Live: Feist / Jason Collett
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, NC: 6 February 2006
I'm of a mind that unless you're Springsteen or Bono, you really can't get away with the "triumphant fist raise" maneuver. And the infamous "double fist raise", wrists touching, hands shaking in supplication? Don't even think about it. But apparently this is where Jason Collett and I diverge, because he deployed not only these, but an entire digest of arena-rock boilerplate ill-suited to a dingy indie rock club. Unfortunately, this overbearing presentation only distracted from the otherwise totally decent music, and I couldn't help but feel as if I were watching a Spinal Tap version of The Band-- this was, after all, a bunch of Canadians playing down-home, feel-good rock. Collett channeled Dylan in a natty three-piece suit; his bass player bobbed like Rick Danko in a porkpie hat; the guitarist's duck-walk, pursed lips, bobbing head, and O-faces came off more Bill Cosby than Robbie Robertson.
Leslie Feist, on the other hand, suffered from no such presentational problems. Pretty and fit in an off-white blouse with a high ponytail, she fully inhabited herself, relying on her confident personality and skilled performance to captivate the audience. In the live setting, Feist's songs retain the immaculate precision and structural elegance of their recorded counterparts while becoming more dynamic, with more negative space and ornate embroideries of guitar. Among a spacious and drum-roll-driven version of "When I Was a Young Girl", a finger-snapping "Gatekeeper" laced with a beautifully expressive trumpet line, and a spiky rock version of the tripping "Mushaboom", she performed startling a cappella harmonies over loops of her voice, tendons straining as she leapt around her broad register, emoting with her hands like an r&b singer. Her and her band's banter was casual and charming. "You are my Canadian princess," shouted an overwrought fanboy (this would be a common occurrence throughout the evening), to which Feist's bass player replied, "I'm a prince, but thanks."
Feist's star has been steadily rising, to the point where it threatens to eclipse that of her sometime-collaborators Broken Social Scene, and she's not only aware of it, she relishes it. She related an anecdote (more like a victory speech) about how the last time she played in Carrboro, opening for British Sea Power, she could barely compete with the crowd's chatter. Looking out over the packed, devotedly cat-calling house, she trailed off before she actually crowed over her vindication, but we all got the message. And it's true, the audience was rapt, even during a Cat Power-ish encore ("One Evening") where she forgot the lyrics and stopped the song so many times it started to get bizarre. But the fans didn't mind, loving the humanity of it all, the chance to encourage and show solidarity with their "Canadian princess." Finally Feist brought out Jason Collett's bass player to do an "interpretive dance" with a cute red-headed fan in a peasant dress, a move she claimed has saved her many a time, and with the tension broken, "One Evening" went ping-ponging into the night without further incident, all the more sublime for having emerged from such fractured beginnings.