A regular diet of mid-tempo, mid-range, guitar-based indie rock can only sustain a person for so long until she starts to feel glutted with whimsy and melancholy, so I think I've been somewhat intentionally trying to balance myself out with a little more active hip-hop consumption recently. Bass feels good. In-your-face rhythmic intensity feels good. However, as the old adage goes, you can take the indie rock out of the girl's iPod, but you can't take the indie rock out of the girl, which is how I found myself irresistibly drawn to the Lakeshore Theater on Friday night to take in Final Fantasy's last show in the U.S. before returning home to his native Canada. I've been keeping a cautious eye on young Mr. Pallett, mostly thanks to the thoughtful rantings at Zoilus and Said the Gramophone and gushing show reviews like the ones excerpted at Brooklyn Vegan (and, of course, also thanks to that Bloc Party cover I keep going on about), and I knew I'd kick myself if I didn't catch him while he was in town. Owen--who, violin and bow in hand, surrounded like Gulliver by an army of Lilliputian looping pedals, started his set with the droll pronouncement "thanks for coming to the Final Fantasy rock 'n' roll show. I am Final"--certainly didn't disappoint, but his performance was almost more satisfying thanks to the way the night's three acts operated as counterpoints to each other and the way the venue itself contributed to the overall pacing and atmosphere.
I love Chicago, and I love visiting venues in the city I've never been to before. From what I gather, the Lakeshore Theater usually hosts live theater of the Defending the Caveman variety, but it seems that the Empty Bottle has started scheduling acts there, too. (Em-effing Jello Biafra in the hizzouse today.) Kittens, it's amazing what actually sitting down in an actual theater can do for your interaction with and appreciation of a show. Maybe it was also because I'd just read the interview with Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))) in the June/July Believer earlier that morning, but I felt like I was more sensitive to the music as music and was listening more actively to it than I have at a show in longer than I'd realized. Chalk it up to feeling feeling lovingly enveloped by the decent sound system or not needing to bob and weave to see the performers around the slopes of other people's shoulders or not having to will my ears not to be distracted by the banal, beer-fueled, self-important scenesters' conversations that are usually a consequence of attending buzzworthy shows or whatever, but it was a refreshing change of pace and perfect for the kind of music we were there to hear.
Alex Lukashevsky was billed as Final Fantasy's touring partner and opener, but before he came on, we were treated to unbilled local boys Baby and Hide. (The few times they announced their name from stage, I kept thinking they were saying "Baby in Hide," which I didn't understand and thought was weird and kind of stupid, but when I got home later that night and tried to Google them, I realized it was in fact "Baby and Hide," which immediately made me think, "oh my God, what a fucking great name!") They came off like Yo La Tengo's dorky younger brothers, these three terribly dressed, pasty looking white dudes with their guitars and keyboard and drum set containing nothing more than two toms and a sizzle cymbal, and at first I couldn't tell if they were truly awful or if they just might be diamonds in the rough. The group's mastermind Jeremy Keller especially seemed like the painfully shy, crippingly socially awkward kid who lived down the dorm hall from you during your freshman year in college, that kid who never seemed to worry too much about his neuroscience or astrophysics classes, that kid who you discovered much later spent most of his time that year secretly building robots that could compose their own symphonies, that kid who you discovered even later than that had been dating an unstoppably hot biochem/performance studies double major that whole time because she recognized his true inner beauty and unlimited potential. Anyway, all this sort of made me not want to look at them while they were playing. I fought myself for being shallow and judgmental for a while, but eventually just gave up and sat through about the last third of their songs with my eyes closed. Which is when I was finally able to give in to what they were trying to accomplish with dynamics and noise and subtle sonic shifts. They were teasing some really gorgeous stuff out of droney keyboard bits and minimal yet apocalyptic drumming and earnest, high-pitched, slightly nasal vocals like the unholy spawn of Neil Young and Ben Gibbard. I ended up being really impressed. Their recent full-length Normal People is available to download for free at their website, and, though the MP3s might not do to you what seeing them live live did to me, it's deffo worth checking out. (Try either "Black Delicatessen" or "In Sails.")
Alex Lukashevsky is one of those old-soul acoustic guitar players with a whisky stained oak barrel of a voice and conversational, rather than confessional, lyrics. (Some of my favorite lines--such as "gonna get me a girlfriend and do whatever she says" and "even if she's an alcoholic, an impossible genius like Jackson Pollock"--come from "Nun or a Bawd," which can be found on his band Deep Dark United's album Ancient and can be downloaded here.) Though not as ostentatiously exuberant as Jonathan Richman, there was something in his approach that reminded me of everyone's favorite Modern Lover, a similar kind of gentle, highly literate playfulness and the beautiful, quietly powerful stage presence of a performer who's completely comfortable in his own skin. The way his music and persona seamlessly supported and fed into each other provided the perfect bridge between the avert-your-eyes quality of Baby and Hide and Final Fantasy's aesthetic magnetism.
And, oh yes, aesthetic magnetism is the term for what Owen Pallett has going on in spades. With that beautiful profile of his--which should be chiseled out of marble or etched on a vase in a museum somewhere--a voice almost too pure for mass consumption, musical chops that go on for miles, and an intimacy with his instrument that I think I've only ever seen between Ben Folds and his piano, it was all I could do to give myself permission to even blink while he was on stage, lest I miss an ounce of the magic he was conjuring out of thin air. But even for all of that, it was his proficiency with the looping pedals that put the performance over the top. He cocked up the loops in one song toward the middle of the set ("I don't usually mess up," he apologized. "It sounds like boasting, but...but, it feels great!"; the sarcasm could have flattened the skyline), but his virtuosity with the technology really gave us way more than our money's worth. I'm completely won over. (Buy He Poos Clouds or explore some choice MP3s here.)
(Also, for those of you who aren't busy enterting my name and URL into Technorati every few days, you may have missed my shout-out on Green Pea-ness last week. Thx, James.)