It may be unfair, but female artists are generally lumped into one of two groups: the rock-chicks and the pop-chicks.
The rock-chick is considered one of the “guys”, a performer who just wants to rock out. She is said to care little about the gender divide when writing music. The problem is that artists such as Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, and Kim Deal were never really considered trailblazers for women’s rights. They didn’t overtly fight for gender equality, but rather made their contribution by stripping gender from the equation.
The pop-chick is a coquette who utilizes her feminine wiles and sensuality as a part of her art. By celebrating her feminine sensuality alongside her artistic merit she is the ultimate embodiment of “girl power”. That this type often degenerates into a gyrating temptress is another issue entirely.
It remains commendable for an artist to straddle the line between pop tart and rocker. Calgary’s Leslie Feist exudes the mercurial qualities of the female species while also impressing cynics with her musical competence and creativity. She is the ultimate chameleon, thanks largely to her musical upbringing. She learned to play guitar, after sustaining a vocal cord injury, quickly developing a unique style. At one point she was “one of the guys”, playing guitar for fellow Canuck indie-rockers By Divine Right. She also had a cameo on last year’s Broken Social Scene record.
Since then, Feist has moved to France and developed a whimsical spirit often associated with the country. On her latest album, Let It Die, she channels everyone from Ron Sexsmith to the Bee Gees. Playing the second of two nights at La Tulipe in Montréal, Feist mished and mashed these elements to a point where her work could not be generalized or categorized. It was simply Feist.
Feist was tired. She may be heading to Cancun for the holidays (she alluded to snorkelling at one point), but this Canuck ex-pat still had one night left, a night that demanded she expend her little remaining fuel. She led her four-piece—a keyboardist, drummer and trombonist—with her voice and her guitar. Seeing her fight through the road-weariness made the performer even more mesmerizing.
While a single tear should be shed for the omission of the campy, indie-rock tune “It’s Cool to Love Your Family”, nearly all of her material did come from 2004’s electro-pop dynamo Let It Die. This was a good thing. Feist has eliminated, with Stalinist precision, any mention of her debut 1999 release Monarch from her website. This goes to show how much she wants to revel in her present success. She played nearly the entire album, including hit singles “One Evening” and “Mushaboom”, alongside a well-received cover of the Bee Gees’ “Inside and Out”.
Despite moving to France, Feist strikes a chord with music fans in Quebec. Her video for “One Evening” has been in frequent rotation on the French-Canadian equivalent of VH1 and the French pop influences on her new album play well in Montréal. So tonight the crowd was an even split of indie kids who have been following Feist since her rocking days and adult couples looking to be entertained by a sultry crooner.
Surprisingly enough, some of Feist’s more danceable material was decidedly more rocking on stage. Mixed down on her album, Feist’s guitar playing remains more connected to her past with By Divine Right than her current work or residence. Live, “One Evening” was faster and more aggressive. “Mushaboom” was similar to “Hotel Yorba” in its Southern-fried, sing along quality. “Gatekeeper” didn’t have the usual Parisian cafe-vibe, but rather came off as a brilliant pop number—Matthew Sweet would have loved to have written this one.
Changing her colors, as all good chameleons do, Feist dazzled us with her sensual singing voice, one that suits a romantic walk on the streets of Paris. She often performed without her band, making the show feel more personal—something that I have only seen James Taylor do as compellingly. Songs such as “Let It Die” and the crowd-pleaser “Tout Doucement” best exemplified the French pop leanings indicated on her album. No matter the song, Feist always had a sly, feminine smile hidden behind the hair covering her face.
She also managed to get the crowd “ba-ba-ing” after “One Evening”. The highlight of the night for one male fan came when Feist invited an understandably nervous young gent on to the stage for a slow dance. She encouraged the whole crowd “to slow dance as if it were Back to the Future”.
Feist got the crowd laughing at several other times as well. Before playing “Leisure Suite”, a song about her dream hotel (a sexy one, she said), she talked about her worst hotel experiences in Europe. At another point, she goaded the crowd to imitate animal noises for one of her songs. At that point her road-weariness may have gotten the better of her. She couldn’t help but laugh, temporarily ceasing to play. Everyone was so captivated, though, that it didn’t seem to matter.
The highlight of the night came during her ode to disco with “Inside and Out”, when she had the crowd dancing and even she was spotted “shaking it” playfully. In this moment Feist proved that sensuality is most effective when it’s natural and subtle. Maybe she is making a contribution to gender equality in music after all.