Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Owen Pallett, Avi Buffalo and Foxes In Fiction at El Rey - September 13, 2014

Saturday was one of those days that just restores all your faith in this crazy life pursuing rock and roll. First I go to Amoeba and pick up four albums, each one a special purchase in its own right. But my mission was to find the latest album by Owen Pallett (at right), as I was going to see him that night and wanted to acquaint myself with his product. As a huge fan of the violin, not only in its classical context, but particularly of it's use in the world of indie rock, I knew this was an artist I needed to catch up with.

Frankly, before Saturday Owen Pallett was only familiar to me as contributing string arrangements on Arcade Fire's The Suburbs and Beirut's The Flying Club Cup albums, and his Oscar nomination for the score of Her. Hearing that he employs a looping technique similar to Andrew Bird, I figured he was playing in a genre and a style I was already very fond of.

When I got to El Rey on Saturday, September 13, Foxes in Fiction (at left) were already playing and I slid easily into the hazy, dreamy atmosphere they had created in the theatre. Very much in keeping with the artful line up of the night they sounded like serious students of shoegaze with classical elements. Hatched in the fertile mind of Warren Hildebrand as a solo project he now has a band and they create a hypnotic spell with ethereal vocals and honey-drenched instrumentation. The songs were nicely varied so I offered no resistance and became a fan.

My entire impetus for going to this show was actually to see Avi Buffalo playing at the beautiful El Rey and to hear his new music and to see what kind of band he has put together to represent his second album, At Best Cuckold, which was released last Tuesday and was my fifth album purchase of the week. I've been a friend and supporter of this band since the very beginning in 2008, so as soon as I heard the wonderful new album, I went right out and bought a ticket for the El Rey show, knowing I would regret it if I didn't go.

In the four years since the release of his first Sub Pop album, Avi Buffalo (below) has moved from teenage guitar prodigy to a professional musician in his mid-twenties with a large and dedicated fan base. Some hard luck came with the successful launch of his debut record when the band he had built his early triumphs on broke apart and he had to finish his first tour scrambling to find replacements that wouldn't disappoint fans who were anxious to hear songs from the album played live.

Time has gone by and I don't know why, but I hadn't expected the new album to be so cohesive, so lyrical, so closely related to the first album and so damned powerful. Steadfast drummer, Sheridan Riley (at right), has ridden the wave all this way with Avi, with the advantage that Avi Buffalo has one of the best young drummers around and who also has found a voice to blend with Avi bringing back the curious and strikingly original harmonies that were so instrumental to their early success.

I was glad I ran in to Avi near the back of the theatre before they went on, so I could tell him how much I enjoy the new album, and we got to chat a little while. Now a band of four musicians, with a keyboardist, Anthony Vezirian (below on right) and a bassist, Doug Brown (below below), he was glad I was there to hear the new music and confessed that it's only the tip of the iceberg. He has at least 30 more songs written and ready to record, so there may be another release in the not too distant future. Wouldn't that be great?

Once on the stage, Avi Buffalo launched into "So What" that kicks off the new album and it is a wonderful upbeat, ingratiating song with that familiar curlicue melody structure that keeps you guessing, even after repeated listenings, followed by the next album cut, "Can't Be Too Responsible", which I think we can all relate to.
Dipping back into their catalog they performed "What's In It For?" in newly refreshed edition that came off as striking as the original, with the keyboard part restored and particularly assured vocals by Avi. The band left the stage as Avi soloed on "Summer Cum" which was sung expressively enough to break your heart. Both songs sounded fresh and re-invigorated.

I felt like I was seeing a band reach a peak as a performing ensemble and felt completely vindicated in my devotion to them for so long. Rounding out the 40 minute set were more selections from the new album, so I was super glad I'd purchased it and listened to it so many times that the songs sounded like familiar tunes performed to perfection. I'd say that Avi Buffalo has finally hit it's stride.

The second Owen Pallett stepped on stage alone with only his violin and started playing and looping and playing back the multi-part confection he was sculpting, my jaw dropped open and I don't think I drew breath for an hour. His mastery of the instrument is astonishing enough, but when he open his mouth to sing and this mellifluous, subtle and strong voice comes out I was transfixed. Having only heard the album, In Conflict, a couple of times, the songs were new to me but eerily familiar, which added to the already haunting quality of his music and lyrics.

I think he played mostly from the new album, but every song was its own special movement in what added up to a symphony of strings and piano (yes, he even plays the piano), with a running confessional dialog in the tumble of words. Reminds me of Will Sheff in that regard. The entire set seemed over in ten minutes and I was walking twenty feet in the air as I left the theatre. I may not have known about Owen Pallett before, but I will never miss him again. I swear, I heard hints of Ravel, Debussy, Sondheim, maybe a bit of Beethoven String Quartet AND Andrew Bird. This was art, unadulterated and unpretentious.

By the way the other three albums were: The New Pornographers new album, the brilliant and  completely addictive Brill Bruisers (can't wait to see them at The Wiltern on October 17th), Kan Wakan's amazing debut album Moving On, and Andrew Bird's Bands Of Glory, which highlights his single-microphone ensemble who are set to play at Hollywood Bowl this upcoming Sunday.

text and photos: whrabbit