"Someone gave me a microphone--I don't know what they were thinking," Canadian songstress Leslie Feist joked dryly while playing a rare private show at L.A.'s Village Recording Studios on September 1. But Feist, as she is more commonly known, was wrong: The folks at Yahoo! and Starbucks knew exactly what they were doing when they handed her a mic and had her debut five new songs, with her new backing band, for 40 or so very lucky fans.
The performance, which will appear on the Starbucks Digital Network in partnership with Yahoo! on September 19, and on Yahoo! Music October 4, was quite a departure from Feist's more recent L.A. shows, which had taken place at decidedly more cavernous venues like the 18,000-capacity Hollywood Bowl. So it was understandable that she felt little awkward at first in the almost claustrophobically intimate setting, which was so eerily pindrop-silent between songs, she kept encouraging the tiny crowd to behave more like the arena and amphitheater audiences to which she's become accustomed.
"This is a moment in the room and a lifetime on the Internet--otherwise known as 'the awkward archives,'" she laughed. "I beg of you to please be louder. Like, sound like 800 people. Just try! Woooo! Come on, let's have chatter chatter, clinking glasses, like a vaudeville show!" The audience whooped it up for an instant, as if on cue, but then almost involuntarily fell back into awed silence, again staring slack-jawed at Feist as she tuned her guitar or hashed out new tunes with her newly recruited band. "And then it's hushed again," she sighed, smirking a little at the stillness.
Feist's audience couldn't be faulted for their silent treatment. There was something about that almost sacred space at the Village, with its wood-paneled walls and warm autumnal tones and soft mood lighting and tastefully tossed-around Persian rugs, that just encouraged a sort of hushed, churchy reverence. It also might have been a sign of respect: In a space so small that spectators were practically sitting on the stage, hooting and hollering like drunken revelers at a Kiss concert just didn't seem appropriate. (Yes, delicious "Yahootinis," which sadly are not currently available on the Starbucks menu, were served at the pre-show cocktail party...but apparently partygoers imbibed responsibly.)
Or maybe the fans were simply stunned into silence by the remarkable fact that they were the first people to hear live performances off Feist's much-awaited Metals, her first album in four years, a whole month before its official release.
It was when Feist turned up her guitar and grooved with her band that she got the noise she so clearly craved. That's when the room got loud. Some fans, mostly familiar with Feist's more lilting material like "I Feel It All" and the breakthrough iPod theme "1 2 3 4," were possibly startled (though probably in a good way) by her opener, the aptly titled "A Commotion," with its slashing, attacking guitars and angry group chants, or when the whisper-to-a-scream number "Undiscovered First" morphed midway from a soft lullaby to stormy, howling crescendo. Both songs were representative of Metals' harder, grittier sound. ("We are pumping iron up here!" Feist declared, as she and her band underwent quite a workout.) But the spare alt-county ballad "Comfort Me" and sweet singalong "How Come You Never Go There" provided quiet comfort to fans of the kinder, gentler Feist. And these simpler songs made just as intense an impact, truly benefitting from the intimacy of the small space.
And it was during all five songs that Feist--who'd clearly rather be rocking out onstage than bantering--truly came alive, as she really seemed to relish finally getting to play with her band for an audience of any size. "This is the first time this band has heard applause," she gushed, after "A Commotion" concluded and the audience members broke their silence for the first of many enthusiastic ovations. And after the five-piece band launched into an impromptu oom-pa oom-pa jam while Feist tuned her guitar, her keyboardist observed, "That was our first joke onstage!" Aw. And all the while, Feist's supercool androgynous girl backup singers--adorable whether wearing contrasting double-denim or Stevie Nicks-worthy medieval capes adorned with little chiming Christmas bells--stood onstage hugging each other, looking delighted to be there. Cute moments like that would have gone unnoticed in a less intimate concert venue. (Feist should totally sell those jingle-capes at the merch booth on her next tour, by the way.)
The show ended on an especially resonant loud note, as an obviously pleased Feist triumphantly tooted on a Lord Of The Flies-style conch-shell horn (see it sitting atop the piano in the photo above) before leaving the stage. Whether we'll hear any conch shells on Metals remains unknown, but based on this show, the album going to sound amazing, in any setting.
- Leslie Feist