Listen -- I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Not all jazz musicians are as interested in indie rock as I am. I'm sorry. I know this must come as a terrible shock to you. I'll understand if you need a moment.
Feist's music isn't explicitly "jazzy" (except for the odd splash of fluegelhorn or Nina Simone reference) but she does make it easy for jazz musicians to love her. She's a ridiculously skilled singer with a sweet clear voice, colored with a tiny, heartbreaking rasp. Her delivery is almost unnervingly direct and personal, and her songwriting is tender, wistful, transparent, and unapologetically melodic. In fact, listening to the mellower tracks on The Reminder, it's sometimes a bit hard to hear the principled difference between Feist, whose hipster cred has remained intact despite the fact that you can buy her latest record in every Starbucks, and Norah Jones, who gets no love from the likes of Pitchfork or Stereogum.
Or at least, that's what I thought before I saw Feist live.
Having never seen Ms. Feist perform, I was honestly a bit skeptical that her songs would be able to carry a sold-out, thousands-strong outdoor throng. After all, as she told us from the stage, her first NYC hits were singer-songwriter gigs for a handful of people at The Living Room, and her solo records sound like they are geared towards the hushed intimacy of that kind of small venue. As it turns out, my lack of faith was wholly unwarranted -- Feist knows exactly how to command the attention of a huge crowd but still make you feel like she's singing for you and you alone.
Her punky roots showed in her fierce vocals on tunes like "My Moon My Man" and "Past In Present," both of which rocked way harder than the album versions. But she brought just as much emotional intensity to moody, spacious ballads like "The Water" -- which was so good it gave me goosebumps -- and countrified weepers like "In My Hands" (a cover of a tune by Sex Mob bassist and, ah, Norah Jones associate Tony Scherr).
For me, the best thing about Feist's songwriting is the seamless way she integrates her influences. I mean, you could pick it apart -- "Oh, here's a bit of folksy Canadiana via Joni Mitchell, mixed with a touch of electroclash on loan from Peaches, laced with some unabashedly retro Dusty Springfield/Burt Bacharach stylings" -- but you don't, because everything is so well integrated and so personal.
My only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that apart from drummer Jesse Baird (who was outstanding), the rest of her band didn't even seem to try to match her energy. Ultimately, it didn't matter much, since she was more than capable of carrying the show on their own, but I'd have liked to have seen the other guys step it up a bit.
Incidentally, one of those Feist-loving jazz musicians is Amy Cervini, who covers "Mushaboom" on her new release Famous Blue. Amy has graciously allowed me to share that track with readers of this blog, so here you go:
MP3: Amy Cervini Quartet - "Mushaboom" (click to listen/download)
This hit was the NYC debut (and, as far as I can tell, second-ever gig) for Feist's boyfriend Kevin Drew's post-Broken Social Scene solo project, "Spirit If." (Warning: audio launches instantly, and might be mildly NSFW if your W is really uptight.) The lineup is great and features Brendan Canning (bass) and Justin Peroff (drums) from BSS. They don't really sound very much like Broken Social Scene, though, even when they broke from Kevin's solo stuff and, uh, "covered" BSS tunes.
I worry Kevin is falling into the trap Calexico did with Garden Ruin -- he's trying very hard to do something different than what he's done before, which is commendable. Except that what he did before, with BBS, was distinctive and unusual and cool, and what he's doing now just sounds listless and generic. And also a bit sloppy... but like I said, I think it's only their second gig playing this stuff, so that's at least somewhat forgivable -- even if Kevin did need his bandmate to hold up the lyrics sheet for him at one point.
I wish I'd known that Grizzly Bear were starting so early -- I might have hustled to get there sooner. Doors were supposed to be at 6 PM, and G.B. must have started fairly close upon, because by the time I got to McCarren, they were almost finished. Their stage presence is unapologetically, endearingly dorky, and what little I heard of their set sounded fantastic.
No thanks to our efforts at trying to locate each other in the crowd via a series of increasingly farcical text messages, my comrade-in-blog ACB and I finally met face-to-face at the very end of the show. It's somehow fitting that a jazz composer and an opera singer would find common ground at a Feist hit.
More pictures below the fold...