You’ve probably listened to Feist even if you don’t know it. Leslie Feist, the 35-year-old Canadian-American singer, entered the mainstream of pop culture in 2007, thanks to her song “1234,” which was the soundtrack for a ubiquitous iPod Nano commercial a few years ago. The catchy song helped catapult her third album, “The Reminder,” up the charts and earned her four 2007 Grammy Award nominations.
If you attended her concert last night at the Moore Theatre, hopefully you weren’t there just to hear “1234” — mainly because she didn’t play it. Thankfully, however, as the show demonstrated, she is far more than a one-hit wonder.
Feist toured constantly in support of “The Reminder,” and it took her four years to creatively recuperate before releasing this year’s followup album, “Metals.” She holed up in Big Sur, California, and let herself be inspired by the natural surroundings. It’s easy to imagine the roaring ocean outside the studio doors, both raw and graceful, much like the resulting record.
On “Metals,” there is no obvious breakout single comparable to “1234.” It is a record that builds and grows on listeners, and her concert was much the same, with a setlist made up mostly from “Metals.” She opened strongly, with the track “Undiscovered First,” which had an almost protest-like vibe to the vocal delivery, and plenty of foot-stomping. Her three backup vocalists fist-pumped tambourines as punctuation.
Even Feist's quieter album songs have a more forceful rock quality when played live. Four songs into the set, she launched into “Graveyard,” and the heavy drums turned the chorus — “bring them all back to life” — into a demand rather than a plea.
The blustery Seattle weather was the perfect backdrop for the show, but nonetheless, the audience response to the music felt like a bit of the outside chill had crept into the concert. It took awhile for Feist and the crowd to develop an intimate connection. She even jovially commented later in the evening that Seattle is a “tough crowd.” Part of this may have been that her delicate vocals and lyrics were often drowned out during the earlier part of the show. Thankfully, this improved later in the evening.
After a beautiful harmonization between Feist and her backup vocalists for “The Circle Married the Line,” the audience began rewarding her with more vigorous applause and she reciprocated with more interaction.
“Are you up there?” Feist asked of the upper balconies. “I imagine we look like ants. Throw someone over so we know you’re there,” she said to nervous laughter from the nosebleed seats.
By “My Moon My Man,” a song from “The Reminder” album, the crowd was rocking out. Of course for a Feist crowd, “rocking out” is far from crowd surfing. In addition to some tentative head bobbing, I witnessed an actual game of patty cake being played to the beat of the song.
Feist has an engaging stage presence and it’s fun to watch her attack songs with the full force of her voice and guitar. But what did not add to the concert was the video screen behind her playing live images from the show. There were prolonged close-ups of Feist’s hands, split screen images of flashing drumsticks, and, most oddly, a blurry montage of the odd capes/costumes the backup dancers wore. It was like a watching a cheesy, 1980s music video; more distracting than entertaining.
Feist played for nearly two hours. Her encore was a pendulum swing between soft and hard. For the first song, “Cicadas and Gulls,” Feist and her singers huddled center stage with just a guitar and their impeccable harmonies. It was simple, but stunning. The electric guitars ripped through the next few songs before Feist ended the night accompanied by frequent collaborator (and the night’s opener) Chilly Gonzales playing piano.
Atop the piano like a French chanteuse, Feist sang a fabulous cover of Peggy Lee’s “Where Can I Go Without You.” With just a slight twang, Feist imparted the song with the appropriate amount of heartbreak. Accompanied by just the piano, the last songs most closely approximated the emotionally stripped-down vibe of “Metals.”
At the end, the crowd lingered for a few, extra seconds waiting for “1234,” the obvious closer. As the lights went up and people shuffled into the cold, it wasn’t with a sense of disappointment, but a realization that Feist fans should always expect the unexpected.