Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Owen Pallett / Tanya Tagaq - Massey Hall, Toronto, ON

Tonight the prestigious Massey Hall welcomed a masterful double bill of Owen Pallett and Tanya Tagaq.  These Canadian artists both incorporate the violin into their acts, but that's where their similarities end.  They are equally mesmerizing performers, but their methods are polar opposites from one another, yet still complementary in the span of an evening.

No need to list off Pallett's resume, as Google can do that far more effectively than I can.  Suffice to say, he has worked with some of the biggest names in the business and has played on a Grammy award-winning record.  As a condiment his achievements are plenty to a point that most artists would find themselves fully satisfied, but Pallett always strives for more.  As the main dish he truly has his own identity.  You are watching the evolution of music before your eyes.

Sonically he is a force to be reckoned with.  Although he has a rhythm section accompanying him (and, on this occasion, a string quartet), he creates panoramic soundscapes on his own with his looper pedal, which he even referred to as a "party trick" before playing a couple of comparatively conventional pieces.  Pallett is an intense guy, yet he ensures not to take himself too seriously, with just enough self-deprecating commentary between songs.  His 75 minute set went down extremely well.

Juno award-winning singer Tanya Tagaq began her set by introducing her band, the 60 piece choir, and its conductor.  Her demeanour was that of Shirley Temple with a fire in her belly.  She had the whimsical temperament of a child, speaking in such a way that we felt like we were cordially invited guests into her living room, unable to hide her excitement for her inaugural performance at Massey Hall.  Her warmth was infectious, and we fell in love with her instantly.  Deep down inside she surely knew that she was establishing an extreme in her informality with her banter, as the intensity of her performance would soon have her reaching the polar opposite extreme.  But this is where the calculated part of the evening ends.

Known for her Inuit throat singing, the hour-long improvisation piece started more like The Rose meets Nine Inch Nails.  Within a few minutes, it was reminiscent of the middle section of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love being sung by Bjork.  She commanded the stage, both with her five octave vocal range and captivating movements not unlike interpretive dance.

The piece was a journey through a wide variety of moods and musical conversations between the 65 people on stage.  About two thirds into the performance, the combination of her voice and mannerisms felt like an erotic battle cry.

The light show was very effective, only augmenting the experience rather than compensating for something that wasn't there.  With Tagaq it's all about the aural.  And it was more than music.  It was a pinnacle of human expression.  Unbridled spontaneous creativity at its finest.

Heard live, her music sounds almost nothing like it does on YouTube.  The natural reverberation of a fine-sounding concert venue like Massey Hall creates the perfect setting for what she's trying to achieve with her art.

And the best part is - since her performances are entirely improvised, her next show will be almost nothing like this one.

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