Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Some thoughts on Feist.

Originally uploaded by uncascrooge.
Back in Toronto, you were either an Emily Haines guy or a Leslie Feist guy. (Well, within that certain segment of the population for whom Broken Social Scene was an integral part of the scene, anyway.) I was an Emily Haines guy. See: I blogged about her here.

As for Feist, I didn’t really get the big deal with Let It Die. Sure, Mushaboom was alright, and I liked her cover of the Bee Gees Inside & Out, but otherwise there was just something about her voice that was unsatisfying. She sounded like - am I way off here? - a sober Cat Power who didn't smoke and was brought up in Calgary. Her voice was neither soulful enough, nor quirky enough to be that interesting. Sometimes it sounded wafer thin, weak frankly. And it was all too polite, too. (I won’t say too Canadian.) I thought Let It Die was middle-of-the-road – SFJ calls it “ready-made for hotel bars and furniture stores” - that had somehow been given the imprimatur of acceptability by the indie kids. (Not that I didn’t know many people who don’t give a damn about cool who loved it.)

So, why did I pay £15 to see Feist last night at the Shepherds Bush Empire? Well, there’s the buzz factor surrounding her new album, The Reminder. Then, there were those cool videos for new tracks 1234 and My Moon My Man. Then, there’s a certain part of me that right now doesn’t just tolerate things that are “too Canadian”, but yearns for them. After six months in London: Politeness? Yes, please!

So I’m at the concert last night, front row of the second balcony at the red velvet ocean that is the Shepherds Bush Empire, primed with the requisite two pints of beer and sipping my third (it was almost 9pm!), and then here comes Feist is out on stage and I’m skeptical and hopeful. She's surrounded by her men, five of them forming a star around her, on drums and keyboards and various wind instruments, notably a flugelhorn.

I think she opened with a tune called Honey Honey, but the second song, I Feel It All, is where I started to relax and enjoy and think there was something more to her than I had realized. I like the lyrics, too. Here:
I feel it all, I feel it all
I feel it all, I feel it all
The wings are wide, the wings are wide
Wild card in sight, wild card in sight

Oh I’ll be the one who'll break my heart
I'll be the one to hope

Can I know more than I knew before
I know more than I knew before
I didn't rest, I didn't stop
Did we fight or did we talk

Oh I’ll be the one who'll break my heart
I'll be the one to hope
Sigh. You know, sometimes it's just a small connection - the tiniest lyric fragment that speaks to you - that is all you need to get sucked into a show, be it a concert, a play or whathaveyou. Then, you pay attention a little harder, engage a little deeper than you otherwise would, hoping to get that thrill again, hoping there's another secret message for you.

It turns out that weakness I thought I detected in Feist's voice was just the illusion of weakness, by the by. That’s kind of her schtick – breakable, wobbly, but not actually so. It makes for slightly disingenuous stage banter, but adds to the music.

Live at least, she does all these interesting tricks with her voice, one of which is to use that wafer-thin quality she can have to slip notes and phrases through cracks and under doorways. And I know she has a huge full voice now, too, because she lets it out sometimes. Why not more? It’s a tease! She’s not polite, or shy; she’s coy. She's about less rather than more, texture over wowwy fireworks, intimacy over extravagence... (But she's feisty - and I don't just say that because of her name.)

If I have a problem with what I heard, it’s that too much of it sounds the same - when Feist does that thing where she pulls the rug out from under her voice too many times, it gets a bit predictable. But the new songs have a real quality to them, and I liked the old ones better delivered live than I did on the record (which is lost somewhere).

So, am I still a Haines guy? Probably, yeah, still a bit. Then again, why come down firmly either way... Thankfully, unlike so so so many other things in life, one doesn’t actually have to choose, does one?


Anonymous said...

I've read she wrecked her voice as a youth singing punk. Maybe there's genuine damage there.

Christine Estima said...

isn't it possible to a haines-ee and a feist-ee? how can the two be mutually exclusive, when there's so much delicious-reckless-vocal-meat to be eaten!

oh right, i'm a vegetarian.

so where/when are we meeting tomorrow?

Anonymous said...

I've always been a Feist guy. Ask anyone.
- Josh

Anonymous said...

I think Emily Haines is all "I'm too cool for school" which kinda puts me off her. I like Feist, but that song she did in French was a little chi-chi for my liking. Basically: I'm just jealous. Of both. And wish I could have those side-swept emo bangs without looking like I used too much conditioner.