Feist delivers fresh hometown show full of surprises

Singer performs intimate set for thrilled History throng

Who: Feist
Where: History, Toronto
When: Thurs.., May 18
Vibe: Magical and intimate homecoming
Highlight: The sense of connection between performer and audience
Next: August European tour
Rating: NNNNN (out of 5)

AS A BORN AND BRED WEST ENDER, it takes a lot to get me to travel east of the Don Valley, but I’m happy to make the trek for Leslie Feist on Thursday night as she plays a packed hometown show at History. It’s an atmospheric and unpredictable night that is a wonderful concert in its own right but also feels part standup set, part art installation and part group therapy session.

At one point during the show, my friend remarks that it feels like we’re all partaking in some mysterious ritual, and indeed, Feist excels at making the entire crowd feel like we’re creating something magical with her.

Walking into History, the room isn’t set up in the traditional way: instead, a small circular platform stands in the middle of the floor and a large screen is where the stage usually is. A little after 8 pm, Feist snakes her way through the crowd, up toward the centre. She has her phone in hand, projecting her view of the crowd onto the screen, and she’s greeting us all, encouraging us to cheer for each other. When she picks up her guitar, the crowd quiets. Everyone knows they are in for something special, and the whole room is holding its breath.

The first half of the set is just Feist, her guitar and a looping pedal, which is not something I usually enjoy in a bigger venue but she manages to pull it off, filling the room with some great self-harmonization. She regularly takes breaks in between (and at some points, during) songs to commune with the audience: asking people to share photos of their cottages and beloved green spaces during her song Redwing or inviting people to converse with her while she’s tuning. The show clearly feels important to her; she even admits, at the very beginning, to being nervous, but Feist plays with such a laidback energy that it just as easily feels like you’re sitting at a campfire singalong. Just you, your old friend Leslie and 2,000 of your best pals.

The set is a well-balanced mix between tracks from her new album, Multitudes, and reworked versions of her better-known songs. It’s also a mix of lighthearted and emotional. Feist has the crowd cracking up consistently, but it doesn’t undermine the vulnerable parts of the set. After having a particularly emotional moment with her song Forever Before, she jokes with the audience: “What is life when it becomes normal to cry in front of a doughnut of humans?” to which the audience responds with vocal cries of support.

It’s about halfway into the show, and Feist has a surprise in store. She makes her way over to the main stage, unused until now, and the screen comes up to reveal a full band. Gone is the quiet part of the night. Make way for the louder, more chaotic music we also know Feist to be capable of. Her performance of My Moon My Man (an all-time favourite of mine) is frenetic and desperate. Her rendition of 1-2-3-4 the perfect combination of new and nostalgic. When she sings Any Party, I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear or two at the soaring song.

At the end of the set, Feist returns to the small stage to perform in the round, intimate bookend to the night. I step out onto Queen Street after the show is done and make the long trip back to my part of town, still buzzing from the energy of such an exceptional concert.