Guardian Feist Review – One of the Best Live Shows of the Year
The magnetic Canadian singer performs her perceptive songs of love and loss during a gig that is precisely choreographed but still feels intimate and vividly in the moment
Leslie Feist has made a career out of being underestimated. The Canadian indie-folk stalwart netted a ubiquitous, broad-based hit in 2007 with 1234, a song featured in an iPod ad; to many, she is known simply as the “1234 singer”, and is frozen in time at that point in her career when she was making singalong folk-pop with striking dance videos. Those who stuck around for her subsequent albums – 2011’s arid Metals, the minimalist, bluesy 2017 album Pleasure, and this year’s fragmented, lightly electronic Multitudes – have witnessed first-hand her transformation into one of indie music’s most perceptive, penetrating songwriters. Her freeform songs of love and loss, delivered with a 200-grit sandpaper voice, feel like family heirlooms; objects whose stories become richer and more distinct every time you pick them up.
Feist’s tour in support of Multitudes plays on her tendency to be underestimated brilliantly. I’ve never seen a show quite like it, one which is so precisely choreographed and staged while still feeling so wildly, vividly real. It is a feat of sleight-of-hand that is spooky and psychedelic, utilising fairly commonplace performance tools – crowd work, a live video feed, minimalist staging, good old-fashioned charisma – to execute a masterful rug-pull from beneath the audience’s feet. It feels ridiculous to say in regards to a live show, but I’m a little afraid of spoiling the surprises the Multitudes tour has up its sleeve. The best guidance I can give is simply that you should see one of the tour’s few remaining dates for yourself, and find yourself caught off-guard by one of the most masterly rock shows I’ve seen in a long time.
Feist begins this show in the round, on a small stage in the middle of the audience. Carrying an iPhone that feeds back to a projection on the main stage, she walks through the crowd, zeroing in on coats and dresses, joking with the audience members she passes, eventually climbing on to her small podium and mounting the phone on a stand. Feist’s magnetism – her ability to make you feel like she’s speaking only to you as she cracks jokes about feeling like she’s performing at Wembley or speaks about the natural landscapes that got her through Covid – is weaponised here. It feels, as she runs through a handful of songs including early hit Mushaboom and Pleasure highlight A Man Is Not His Song on solo guitar, like a very traditional folk show, to the point that it’s easy to miss some of the set’s sly enhancements, such as Feist’s use of a loop pedal to harmonise with herself, or the way the video feed shimmers with distortion.
Early on, she calls for audience participation, asking someone to take the phone from her and walk around filming the venue and audience members. It quickly becomes clear that what seemed like an intimate, homespun show is actually far more complex: the cameraman steals a notebook from an audience member leading to a striking, unnerving recitation of a poem; Feist re-enters the audience, pretending to till a field and plant a tree as she sings I Took All of My Rings Off.
Halfway through the two-hour show, there is a dramatic, gut-punch curtain drop for the ages. All the while, Feist is performing beloved songs such as Any Party and My Moon My Man on a tightrope between wildness and precision, making it abundantly clear that even without the mysterious, magnetic stagecraft, it would be one of the year’s best live shows.