The ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas future is how the Mountain Man, a trio of youngish girls, looked as they took the stage to sing background vocals through Leslie Feist’s entire set of music performed last night at Seattle’s Moore Theater.
The trio of girls provided an indelible touch throughout the whole night, which served to take Feist’s subdued songs, and make them intricate pieces that could capture an audience from beginning to end.
Leslie Feist has recently mentioned in numerous articles how she put down music for the better part of 2 years until her muse drove her back to the guitar rather than her record label or the high levels of hype that precede her anywhere, due to the “1, 2, 3, 4” hit that was used to help sell Steve Jobs’ i-pod.
This suppression of hype, and this unwillingness to ride waves of fame and hysteria, seemed to come through in what was an intimate and mellow set from the Grammy winner.
I must admit that I have been somewhat perplexed by recent reviews of this tour that talk about her “electrifying” performances. Electrifying is hardly an adjective I would use.
And this isn’t meant to belittle Feist’s new record, or her new setlist. But just a recognition that things have changed in the years following “The Reminder.”
Which brings me back to the Mountain Man girls, and their role in the show. There were other things to capture the attention of the audience during Feist’s set last night, other than Feist. This seems to be the way Feist wants things right now. A dimmer spotlight on herself, the words of songs sung from mouths other than her own (thus the many attempted sing alongs that Seattle really flopped on), and an urging for the audience to bring something of themselves to the shows. The set had a giant video screen that projected images of the band as well as collages of images with a nature-ish theme. There were exciting light demonstrations, and fresh instrumental parts added to songs that kept the set interesting.
However, this show didn’t get anywhere near “electrifying” till the first encore when she busted out the rawest version of “feel it all” I have ever heard, an alternate version of “Sea Lion Women” which wasn’t all that hot (but it’s a song that’s hard to completely ruin, so the crowd was still on their feet), and the powerful “Let It Die.”
One of the great highlights of this show was the acapella number performed by Mountain Man in between songs. It contained an energy, a freshness, an authenticity, and a vibrancy that wasn’t always there in Feist’s set.
Don’t get me wrong, the renditions of “Graveyard”, “Commotion”, and “How Come You Never Go There” were spot on musically. From a live perspective however, it seemed to be a bit mailed-in by Feist and the band. Perhaps its road lag, perhaps it was the fact that Feist’s voice was obviously less than 100%. Whatever the case, the set was really good, but I can’t say it was really great. My wife suggested that my letdown due to the absence of a horn section could have something to do with it as well. Maybe.
Here’s what I think could help things. Feist’s new material really shined in the quiet moments. “Cicadas and Gulls” was one of my favorite of the night, performed with just acoustic guitar and the Mountain Men. I can’t help but wonder if Feist might do better to be booked in more intimate settings this go around, rather than large theater halls. Perhaps a classy jazz club, or an old church without amplification, might yield that something special that I felt wasn’t entirely there at the Moore Theater (which is a fantastic venue). Metals shines in the quiet moments, and I think a venue change would coax out the souls of these songs more actively.
Metals is a good album. And this live show Feist is touring on is a good one. It is worth the price of admission. Just don’t be surprised if you come away talking just as much about Chilly Gonzales’ amazing opening set (just solo piano) and the singing ability of the Mountain Men as much as you do Feist.