Wednesday, October 12th, 2011
Get It Wrong, Get It Right
Feist at The Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto
Frank YangJust as a point of reference, when someone IMs you late on a Friday afternoon and asks, “do you want to go see Feist at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio tomorrow night?”, the only appropriate answer is yes. And so it was that after assuming that it’d be too much trouble to finagle one of the hottest tickets in a long weekend with no shortage of hot tickets, one was handed to me. No I’m not bragging. Okay I’m bragging a little. But the point being that I didn’t expect to be at this show, with all its advertised guest stars, and assumed that my run of not seeing Feist live would hit six-and-a-half years before her show at Massey Hall later this year, the last time I saw her properly being Canada Day 2005 and the last technical time being when I paused by her set at Lollapalooza 2006 for a few minutes before moving on to who knows what else, thinking “oh I see her all the time”. Or not.
But one consequence of the short notice was that I still hadn’t had a chance to listen to her new record Metals – what, I’ve been busy – and so as much as it was going to be a nice chance to get reacquainted with Feist, I was expecting it to be a bit unfamiliar. It’s safe to say that the unfamiliarity would be felt from the stage as well as from the audience, though. Feist retired from performing for an extended spell following The Reminder, and while there had been a few warm-up shows prior to this one, that it would be a hometown show and recorded for nationwide radio broadcast next month surely added an extra dimension of nervousness for the singer-songwriter.
Not that she was facing it alone. Her backing band was legion, including a keyboardist, drummer, Charles Spearin of Broken Social Scene on multi-instrumentalist duties, a three-piece string section and American folk trio Mountain Man as chorus and percussion section. And that’s not even mentioning the steady stream of guest players who came out to perform with her throughout the night, whether on her material, theirs or someone else’s. Certainly all the parts were in place for an intimate and memorable evening, including invitations from Feist for the audience to leave their seats to gather up front, of which only a few took up. Too Canadian, too polite, I would guess.
And that it was – even being unfamiliar with the new material, Feist’s voice and songwriting style haven’t changed and if anything, have grown more sophisticated. Much of the show was driven by complex and unorthodox percussion with one of Spearin’s tasks was to treat a couple of violins clamped to a table as percussion instruments and Mountain Man doubled as a kalimba orchestra and a few nods to Feist’s rock instincts, often played down on record in favour of more subtle timbres. If you wanted to make a metallurgical analogy, it’s like Feist is soft in the studio but annealed and tempered for the stage. And that, folks, is the most that I’ve used my mechanical engineering degree in the past decade.
Even if the set had been made up of all old material, I don’t take for granted that I’d have recognized them all. Reinvention is nothing new to Feist and songs like “Mushaboom” were recast almost completely, given eastern overtones and going from light and fun to exotic and weighty – a risky move with fan favourites but the end result was thrilling to hear as it allowed the listener to rediscover the song anew. As for the special guests, each of ex-Constantine Bry Webb, Doug Paisley, head Hidden Camera Joel Gibb, Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy all came out to share the spotlight with Feist: Tweedy leading off the encore with “You & I” from his band’s Wilco (The Album) and Webb playing Kenny Rogers in a duet of “Islands In The Stream” with Feist as Dolly.
It wasn’t perfection, as playing in front of friends and family probably adds as much stress as comfort when finding one’s feet and Feist took mulligans on not one but three songs, but if any crowd was going to be forgiving it was this one. And while most would have called the performance a triumph in any case, just happy to have Feist back on a Toronto stage and be reminded of her talent, in this case it was praise fully earned. I can’t wait to see how good and together she is when she returns, road-tested, to Massey Hall on December 1.
Photos: Feist @ The Glenn Gould Studio – October 8, 2011
Video: Feist – “I Feel It All”
Video: Feist – “Honey Honey”
Video: Feist – “My Moon My Man”
Video: Feist – “Mushaboom”
Video: Feist – “1, 2, 3, 4″
Video: Feist – “One Evening”
Rolling Stone is streaming a new song from Kathleen Edwards, whose next album will be entitled Voyageur and be out January 17. I tend to be kind of “whatever” about Ms Edwards of late, but this tune is great. If it’s a sign of what to expect from the new record, I shall most definitely be paying attention again. Exclaim has more details on the new record.
Already slated as opener for Matthew Barber at the Music Gallery on November 18, Louise Burns will be sticking around town to provide support for the second of Cuff The Duke’s two shows at The Horseshoe on November 26.
Video: Ohbijou – “Niagara”