Audience Participation Welcome (but Shhh)
There are plenty of singers who inspire their fans to sing along. And then there is Feist, the indie-rock chanteuse from Canada. She is a restless polymath with a catalog of great songs and a voice like carved steam. At Town Hall on Monday, during the first of two sold-out shows, she encouraged audience participation, but no one seemed eager to drown her out. When Feist opens her mouth, there is only one reasonable reaction: shut up.
Feist built her American following gradually. For a while she was best known for singing with the indie-rock group Broken Social Scene. Then import copies of her 2004 breakthrough album, “Let It Die,” began trickling into shops; the CD finally got an American release in 2005 and slowly became a word-of-mouth favorite.
Last month the follow-up, “The Reminder” (Cherrytree/Interscope), arrived with a bang: glowing features, rave reviews and a spot on the Starbucks CD rack. And Monday’s concert felt like validation of her prominence: she’s still a long way from being overrated.
Although her music is (apparently) gentle enough to be sipped through a green straw, Feist herself seems to be easily bored, and that’s one of her greatest assets. One minute she was inviting an audience member onstage so she could sample his birdlike whistling. (She used it to accompany her hushed version of “The Park.”) The next minute she was hurtling through “I Feel It All,” which emulates the tautness (but not the noise) of punk rock.
In some sense “The Reminder” is a concept album: nearly every song seems to be about two lovers “divided by the ocean,” though it’s never quite clear whether the ocean is a literal one, or whether the division is permanent. But it doesn’t really feel like a concept album because Feist declines to stick to a single mood or style. This is a meticulously made album, but it has the pleasantly casual feel of a sketchbook.
Monday’s concert felt casual too. She happily shared the spotlight by covering the New York singer-songwriter Tony Scherr and by inviting Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew onstage for a torchy version of that band’s “Lover’s Spit.” (She loves covers; the second half of “Let It Die” consisted of nothing but.)
And she kept trying to include the audience; at one point she demonstrated how to sing a three-part harmony. This shrugging humility can be frustrating, but it’s probably inseparable from the unfussy attitude that makes her songs — even ones you know well — feel like pleasant surprises.
Just about everyone suffers in comparison with this singer, even the musicians who formed her band; all she really needs is a guitar, a keyboard and a sampler. (While touring to promote “Let It Die,” she often performed solo.) For “1234,” her current single, she asked the crowd to add some backing vocals: “Ba-da, ba-da-da, ba-da-da, that’s-your-part,” she sang.
People did their best, falling in alongside the drummer, the trumpeter, the bassist and the banjo player. That made 1,504 people, or thereabouts, all accompanying Feist, all doomed to be pretty much superfluous.