Feist flirts with the Ale House

Feist may not have had the whole “Scene” behind her, but she was supported by a three-piece band.
Feist may not have had the whole “Scene” behind her, but she was supported by a three-piece band.
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Feist pulled a couple on stage for a slow dance during her set.
Feist pulled a couple on stage for a slow dance during her set.
Photo: 

Leslie Feist is more than just a pretty voice.

And while it may be that her sweet singing is the driving force behind the crossover success of her 2004 album Let It Die, she’s also a talented guitarist and an enthusiastic performer—not to mention a sex symbol to both the boys and the girls in the crowd at her recent Kingston stop.

But in order to get to Feist, the audience first had to get through Paso Mino. Before the band played even a single note, the fact that three-quarters of the band were wearing button-down Western-style shirts set the tone for their set: slouchy, languid and twangy-but-not-quite-country, alternative or otherwise. While it’s hard to fault a band willing to break out the auxiliary percussion in their second song, their egg-shaped shakers and hollow tapping sticks were unfortunately the best part of the first two thirds of their mostly bland set. It wasn’t until Paso Mino launched into the first of what their lead singer announced as new songs that elements of quality songwriting truly became apparent. The two new songs were by far the most interesting of their set, playing effectively with slinky, creeping tension, which many of their earlier songs had lacked entirely. It’s unfortunate that they waited so long to play their best material, but they at least proved that there’s hope in the band’s songwriting future.

Half an hour after Paso Mino finished, Feist launched into her first song to an explosion of applause and cat calls. A looping pedal turned her initial a cappella vocalizations into a haunting, harmonized accompaniment as her voice carried above the din of the noisy crowd. Feist was then joined by a three-piece band whom she led through a set containing less material from Let It Die than might have been expected, with songs from the album comprising only about a third of the setlist. The other, perhaps less familiar, songs seemed well-received by the crowd, who seemed willing to shout and cheer no matter what Feist did.

And Feist gave them plenty to cheer for. Visibly at home in the spotlight on a big stage, she pranced with her guitar, flailed her arms and her hair, and encouraged the endless affection-pouring from the crowd. “Marry me, Feist!” came a shout between songs. “Yeah? Okay!” was her good-natured reply. She later played on these very sentiments when asking for (relative) silence so she could play what she called a “most quiet” song. “It is a challenge, I know,” Feist told the crowd, “for me to compete with the person you’ve been waiting to flirt with all week … well, please, flirt with me instead!”

In addition to peppering her set with charming stage banter, Feist’s charisma and energy leaked into her performance as well. Captivating even when alone on the stage, she proved willing to depart from the beaten track of her recorded material. Her wordless vocalizations were always met with wild approval, and she toyed effortlessly with her high notes, not only hitting them but frequently holding them for astonishing durations. She took a great many improvisational liberties with both her guitar and vocal parts, always to great effect. “Secret Heart” morphed from a dainty love song into a vibrant full-band assault. Another song to undergo a makeover for the better was the usually sedate “Mushaboom,” which shed its shy, acoustic trappings to emerge as a triumphant, swinging ode to cottage life, with Feist merrily holding the mic out for the crowd to join in on the chorus’ “who-o-oa”s.

It’s difficult to hear anything about Feist without her other band (that would be Broken Social Scene) being a many-headed elephant in the room. Perhaps to meet this head-on, when Feist returned for her encore, she gave a rambunctious rendition of “Major Label Debut” from Broken Social Scene’s recent, self-titled album, imploring the audience to sing along if they knew the words. The audience clearly did, and happily humoured her request. She followed this up—and finished the night off—with “Let It Die,” but not before dedicating the song to anybody in the crowd who was in love, and pulling a couple from the front row to slow-dance on stage for the duration of the song.

Feist may have been coyly playing with the affections of the hundreds she was holding in rapt attention, but she seemed genuinely pleased to be receiving such adulation. She gave freely in return—at one point declaring what seemed a genuine excitement at being back in Kingston—and it’s highly unlikely anybody left her love-in disappointed.

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