Saturday evening at the newly reopened Swedish American Hall began as an excruciatingly slow, sit-down affair. The picturesque venue, Noise Pop headquarters for this year’s festival, was exactly as described: its modest stage didn’t appear to have the depth for more than one row of performers, or the width for more than three. It was full, with three musicians, when Foxes in Fiction played the headline set. The touring three-piece was preceded by soloists Emily Reo, R.L. Kelly, and Owen Pallett, two of which who would later perform alongside Warren Hildebrand as Foxes in Fiction.
But it served the purposes of the evening’s showcase, a historic first co-presented by the festival and Hildebrand’s Orchid Tapes label. In many stereotypical yet endearing ways, it was perhaps the most Canadian thing to take place in a building designed by a Swede at a prominent American indie music festival; the showcase was part musical presentation, part stand-up comedy act, with an almost-distracting quantity of self-deprecating statements and apologies.
At this juncture we witnessed a collaborative effort: not one of the four friends vied for the spotlight on his or her own – in fact, at one point, Owen Pallett abandoned his post and violin on stage to physically turn two floor lights away from the musicians.
Kelly called it early, joking, “This is totally the first show I’ve played.” (It’s not.) And interspersing nervousness with statements so incredibly awkward they were funny. It didn’t hurt that there were many friends and avid supporters in the crowd, laughing enthusiastically when she said, “This is also a little comedy act… just not that funny.” The young songwriter seemed significantly more comfortable when Hildebrand played next to her, adding support on guitar.
She was also the most talkative of the four, though Pallett followed with a similarly conversational performance. “I don’t know what I’m doing tonight,” he started, open to requests and suggestions. “I also didn’t bring any merch with me but we want the venue to like us so buy some drinks. If you don’t drink, buy them and pour them on each other.” Cue laughter. Then, “Can someone bring me a tequila thing?”
He was soft-spoken, with a hard-to-place accent, and unafraid to stop, adjust, and re-tune several measures into any given song if that’s any indicator of his virtuosity. Pallett was flawless on his violin looping (otherwise he would stop and restart a loop for greater precision), honed on keyboard, and supplemented his one-man instrumentals with a rich tenor that slipped neatly into falsetto where necessary. He took his audience deep into the dream, six, seven, eight layers of arco, pizzicato, body percussion, vocals, and pseudo-Wurlitzer piano (“Patrick, [my manager and boyfriend], doesn’t like acoustic instruments so we compromised – [my synthesizer has a setting on it so] it’s like a tuxedo shirt”).
He closed most of his pieces neatly, with a nonchalant air, even uttering a curious, “Huh, whatever,” after sound renditions of “The Great Elsewhere” and “Soldiers Rock.”
Pallett spoke fondly about Orchid Tapes (“I love this collective”) and releasing with them in the future (“we haven’t released anything yet”). Then shook his head, laughing (“Domino [Records] probably won’t drop me”). We were treated to a glorious performance of “I Am Not Afraid” – its layers tightly wound into cohesion such that even the most determined listener could not unravel them. Choice lyrics:
I’ll never have any children
I’d bear them and eat them, my children
I’m gonna change my body
in the light and the shadow of suspicion
I am no longer afraid
The truth doesn’t terrify us, terrify us
My salvation is found in discipline, discipline
The hall was left speechless, chairs creaking in the wake of their abandonment, as the crowd sent Pallett off with a standing ovation.
His departure was short-lived, however; twenty minutes later, he returned to play Hildebrand’s violin arrangements on his friend’s 2014 release, Ontario Gothic. Emily Reo supplied the synth.
A classic showing of blurred-out shoegaze, the band did little to interact with their audience, save for mumbled apologies (“I’m the worst, sorry”) and much gratitude from Hildebrand. They requested to have most of the lights turned away, physically moving several on their own, a choice that resulted in three silhouettes against a dreamy visual film element cast onto the screen behind them.
Foxes played through the notables, “Ontario Gothic,” “Shadow Song,” and “Glow (V079),” before almost disregarding a prepared encore (Pallett had to convince Hildebrand to do it).
Hildebrand ended with a heartfelt address, giving recognition to Noise Pop associates, his fellow performers, and the venue. “This is probably one of my favourite things I’ve ever done,” he confessed. “Thanks everyone for coming and spending the evening with us.”
Warren, it’s probably one of the most sincere gigs we’ve ever been to.
Article by Joanna Jiang