Words: Ross Bonaime — Photos: Blinkofanaye
Knowing absolutely nothing of Feist’s stage show, I figured seeing her at The Strathmore could go one of two ways:
1. Leslie Feist alone on a stool, acoustic guitar in hand doing bare-bones versions of some new tracks and old favorites.
2. Feist simply recreates her songs, as beautiful as they are, with no pomp or circumstance, a basic recreation of her recordings.
But instead during her two hour set, Feist was livelier, more playful and consistently surprising me with her choices that led me to a third option:
3. Feist turns out to be much more kick ass than I ever expected and blows my mind with how she evolves three albums worth of songs into something completely fresh for her live sets.
Starting off the night was Timber Timbre, a Canadian trio under-lit by red lights. Their half-hour set felt like an extended funeral dirge, haunting and gorgeous. Their set up was simple and understated, considering the sounds they emitted. Lead singer and guitarist Taylor Kirk sings like an otherworldly Nick Cave and Simon Trottier, who sat beside him and for the most part accompanied with slide guitar, added nicely to the ambience. But what truly elevated Timber Timbre’s set was Mika Posen, whose elegant violin added a sense of lightness in the darkness.
Kirk, Trottier and Posen really know how to set a mood. Since many of their songs do deal with an underlying sense of death, their presentation and performances were decidedly apt. Considering what Timber Timbre was bringing to the table, I figured the rest of the night would be a somber event.
But then Feist took to the stage.
Even though Leslie Feist’s sound started off a bit off, the noise emanated from her three separate drums set ups for her opening “The Bad In the Each Other” made her presence known, booming into light. Considering I was getting ready for a stripped down evening, this was an incredibly pleasant surprise.
The surprises continued, as she did some light guitar riffing on “How Come You Never Go There?” then following that up with a darker, more primal version of her poppy, happy song “Mushaboom.” Within the first three songs, it was clear that Feist wasn’t hear to simply recreate her songs, but rather revitalize them for her audience.
In between “Graveyard” and “The Circle Married The Line”, Leslie encouraged audience participation, which for some reason didn’t come easily, broke a guitar string and even did a little seat rearrangement. The sold-out show had a few empty seats in the front, so she called down the “angels in the balconies” to join us on the floor, her way of “biting thumb at scalpers.”
Leslie then went on to divide the crowd into vocal harmonies based on who was from Bethesda, Baltimore, DC or other for “Anti-Pioneer”, held back only by the lack of audience participation. She then took it down a bit with “So Sorry”, but instantly bounced back with “Undiscovered First”, bringing back the crazy percussion that started out the set, and with her choir of three women, known as the band Mountain Man.
Then came the trio of songs that made the entire set. Already “A Commotion” is one of Feist’s most aggressive songs (hell that’s probably why Mastodon covered it for Record Store Day), but live, the building of that song’s shouting of “A COMMOTION!” is even more exciting. Then following this up with a sped up, surf-style version of “I Feel It All”, with audience hand claps (clearly deciding it’s easier to follow clapping instructions than singing ones.) Then with a transition that sounded straight from a 1930’s Universal monster film, Feist went directly into “My Moon My Man”, a song that is made by it’s perfect tempo and simple yet compelling drum part. Feist took three of her greatest songs, lumped them together and breathed new life into them.
Feist allowed Mountain Man to take the spotlight for a while as they showcased a wonderful round that was vocally stunning. After which Feist continued to slow things down a bit with a trio of songs from Metals, “Comfort Me”, “Caught A Long Wind” and “Get It Wrong, Get It Right,” before taking their encore. Upon returning, Leslie and Mountain Man took the stage together to do “Cicadas & Gulls” justice.
Feist has had her share of bands cover and remix her songs. Everyone from the aforementioned Mastodon, Bon Iver, The Postal Service and The Hood Internet have taken their stabs at the songs of Feist. But one of the most popular has to be James Blake’s electronic-soul take on “Limit To Your Love,” which is why it was very weird to hear what essentially boiled down to Feist doing a cover of James Blake’s cover of her own song. Feist brought warmth to Blake’s version that is understandably lacking and in doing so, basically created the Inception of cover songs.
Leslie led into her final song of the night, “Let It Die” with even more fun guitar experimentation before being accompanied by an elegant piano part and ending a night that went up and down many times, but ended on a somber and quiet note.
As the packed center filed out, I heard most crowds describing Feist as “completely not what [they] expected”, and I couldn’t agree more. My expectations were shattered by Leslie, Mountain Man and her talented backing band and showed Feist as a powerhouse in a live setting.
- Timber Timbre: