The 2019 Westward Festival was this past weekend, and my most anticipated show was hands down Owen Pallett. It’s been nearly five years since he last played the city, and with a new album on the horizon, I was excited to see him again. Especially at a venue like the Imperial.
Unfortunately I missed locals Douse opening the show, arriving just before Owen Pallett hit the stage alone, armed only with a guitar, violin, and looping pedals. A stripped down -- but no less intense -- version of one of my favourites “The Riverbed” opened the set, and from there he played a selection of old and new, stretching back to his time as Final Fantasy with songs like “The Butcher”, and teasing his upcoming album with some new songs. The standout being one called (if my Google-Fu is correct) “Fire-Mare”, which featured some incredible layered vocals.
Owen’s gorgeous violin was strengthened by his guitar, as his impressive voice had the room in an (almost) complete hush while he sang. Other highlights included a heavier “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” with a raw guitar riff starting the song before the violin joined in, and a beautiful rendition of “The Passion”.
With two lights directly under him, pointed up, Owen was bathed in a blue light throughout the set, while in front of a large screen with scenic visuals playing. From mountain ranges, to spooky towns, to starry skies, more often than not the imagery tied in to the music. One song featuring the sounds of trains was accompanied by slow pans through a rail station, there were aerial shots of a volcano for “Fire-Mare”, and we passed over a graveyard for the haunting “E Is for Estranged”. During an impromptu Q&A near the end of the set, Owen admitted to wanting to get everything done in CG, but due to time constraints, ended up using the Unreal engine to generate everything. Which, all things considered, is pretty appropriate for the man formerly known as Final Fantasy.
After an hour or so flew by, Pallett “ended” the set with “The Great Elsewhere”, but then didn’t even bother with the charade of leaving the stage for the encore. He just declaring he would play a few more, without the mood lighting or visuals. From there he gave a few more songs, including “That's When the Audience Died” as his bow sawed at the violin, and finishing the night with the old favourite “This Is the Dream of Win & Regine”, a song more fitting now than when it was written, and also one that reverberated in my head for the rest of the evening (and on to the next day).
I was sad I didn’t catch more of the Westward festival this year -- mostly just the timing not working out for much else -- but this one show was worth the entire festival. And if the teasers we got at this show were any indication, I can’t wait to hear the new album.