“She sure knows how to work a crowd,” said the guy next to me who, minutes before, had been giving (terrible) relationship advice to his friend over a beer in plastic cups.
He’s not wrong.
Leslie Feist sure knows how to work a room.
The first time I saw Feist was in 2012, from the balcony seat at the Manchester Apollo. M Ward was supporting and she was touring with Mountain Man as her backup band. The two together created such an explosion of a cappella beauty that it seemed like a screamo version of PJ Harvey‘s Shame to be all the way in the back, even in such a beautiful venue closer to home.
For the tour accompanying her newest record Pleasure, Feist played three consecutive dates at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. A personal homecoming to me. My very first gig I attended in London was in that very venue almost a decade ago, and here I was: back again, with purpose attached to the joy.
The gig began seated. Feist asked us if we’d like to hear Pleasure live in its entirety. I think you’ll find, Feist, the answer is yes please and thank you and please never ever leave the stage.
The set — as with the record — opens with its title track.
I had a moment with a guy across the aisle. Both soberly absorbing the riff that gets stuck in your head with so many hooks I want to call it a Ripp.
See, it’s pretty hard to play to a UK audience “of a certain age.” At least, it’s hard to play to a UK audience at a concert that’s not a fully packed arena where there’s no space to breathe. We’re a quiet bunch to entertain. Most of us have forgotten how to whistle with our fingers against our curled tongues and because of that, I’m gonna learn it all over again. No lie, from The Art of Manliness.
Maybe it’s got to do with the fact we spent our youth in assemblies at school, cross-legged and yelled at to stop talking. Maybe she just really captivated us. (It does, and she did). When Feist pointed it out to us between songs, the wave of adrenaline that swept over the audience was palpable. And, while the guy across the aisle and I were feeling every note with every part of our bodies, the whoops and hollers started.
I didn’t think Pleasure could be any greater an album, but it is. Hearing Feist playing it live, seamlessly, with a floral fan in the background that glowed neon each time the lights went down upped the ante. We were all living.
A day or so before the gig, I read an article in a newspaper I avoid but Apple likes to thrust on me, calling Feist the queen of the “2000’s twee revolution.” I disagreed. A later conversation made me realize that okay, I get it but that also Feist’s punk sensibilities are all over her live shows.
Century started in the dark with flashes of light that punctuated the hardness of the guitar. The lighting person was either a synesthete or I was imagining it. We knew what was coming. Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker came onstage for his monologue as Feist shredded around him.
The theme of the show — the album too, really — is time. Time gone, time here, time to come. At no point is this more evident than the end of Century with the building synths and atmosphere that was only improved by a few technical difficulties that couldn’t be avoided.
As Feist said herself when the keyboard jack shorted in the middle of the appropriate song, “It’s the wind!”
Once we got to the second half of the show, the seats were pushed out of the window as my frustration over couples being invited to dance turned to everyone being invited down to the stage for a party.
You know those moments when you catch the eyes of the artist on the stage and you know they’re looking back, and you know the words to their songs and for a second the moment is yours and it lasts a Century?
Multiplied by every person in the crowd of longing faces and grabby hands and song requests, and Feist’s voice over itself using the looper pedal she works so well.
In ten minutes, a quiet, serious, powerful stage show had turned into the kind of gig most of us grew up with. Which, again; passing of time. Life is thematic. I get it because it fucks with me too.
Before playing Mushaboom, Feist mentioned how long it’d been since she wrote the song and how much had changed; how the things she’d wanted then, some of them she never got, rounding it up with a question mid-song about how many of us are still living in a second-floor apartment (without a yard). I think I yelled yes and fell back into the Feist show of a lifetime.
I love intimacy. I love intimate gigs.
I love all gigs, but the intimate ones are the ones that stick forever (however long that is, how long is a Century?) and Feist provided us at the Empire with a solid sense of satisfaction worthy of every whoop, every holler, and every whistle I still can’t do.
Leslie Feist sure fucking knows how to work a room.
FEIST SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE SETLIST
I Wish I Didn’t Miss You
Get Not High, Get Not Low
A Man Is Not His Song
Century (with Jarvis Cocker)
Baby Be Simple
I’m Not Running Away
My Moon My Man
How Come You Never Go There
Sealion (Nina Simone cover)
The Bad in Each Other
I Feel It All
Let It Die
Secret Heart (Ron Sexsmith cover)