Feist Felt It All in Toronto

History, May 18

Photo: Chris Gee

BY Kaelen BellPublished May 19, 2023

It all could have collapsed in an instant. That was the roiling undercurrent that propelled Feist's hometown show at Toronto's History, a performance so kinetic and unpredictable that it felt at risk of falling apart with a poorly judged audience interaction or technical snafu. Somehow, though, in Leslie Feist's hands — forces in their own right, opening to the audience and beating against her guitar with fire-starting fury — it was seamless, a communal abdication of our designated roles as performer and audience member; an invitation to move in endless circles. 

It started with her shoes, as Feist made her way from backstage to a platform in the centre of the crowd, projecting live-feed footage of her moving feet. Eventually the feed merged with reality and there she was, left with the sudden conundrum of what to do with the still-recording cellphone in her hands. She settled on placing it at her pedals before launching into Pleasure's "Century."

Feist's stage presence was warm and increasingly off-the-cuff as the night progressed, an unguarded, playful openness that attempted to crack the shell of reverent quiet that enclosed the space after each song. She invited audience members to fill the silence as she tuned her guitar — "Has anyone been feeling particularly shitty? Particularly joyful? Tell me about your lives" — and let the songs shift organically in space, peppered with asides and new tunings. 

A stripped-back "Mushaboom" became an in-the-round campfire song, while "The Redwing" was, at Feist's request, an opportunity for audience members to share photos of their favourite "down the shore" summer spots, projected on the looming screen by "randomly chosen" audience member "Colton" (who may or may not have been multimedia artist and Feist team member Colby Richardson, doing his best man-on-the-street video work as he wandered through the crowd collecting memories and coat textures). 

It was during Multitudes' "Forever Before," an ode to Feist's daughter that grapples with the spirit-bending love between parent and child, that this carefully planned spontaneity cracked. Rolling toward the song's final lines — "You can't begin to prepare / For forever before / She's sleeping right over there" — her voice broke and she paused, unable to complete the thought. The audience shouted encouragement and the song was eventually completed, Feist drying her cheeks with a tissue that had floated its way to the platform. 

For one small moment things did collapse, and the rest of the show would reverberate joyously from that moment of complicated sadness like Saturn's rings. It feels increasingly rare to find an artist so willing to live deeply in the exchange, to give everything they can to every word and person in the room; Feist's Toronto show, for all its exuberant liveliness and technical complexity, was a lesson in the power of genuine, open-hearted reciprocity. 

From there the show picked up speed, with an a capella rendition of "I Took All of My Rings Off" (spurred by a notebook of lyrics and poetry "randomly discovered" by "Colton" and delivered to Feist onstage) morphing into a thunderous prog rock exorcism when Feist abandoned her solitary platform for the main stage, a dropped screen revealing her full band. 

The band tore through renditions of "In Lightning," "My Moon My Man," "A Commotion," and even a shivering synth-pop reimagining of "1234" that burned off any residual quietude that might've lingered in the crowd. "Any Party" (during which Feist declared Toronto the most romantic city in the world) and "Sea Lion Woman" were crowd-assisted ragers, while a rafter-shaking "Borrow Trouble" and bright-eyed "I Feel It All" led the way to a shimmering finale in "Let It Die."

That finale was, unsurprisingly, a fake-out, as Feist returned from beneath the curtain for a solo performance of "Of Womankind" that found her wander through the audience draped in a green screen shawl, disappearing into a multitude of selves among the crowd. "Make it up as I go / That's all I can do" Feist sang during her closing performance of "Love Who We Are Meant To," guitar strings echoing through the air as handwritten lyrics were projected atop her. Being allowed into that process of discovery is a gift like no other. 

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