Thursday, August 30, 2007

See this woman

Back in March of 2005 I saw Feist in concert when she was promoting Let It Die. It was a fantastic show. Feist is in that class of vocalists who possess such richness that they sound even better live than they do on their recordings. (It's been fifteen years, but I remember k.d. lang the same way.) The venue was ideal: an intimate lounge setting that she completely commanded.

I remember thinking during the show that elements of her live arrangements - syncopated hand clapping from the band members, call and response elements from a female lead to a male ensemble, and of course her version of 'When I was a young girl' - suggested that Feist found more than a little inspiration in Nina Simone. I was vindicated when she performed 'See-line woman' as an encore.

When Feist's new album The Reminder came out this year, it was fun to see that the now tongue-in-cheekily named 'Sea lion woman' was included, though in a more rock-oriented arrangement than the live version I'd heard. Another unreleased gem that had transfixed us two years earlier had also made the cut: 'Honey honey' is an amazing live number because Feist uses a looping sampler to layer up her voice in real time, singing her own harmonized backing vocals.

I jumped at the chance to see Feist again last night, this time at a much larger outdoor venue. It was a perfect night, with a full moon so large one could actually watch it move in the sky. She gave a good show, but it felt a little uneven. Her more uptempo songs did quite well, and she gave them more rock treatments. But so much of her music is mellow, and more than half the show consisted of songs that would have been stunning back in that lounge venue, or in a proper theatre, but which tended to loose steam as the outdoor crowd's attention strayed and they headed off to the beer tents.

My biggest new insight about Feist from this show is that despite her fondness for Nina Simone, her center of gravity is really seventies rock and even soft rock. As a lead guitarist, she favors a Buddy Holly era sound, but more of her references are the folk rock, AM radio and earliest new wave of the seventies. Which could be awful, but in her hands they recover all their loveliness and expressiveness. (Her cover of Bee Gees' 'Love you inside out' on Let It Die is proof all by itself.)

Feist's profile and success have increased dramatically over the last few years, and she deserves all of it and more. I think her biggest challenge is finding the right venues when she tours. Who knows; after another album she may opt to split it down the middle, rocking an arena with the faster songs, and captivating a small club audience with the ballads. I look forward to seeing her again.

Feist official website