Feist presents old favourites, new hits, and one big art show at Centennial Hall

Folksy songs paired with bright backgrounds, projection art and Feist's onstage charisma

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Leslie Feist

Jonas Hrebeniuk

Part art show, part light show, Feist rocked Centennial Hall Dec. 5 in a grand spectacle of a concert.

Leslie Feist’s widespread appeal brought a diverse crowd to the sold-out show. Children, grandparents and even, inexplicably, a few babies joined the throng of twenty-somethings eager to see Feist flex her folk-rock muscles.

Before the crowd could worship at the altar of Feist, however, the much-hyped opening act Great Lake Swimmers took to the stage.

Lead singer Tony Dekker’s voice was impressive, lending a warm quality to the band’s slow, folksy songs. Its old-fashioned instrumentation " harmonica, upright bass, and banjo " complemented Feist’s folk sound.

Still, the initially receptive crowd tired of the band’s more repetitive songs like “Put There by the Land,” which features two sentences sung for several minutes. When Great Lake Swimmers’ set was finished, the talkative crowd was eager for Feist.

Feist began her set singing solo and a cappella. With the lights out, save for the small lantern she held, there was little for the audience to focus on but the power of her voice.

The Great Lake Swimmers

Then the spectacle began. As Feist’s band joined her onstage, she eased into a cover of traditional folk song/plague lament “When I Was a Young Girl.” The stage’s white backdrop now glowed blood red as Feist remained silhouetted against it and a disco ball cast dizzying circles of light around the hall. For the remainder of the concert, the stage’s backdrops and lighting enriched the songs. In the case of “When I Was a Young Girl,” they turned a creepy song into a sing-along in hell.

For “I’m Sorry,” the iPod commercial-like silhouettes continued, but the hellish colour scheme was abandoned for bright pink, teal and green " a stage setting that was also employed for happier songs like “1 2 3 4.” The result was a unique and visually appealing stage that relied on more than the usual spotlights to captivate the audience.

At other times, like during “The Park,” the bright colours were replaced with projected art: the silhouette of a hand placed leaves and birds on a screen, finger-painted a sunny seascape, and removed sections of a multi-layered painting one layer at a time.

Although the backdrops were interesting to watch, they were sometimes a distraction, the audience was often more likely to watch the art behind Feist than the musician herself.

Another drawback to the concert " one Feist lamented " was Centennial Hall’s assigned seating. Audience members could only sit and nod along to the driving piano beat of “My Moon, My Man.” For the dance-lovers in the audience, it was torture.

To compensate, Feist engaged the audience as much as possible. At one point, she split the audience into thirds and asked each section to sing different notes of the same chord simultaneously. Later, during “1 2 3 4,” she asked the crowd to sing backup vocals. The rapport Feist developed with the audience helped combat the doldrums of assigned seating.

Despite lukewarm openers and stuffy seating, Feist gave London a concert that was easy on the ears and visually impressive. Not a bad way to end the fall term.

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