Admit it: Leslie Feist is either the girl you want to date or the girl you want to be — maybe both. Adorable but mature, confident but vulnerable, talented but not conceited, stylish but not trendy — what’s not to love? She’ll laugh at your jokes, tell you her secrets, make you a grilled-cheese sandwich and tomato soup when you’re feeling down, and always keep you guessing, as she did while playing a sold-out show at New York City’s Webster Hall on Friday, February 10.
Feist was joined by Mates of State and Jason Collett. Feist and Collett first worked together as members of Toronto’s premier indie-rock symphony, Broken Social Scene. Now, still labelmates on Arts & Crafts as they pursue their solo careers and tour with their own backing bands, they are able to showcase and explore their individual talents. But during the show they made it clear that they continue to enjoy the camaraderie and the creative process of playing with a collective of musicians.
The members of both Feist’s and Collett’s bands were fluid throughout the night, borrowing members back and forth, constantly trading instruments, sometimes cramming five guitars on stage or just giving everyone a tambourine to shake. During Collett’s opening set, Feist came out to take over the drums for a song. During Feist’s encore, she brought Collett onstage to do a slow dance with a broken-hearted young lady from the audience. “This has been a great tour,” Collett said between numbers. “Everyone gets along so well, we really seem like family now.” Rounding out the family, the husband and wife team Mates of State played between Collett and Feist, although they were not with them on the tour.
Collett, touring in support of his sophomore solo album, Idols of Exile, which saw its stateside release in early February, played a number of songs from the album, including “Fire,” “We All Lose One Another” and “I’ll Bring the Sun,” as well as “Tiny Ocean of Tears,” and “Blue Sky” from 2003’s Motor Motel Love Songs. Dressed in second-skin jeans and a sports coat, vest, and tie from the rock ‘n’ roll consignment store, Collett’s stage presence was strong but a little bit too cool for school. Most of the anti-hipster, earnest-looking college girls who came out to see Feist had their “Jason who?” faces on when he was introduced, but Collett still swung his guitar with a rock-star swagger as he rolled out his roots-rock/alt-country sound to a growing number of bobbing heads.
The band let Collett take the spotlight and the appropriately disheveled group of men — which started as two guitars, a bass, keyboards and drums but kept shifting — slouched from song to song with minimal showmanship but spot-on musicianship, playing more to each other than to the audience. (Warrior of the Evening award goes to Feist’s guitar player, who also played with Collett for the entire set.) Although it was clear who everyone was there to see when Feist came out on stage to lend a hand and her voice to Collett’s set, the applause at the end of his set indicates that he seemed to have won over a few fans.
After Collett, Mates of State took over to play a set of gleeful organ rock. Mates of State, composed of Jason Hammel on drums and his wife Kori Gardner on keys, has a distinct live presence. This is third time I’ve seen them, and this show confirmed my feeling that they would be just as happy to be in their basement singing to each other about their relationship as they were to be on stage doing so in front of a few hundred people. Between staring each other in the eyes as they sing, sharing private jokes and giggling to each other when one of them hits a wrong note, it’s all just a little too cute.
During the show, the Mates played a couple of songs from their upcoming album, Bring it Back, which Polyvinyl is set to release later this month, as well as better-known songs such as “Fluke” and “Ha Ha” from Team Boo. The music was fun and the band has a good live sound, but a little bit more animation and a little less undressing each other with their eyes would probably help make the Mates a better show.
Feist opened with the haunting traditional ballad “When I was a Young Girl.” It seemed like an odd foot to put forward, but like much of Feist’s music, the song was played with an energy that pushes at the seams of the song’s format and lets us know that she was prepared to pull out the stops for New York City. Feist and her band played mostly from her second album, Let It Die, which has been garnering praise throughout North America and for which she won two Juno awards in Canada. Feist has been touring on and off since early 2004 on the material from Let it Die. Most of the cuts from the album have taken on a different form since recording, and not many of the New York City audience members seemed prepared to have their stops pulled by the mutated songs. A juiced-up “Leisure Suite” was a welcomed change, but the band’s version of the Bee Gee’s “Inside and Out” was more of an instrumental jam that didn’t seem right for the song, and “Mushaboom” became stripped down and sucked dry of its poppy liveliness. Feist threw in some variety to keep things interesting with material such as “The Build-Up,” originally a collaboration with the Kings of Convenience, and Broken Social Scene’s “Major Label Debut.”
Although some of the retooled songs missed the mark and the audience was a bit reserved, Feist was engaging, unflappable and a delight to see in action. An experienced entertainer, she was always ready with a silly story or a quirky twist (like bringing a tap-dancer on stage for the encore). As their second-to-last show before they take a break from touring and start recording their next album in Europe, the band members had their bits down. And when everyone on the tour came out on stage to form a mob of shaken-instruments, it really did seem like a family reunion.
Jason Collett Web site (includes album stream)
Feist Web site (audio/video)Mates of State Web site (videos)