric, pulsing music, with Pallett playing along with 4 of the 6. The music was alright but I didn’t really find myself too interested until their closing song which had a better pace and feel (for my taste in music). However, whatever that white board Reo was pulling her fingers across sounded real awful half the time. The set was interesting but not really what I was feeling at the time.
Avi Buffalo is a four-piece from California that snuck a bit of indie rock into the evening. Though the band had some issues with mics and a guitar with a fuzzy amp that stopped working suddenly during the second song (which was pleasantly replaced a ragtime Zelda theme) , they managed to replay that second song with some out-of-place hi-hat at the end of the song and pulled out a 10 song set. Some highlights of the set included singer/guitarist Avi Zahner-Isenberg’s, Ben Gibbard singing style, the sudden and random spotlight that hit the crowd in the middle of the 5th song, and the 6th song of the set which turned out to be the best/worst choice. I say this because they killed it with that song (really showing off Sheridan Riley’s skills on drums) but it was the perfect song to end a set with, which just made the next four songs seem to drag on. So, I’m not sure what the name of the song was but they should just always keep that ace in their sleeve for a set closer.
And with that, Owen Pallett was able to start his set off right with ‘That’s When The Audience Died’ (Has A Good Home) from his days under the moniker Final Fantasy (FF) which got some big applause. Pallett’s fingers flew over the bridge of his violin finger picking as he got his loops into place, though he did have an “oops” moment where he had to correct some timing. More FF came from the bizarrely named He Poos Clouds with ‘The Arctic Circle’. Even this early in the night, you really had to admire Pallett’s strong voice and incredible musical talent. In Conflict is Pallett’s first LP since Heartland way back in 2010, so hearing the notedly difficult ‘Song For Five & Six’, and the sad but also requested ‘The Passions’ was very refreshing and gave me renewed interest in his music. Though at the same time, ‘Song Song Song’ (FF) from He Poos Clouds was wonderful to hear live.
It was at this point that the touring band joined Pallett on stage for ‘Midnight Directives’ (Heartland). Guitarist Matt Smith was armed with shakers and was using them with vigour, while drummer Robbie Gordon was one of the most intense drummers I’ve seen in a while, laying waste to his drum kit with every hit. ‘Keep The Dog Quiet’ from Heartland is a song that I’ve never really appreciated but the Latin beat is undeniably catchy for the brain and body. The song melded into ‘Soldier’s Rock’ (In Conflict) so well that I wasn’t quite sure if the two were separate or not. The change in time signature and laser noises helped me decide in the end though. ‘Tryst With Mephistopheles’ (Heartland) was preceded by a question period that got to the bottom of why the group was so good and what had happened for Pallett’s birthday while on tour. More In Conflict with ‘The Secret Seven’ and Heartland with ‘The Great Elsewhere’, which had Pallett shushing the crowd as his fingers flew across that keyboard, led to one of my favourite songs on In Conflict, ‘Infernal Fantasy’. Along with the maddening sound of the keys came heavy hitting on the drums from Gordon as the song kicked into full gear and the crowd was loving it.
Another FF song came that I feel is of certain importance to fans. ‘This Is The Dream Of Win & Régine’ from Has A Good Home is about the couple of the same name from The Arcade Fire, which originally brought Pallett’s music to my attention. Though I’d sort of said it earlier, it was wonderful hearing these older songs live. I’ve spent countless hours listening to these songs and also using them as a way to drown everything out to get some sleep and I’d never thought I’d get to hear any of them live. It was a bit of a dream come true.
They were only supposed to play one more song but decided last minute (or so it was said) to do two. ‘Scandal At The Parkade’ was from the A Swedish Love Story EP which Pallett said he hadn’t been playing well on the tour but he’d play it great right now. At this point, strings were starting to peel away from Pallett’s bow but he still did exactly what he said. The set was finished off with ‘The Riverbed’ (In Conflict) and our wait for the encore began.
Once again flying solo, ‘Many Lives -> 49 MP’ was the last FF song of the night, from He Poos Clouds and the way he yelled the background parts of the song into the mic inside of his violin was brilliant. The night was capped off with Heartland songs ‘Lewis Takes Action’ and ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’ and I was more than satisfied.
Though the openers didn’t really scratch the musical itch I’d had, Pallett’s set was exactly what I needed. He used his violin in just about every way possible through looping. Whether it was playing a bassline and/or drum beat, creating screeching or other sound effects, or using the bow and blasting through finger-picking, Pallett made full use of his instrument in ways many people wouldn’t even think of.
I hadn’t been to a show so technically exciting since I saw Loney, Dear at the Media Club and seeing such mastery over his medium really made my respect and love of Pallett’s music grow even larger. Seeing him play is an experience in and of itself; not to be missed.