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Live: Feist at the Wiltern

November 13, 2011 |  1:18 pm

Feist publicity photo

For upward of 40 people, Leslie Feist's sold-out Saturday night concert at the Wiltern was a surprisingly intimate affair. By midway, the artist had invited audience members to join her onstage, only much later realizing one of the hazards of assembling such a mass of people: flash photography. 

Feist doesn't talk to an audience so much as sing to it, and before a particularly quiet number, the singer-songwriter thanked the crowd, tunefully, for illuminating her and her three backing vocalists. In case anyone didn't get the hint, she added moments later, "I'm trying to use reverse psychology." 

Her whole concert, in fact, could have been a lesson in the sonics of reverse psychology. In Los Angeles in support of her recently released fourth album, "Metals," Feist spent the evening exploring how the somber, the sparse, the dissonant and the underpolished could be used not for coldness but for communal connection. The end result was something far more rare than a musical celebration. Feist took the songs of "Metals," her most grippingly unrefined and cohesively daring collection yet, and turned them into en masse exercises in emotional purging.

Her 100-minute concert wasn't one for exploring her back catalog. The songs of "Metals" dominated, and earlier works, which on album tend toward jazzy shuffling and casually urbane takes on bossa nova or orchestral pop, were reshaped to meet the more challenging demands of the "Metals" material. The coffeehouse snap of "Mushaboom" was turned into something primal, as multi-instrumentalist Charles Spearin and drummer Paul Taylor scrapped and whacked at wooden strips as if they were trying to start a fire, while the folksy "Sea Lion Woman" was vocal harmonization locked in a tense give-and-take. 

Feist, jovial between songs, used her personality and obvious joy of singing as tools to openly embrace the abrasive. If Feist's knack for a vocal melody has been well-established -- and rare is a chorus or bridge in which she doesn't revel in the sound of a nonsensical word or two -- she was just as interested Saturday night in exploring every nook between breaths.

"Undiscovered First" slithered its way to a gospel crest like a rattlesnake, and she used her often unheralded skills as a guitarist to disarming effect on "A Commotion" and "How Come You Never Go There." She shook and tortured it like a washboard one moment, and answered her every word with open-ended bluesiness the next.

Often, what was missing seemed of more interest than what was there. When "Comfort Me" erupted at midpoint, Feist signaled the break with a whistle-while-you-work levity before turning the song over to a frightening clamor of stomping beats and fractured backing vocals.

She eased such shocks, however, with raised fits and shouts to the balcony, and wondered aloud, when the song was finished, whether the "wall of people" she'd invited at the foot of the stage had created a distance between artist and audience. These weren't barriers to lock out, however, but to further ensnare. 


Album review: Feist's 'Metals'

The songs stuck in Florence Welch's head

Wilco is maturing, but it is not growing soft

-- Todd Martens

Photo courtesy Cherrytree/Interscope