Late in her set Monday night, Canadian thrush Feist mused that standing in a nearly sold out Gibson Amphitheater was a “strange place to find ourselves.” And she’s right: eight or nine months ago, the idea of Feist playing, much less filling, a shed such as Gibson would have been dismissed out of hand. But when her amiably goofy “1234” video showed up in the recent iPod Nano ad, her fan base expanded tangibly — album sales rose significantly –turning what was originally a co-headlining show with Spoon into her star-making turn.
And the charming, assured Feist is ready for her close-up. Her voice has become a marvelously supple instrument–think a less brittle Cat Power or a sunnier Polly Harvey, with an emotional directness that recalls Joni Mitchell. It’s obvious she has learned a lot from her time on the road with Broken Social Scene. It’s not so much the sound — there’s no way her four-piece band could match the sprawl of BSS — but the approach.
Like Broken Social Scene, there’s a permeability to her music, a sense that at any time a song could change direction or mutate into something new and unexpected. A French horn and vibes warm up the autumnal chill of “The Park,” The Bee Gees’ “Inside and Out” is turned into an off-center pop stunner in the Bacharach/David mold and “The Limit Of Your Love” is a wrenching country-soul psychodrama a recounting of a lover’s faults that gets more desperate with every verse until it breaks down with her grabbing the mikestand and repeatedly sobbing “there’s no limit” to her love for him. It would seem there’s not limit for Feist as well.
Spoon’s hour-long set, on the other hand, put their limitations into high relief. They’re not a bad or uninteresting band by any means; there’s an appealingly pared down quality to their music; like the work of a talented craftsman, it all fits together beautifully. The instruments each have their space: the rhythm section is sharply creased; the keyboards, guitars and vocals have a clipped elegance; during the instrumental break of “Don’t Make Me A Target” (from their recent Merge release, “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”) it’s easy to marvel at how the accents shift from measure the measure. But it’s all so clenched there’s barely any room for a personality; the performance is colorless. It’s an impression buttressed by the utilitarian staging and dim lighting (to call it atmospheric would imply intent) telegraphing to the aud that “there’s nothing to see here, folks.”