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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dungeons and Dragons



Last Tuesday (shit - a week behind blogschedule!) was a night of avantgarde homosexual mutual affection. Oh yes, but not definitively. And so, so much more; Arcade Fire's string-dude, Owen Pallet, has a side-project called Final Fantasy, an arena for him to indulge his stringed fantasies and geeky weaknesses (hence the computer-game inspired name). Owen, the well-connected gent that he is, is also friend of James Stewart of the enigmatic and highly-esteemed band, Xiu Xiu (top). As both outfits were in Europe at the same time, they decided to hook up in Berlin to play the city's most avantgarde and beautiful venue, Volksbühne, a grand old theatre, built in the style of socialist realism and a long-time hotbed of left-field productions of all sorts.

The setting, then, was perfect for such an evening. Despite being a slightly bigger name, Xiu Xiu, were first on stage, perhaps due to Owen Pallett's more showy showmanship. James and Caralee took to the vast stage without as much as a "hello". They played an intense, but short set of songs, many from their forthcoming fifth album, The Air Force and last year's La Forêt. Despite only the two of them on stage, their sound was immense. Their music is generally a screw-you to the notion of genre - I've never heard anything like it - but for description's sake, the following adjectives: urgent, on the edge, sorrowful, terrifying, bleak, lush, hopeful, noisy, quiet, complex, sensitive, passionate, dark, difficult. But hugely impressive. Their array of instruments was also interesting - James had a whole tray of what appeared to be bicycle bells, all at slightly different pitches, and the harmonia and a zither. A short set was perfect - the Xiu Xiu live experience does not need to be any longer, all that needs to be expressed is expressed in 45 minutes. And that's fine.



Final Fantasy was an equally (but differently) impressive affair. Owen took to the stage with his violin and his friend, Steph, who would be our over-head-projection-animation-manager for the evening. Yes, indeed. While Owen was playing his violin into a sampler, looping it, layering it up and singing (and charming the whole crowd), Steph was animating the songs by moving layers of overhead projector sheets to animate the songs. In the days of power point presentations and DVDs and all that jazz, you realise how much more exciting things can be when you strip them right back down. Creativity and originality can be fostered to a much greater level, Steph was keen to show. The same can be said for Owen, his solitary violin making more luscious and beautiful music than any other indie band. At times it reminded me of Patrick Wolf, incidentally a long-time friend of Owen's - the arrangements, the libertarian, fey qualities. But comparisons between the two dapper violinists are pointless. Throughout the set I got lost in the music and the visuals, letting the two harmonious forms take me away to Owen's creative and curious world. Owen came back onto the stage after his set, admitting that he does encores because he is "classless" in comparison to Xiu Xiu. He started performing an album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, a cult eighties band from the Wirral, but stopped after four or five songs. Not especially classy, but certainly entertaining.

You can find out all you ever wanted to know about Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy over at Shane's excellent blog. He has two interviews and a track-by-track review of the new album, He Poos Clouds!

posted by Robbie de Santos at 5/31/2006 11:29:00 pm

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