Fresh off a tour with Arcade Fire, the violinist and singer-songwriter’s solo jaunt behind his “In Conflict” album made a stop Wednesday in the recital hall of Calvin College’s Covenant Fine Arts Center.
“You guys don’t have homework yet,” Owen Pallett joked Wednesday night to a small but enthusiastic audience of mostly students toward the end of his show in Calvin College’s Covenant Fine Arts Center Recital Hall.
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“They’re all arts degrees, right? We have arts degrees,” he said, gesturing toward his two-man backing band. “I mean, look at us.”
If the joke is that the arts are an un-serious academic pursuit, Pallett is the wrong punchline. The prodigiously talented violinist, singer and songwriter is promoting his fourth solo album. Earlier this year, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his work with Arcade Fire’s Win Butler on the soundtrack to the Spike Jonze film “Her.”
The Canadian performer was launching a leg of his tour for the new record, “In Conflict,” that will take him around North America through the end of the month. For much of the year, he’s been on the road with indie-rock-turned-arena-rock superstars Arcade Fire — his presence adding stringed gravitas to the band’s already heavily wrought songs. (He first came to attention as an orchestral arranger for artists such as Arcade Fire, the National, Grizzly Bear and REM.)
There was an engaging, early-in-the-tour looseness to Pallett’s 80-minute set, half of which he performed alone, building walls of intricate, looped violin melodies and self-harmonized vocals.
STRIKING DYNAMICS AND LYRICAL DEXTERITY DISPLAYED FOR A SMALL CROWD
Wizards of the loop pedal (Merill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs and Andrew Bird are other contemporary practitioners) often are so compelling to behold at their craft that the songs themselves almost become secondary. But Pallett’s compositions employ striking dynamics and lyrical dexterity, at times recalling Sufjan Stevens during his most prolific years.
The set in front of a small crowd of 100-plus spanned Pallett’s solo career, covering the two albums bearing his own name, and two he released under the moniker Final Fantasy, which he dropped to avoid confusing fans of the video game franchise of the same name.
As Final Fantasy, he received the 2006 Polaris Music Prize (Canada’s equivalent to the Mercury Prize) for the whimsically titled album “He Poos Clouds,” represented in the set by “Song Song Song” and “This Lamb Sells Condos.” Most of the material came from 2010’s “Heartland” (“E Is For Estranged,” “Keep the Dog Quiet,” the show-closing “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”) and “In Conflict” (rousing anthems “Song For Five & Six” and “The Riverbed”).
Pallett also joined opening act Foxes In Fiction, a New York group whose 30-minute set consisted of skeletal folk-pop songs that built, via violin and atmospheric electronics, to roaring crescendoes.
Wednesday’s show, sort of a back-to-school treat for Calvin students, kicked off a typically eclectic concert season at the college.
The rest of 2014 will feature performances by Switchfoot (Sept. 20), Tweedy (Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy along with his son Spencer) (Oct. 2), Propoganda (Oct. 6), OK Go (Oct. 11), Run River North (Oct. 23), Josh Garrels (Oct. 24), David Bazan (Nov. 8) and Over the Rhine (Dec. 13), at various Calvin-administered venues.
For more information, visit the website for Calvin’s Student Activities Office at calvin.edu/sao.
OWEN PALLETT, FOXES IN FICTION: THE LOCAL SPINS PHOTO GALLERY
Photos by Tori Thomas
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