Fact: it’s impossible to do a bad gig in a church. It’s certainly impossible to do a bad gig in the lovely Union Chapel, where the stained glass windows, arched ceiling and wooden pews give every gig the air of musical worship.
For the hopelessly secular among us, a great live band is the closest we get to a transcendental experience anyway. Plus the attention to sonic architecture that ensures on a Sunday that every word of fire, brimstone and brotherly love is perfectly transmitted from the pulpit does equal justice to music.
The audience listened with rapt attention as he played a mix of songs from new album Heartland and older tunes – just violin, voice and beats. He’s not a showman, but he has a calm self-possession onstage that does more to inspire confidence than any amount of between-songs wisecracking. Of which there was some: when his song The Butcher collapsed into a coughing fit, Pallett swigged water and joked, “Can you imagine if that happened to Beyonc?”
There’s a pointed humour running through Pallett’s lyrics that The Smiths era Morrissey would be proud of – This Lamb Sells Condos features the vignette, “Now his massive genitals refuse to cooperate / And no amount of therapy can save his marriage”, summing up two lifetimes of domestic misery in a neat couplet. Despite the wit, the songs never becomes parodic or merely ironic – in this setting, it was easy to hear that Pallett is as interested in musical beauty as he is in tongue-in-cheek titles.
Rumours that there would be live animation on an overhead projector, like at last year’s Final Fantasy gig in the same venue, turned out not to be true. But who needs animation when you can watch Pallett record and loop fragments onstage while playing?
He was joined onstage by Thomas Gill, who helped out with percussion, keys and extra vocals. Owen’s vivid description of Thomas’s recent bout of food poisoning amazingly failed to detract from the atmosphere of hushed concentration. By the final song, Lewis Takes Off His Shirt, let’s estimate 70% of the room were dazzled and 30% just entranced by the strangely contradictory spectacle of this generous performer singing, “If what I have is what you need / I’m never going to give it to you”.
Floating out after a final encore, we felt musically, temporarily absolved of sin – stopping only to steal the setlist, which was written on the back of a mysterious print-out: “In July of 1518, a woman referred to as Frau Troffea stepped into a narrow street in Strasbourg, France and began a fervent dancing vigil that last between four and six days…” Rigorous research has revealed this to be a Discovery History article on the dancing plague. Let’s hope that, if Owen Pallett is suffering from this or any other unfortunate ailment, he recovers in time for you to see him live.
Owen Pallett – A Swedish Love Story EP
Owen Pallett @ Union Chapel, London
Owen Pallett – Heartland