The mood's the thing

The Canadian-born Owen Pallett played a memorable set at the San Gejtanu Band Club, Hamrun last Sunday, courtesy of Stagedive and Kinemastik on May 1

We all knew that the concert was going to be special, and not just because of the musicians themselves. When the joint organisers – Stagedive and Kinemastik, fixtures of the alternative scene whose collaboration was more than logical – announced that Owen Pallett will be playing at the San Gejtanu Band Club in Hamrun, we all knew we’d be in for a dose of local kitsch to complement the accomplished indie stylings of the virtuoso songwriter-violinist who, apart from having an accomplished career as a solo artist, also scored a collaboration with the award-winning Arcade Fire.


The fact that the concert was scheduled on May Day added another twist to the atmosphere – as you can imagine, the Hamrun main road that houses the band club was blocked by the parade, leaving those arriving by public transport (like yours truly) to suffer a shady detour… while those blessed with a car found a wealth of free parking space nearby, as the road was vacated to make way for the parade.


Having finally arrived, what I felt more than anything was relief: not only for making it on time to enjoy supporting band Stalko (it was my first time hearing the folksy quartet), but also because, having gone through the – yes, kitsch as can be – band club hallway and into the generously proportioned outdoor area housing the stage, I beheld a sizable, loyal crowd.


“Sorry about the interview, man,” Stagedive’s Luigi Pellegrini tells me as I get my hand stamped, referring to the fact that Mr Pallett’s stressful touring schedule did not allow him to answer some email questions towards a possible feature on this paper.


“But really, it’s not as bad as musicians not even showing up.”


From the beginning of Stalko’s set, I decide that this is a band perfect for balmy – or not so balmy – summer evenings. While they describe themselves as ‘wilderness based’– owing, I suspect, to a rough-and-tumble attitude to songwriting – their sound is nothing if not calming. Consisting of pleasing acoustic rhythms, bolstered by piano and double bass – this is music that massages the soul, and goes down well with a cuppa. I eagerly await their first EP.


The lanky, floppy haired Owen Pallett took to the stage with little fuss and less preamble: segueing from one song to the next, he created an electronic wall of sound to prop up his entire set, securing our attention and taking us on a journey punctuated with digitally-embellished violin sounds and video game blips and noises (you can tell he’s a fan: his previous solo project went by the moniker of Final Fantasy).


But when he did pause to chat, he revealed a far less artistically grandiose reason for not stopping between songs.
“It’s just that I hate clapping, ‘cos I got really bad eczema on my hands…”


There’s another endearing moment: Pallett asks us if we’ve got any “questions or comments”, and somebody brings up divorce.
To this, Pallett – who is managed by his Filipino boyfriend through the aptly titled Boyfriend Management – retorts with: “I’m pro-gay divorce. Malta should be the only country that doesn’t allow heterosexual divorce, but that then invites gay married couples to divorce here. It could be a great industry!”


Attempting to describe Pallett’s sound – unless you’re academically clued up on music, I would suspect – simply invites clichés. ‘Immersive’, ‘atmospheric’ are two token words that come up. All I can say is that the songs – often mournful but never depressing, heavily reliant on electronics but never artificial – made the already evocative venue hum with mood.


And then, after he sheepishly tells us that he’d rather not play an ‘official’ encore because the open air stage leaves him with “nowhere to hide”, he pulls the rug under our feet as we realise – gradually, and with an equal measure of surprise and vague discomfort – that his final song is in fact a cover (infectious and dynamic as it may have been) of Mariah Carey’s Fantasy.


The concert clocks in 15 minutes before the 23:00 curfew… and I breathe another sigh of relief. If the police showed up here – as they did for Areola Treat a couple of weeks back – they would not just have interrupted a great set, they would have completely demolished a delicately constructed, diligently worked for atmosphere.

For updates on Stagedive, log onto their newly created website on: http://www.stagedivemalta.com/.

To hear Stalko’s new tune, ‘In A Hurry’, log on to http://www.stalkoband.com/. The band will be performing on Sunday, May 15 at Café Riche, Birgu from 19:30.

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