“[Final Fantasy’s live shows] . . . compress all the wonder and virtuosity of an illusionist’s routine into a three-and-a-half minute pop song.” —New York Times
The Walker Art Center and Cedar Cultural Center present an intriguing double bill celebrating two of today’s most distinct voices,
The Mountain Goats
, on Saturday, November 7, at 8 pm at the Cedar. Canadian singer/composer/arranger Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy) creates violin-based experimental pop that explores the lush, lovely, and highly processed sonic spaces between contemporary composition and unconventional rock. His intricately looping polyphonic songs, startling knack for string arrangements (Arcade Fire), and unabashedly pretty melodies have earned him international acclaim. The Mountain Goats, the long-running lo-fi/highbrow project of indie-rock icon John Darnielle, inhabits a candid and clever world where dark subjects and desperate characters are elucidated by prickly lyrics and strangely sunny melodies. This all-ages concert is presented in an all-standing, clublike setting. The Cedar Cultural Center is located at 416 Cedar Avenue South in Minneapolis.
The Mountain Goats began in a Norwalk employee-housing studio apartment where, equipped with a dual-cassette recorder, Darnielle set of his poetry to music using a guitar he’d gotten for a few bucks at a nearby strip mall music store. Eventually his compositions were more song than poetry and he and bassist Rachel Ware began touring the U.S. and Europe as well as recording two albums and a couple of EPs. When Darnielle graduated from college and moved to Chicago, the Mountain Goats became a solo venture, except for several European tours with his friend Peter Hughes on bass. In 2001 Darnielle and Hughes, as the Mountain Goats, signed to 4AD.
While relentlessly touring between 2002–2007, the duo released Tallahassee, We Shall All Be Healed, The Sunset Tree, and Get Lonely. With drummer Jon Wurster, they toured in support of Get Lonely. In 2008, they recorded Heretic Pride, and early this year, The Life of the World to Come.
Owen Pallett named his violin-looping live project Final Fantasy as a nod to the unending series of operatic, melodramatic video games. After stints with Les Mouches, Hidden Cameras, Picastro, and other Toronto bands, he released the debut album Has a Good Home in April 2005. Final Fantasy’s sophomore album He Poos Clouds, written and arranged entirely for string quartet, is a satirical song cycle based on the eight schools of magic codified by Dungeons & Dragons. Pitchfork described it as “a joy to hear . . . this is, in a word, fierce.” A jury of music journalists awarded this LP the inaugural Polaris Prize for best Canadian full-length album. Two EPs followed in 2008: Spectrum, 14th Century, which presents imaginary field recordings from the titular fantasy kingdom, while Plays to Please is a big band tribute to songwriter Alex Lukashevsky of Deep Dark United.
The past few years have seen Pallett constantly touring as Final Fantasy, his “one-man band.” The New York Times observed that “Pallett seems to regard the pop rule book with gleefully iconoclastic relish,” marveling at “live shows that compress all the wonder and virtuosity of an illusionist’s routine into a three-and-a-half-minute pop song.” The Village Voice praised He Poos Clouds for “the best lyrics of the year,” while the New Yorker described one recent concert as “fairly sublime.” Pallett performed at Laurie Anderson’s 60th birthday party and curated 2008’s Maximum Black Festival, featuring Deerhoof, Stephen O’Malley, Dirty Projectors, Max Tundra, and others.
Pallett has written string and orchestral arrangements for numerous releases, including the Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, Beirut’s The Flying Club Cup, and The Last Shadow Puppets’ The Age of the Understatement. In this year alone, he has written orchestral parts for Pet Shop Boys’ Yes, played violin on Mika’s The Boy Who Knew Too Much, and contributed string arrangements to the Mountain Goats album, The Life of the World to Come.
Pallett co-wrote, orchestrated, and conducted the film score for Richard Kelly’s The Box with Win Butler and Regine Chassagne and is currently scoring John Cameron Mitchell’s upcoming film Rabbit Hole. The Brooklyn Philharmonic performed highlights from the Final Fantasy repertoire at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House during its 2009 season, and a similar program is slated for the Symphony Nova Scotia. Pallett also joined forces with the Bang on a Can All-Stars during the group’s 21st-anniversary marathon last year. The next Final Fantasy full-length, Heartland, revisits the realm of Spectrum; it concerns a young, ultra-violent farmer named Lewis and a supreme deity named Owen. Recorded over nine months in four countries, the album will be released on Domino Records in January 2010.
Tickets to Final Fantasy + The Mountain Goats are: $18 ($15 Walker members); $20 ($16) day of show and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.