Would you ever expect to see Feist perform at the Oregon Zoo?
Oregon Zoo Amphitheatre, Portland, OR
Would you ever expect to see Feist perform at the Oregon Zoo? Her music evokes the intimacy of a dark room or concert halls—not open outdoor spaces with $10 beers and the smell of elephant ears wafting in the breeze. It was as though promoters aware of such incongruity chose to double down and, for an opener, book Canadian R&B act Rhye, likewise defined by the sensuality and packed layers in their music.
Rhye wasn’t what one might expect, and that broad summer daylight proved jarring. Leader Milosh lacked the sultry mystique I had cultivated, to the point of crushing my image of the band: a bandana tied around his head, an oversized tie-dye shirt, tucked into ragged light wash blue jeans. He looked like a dirty hippie. That didn’t matter – his voice still sounded fantastic, despite the incongruity.
What was surprising about Rhye was how often they cut loose. During at least a few songs, they let their nocturnal grooves give way for moments of legitimate loudness, a treat for those of us who hadn’t seen them before. Between the draw of his voice and these excellent moments, they got a decent front-of-the-stage turnout at a time usually reserved for people sitting on the lawn, getting beer or gawking at the elephants. Milosh was similarly fascinated by the animals’ presence: “I want to make eye contact with it,” he said. “I just want its approval.”
Feist and her seven-person backing band took the stage as the sun set, one of the best aspects of any summer outdoor concert. The Zoo stage is a largely unadorned space with trees behind it, a hard, neutral space if you want atmosphere. For Feist, the trick was to just fill the stage with fog, courtesy of fog machines put through the wringer. Have you ever seen someone change out a fog machine’s juice mid-set before? As she launched into an alternating string of songs from her last two albums, Pleasure and Metals, the stage got murkier, closing the gap between “intimate” and “Oregon fucking Zoo Amphitheatre.” I’m sorry I doubted you, Leslie – this felt a little magical.
Feist is a remarkably magnetic performer; she joked and rambled nervously between songs, as though unaware of her own stature. She would playfully switch up lyrics to get a laugh, and at one point stopped near the end of a song because she was overcome with amusement that rear lights projected her shadow onto the trees at the opposite end of the amphitheater: “There’s a giant lady in the trees! I forgot you guys have Sasquatch!” she said while – and remember this is interrupting a song in progress – flailing around to make her shadow dance in the trees.
She’d routinely walk to the edge of the stage to play, and did “The Limit to Your Love” sitting on the upright piano, like an absolute star. She seemed moderately put off by just how many people were yelling for requests; “We’ll play when someone shouts for the song we’re planning on playing,” she said at one point, waiting for someone to guess “Anti Pioneer.” She awkwardly responded to a request for Broken Social Scene’s “Almost Crimes,” by saying “Well, this next one’s about Broken Social Scene” as a lead-in to “Caught a Long Wind.” One of them got through, namely Pleasure cut “Any Party”: “Rarely is anyone’s yelled request the right decision… but why not?” She even made a lovely nod to Pickathon, asking if anyone had gone: “I’m always at Pickathon in my heart.”
What made the show spectacular to me was the fact that I didn’t know just how expansive these songs could be. Feist has routinely made albums that sound both stripped-back and restrained, their instrumentation somewhat buried. Here, her songs breathe on their own, fleshed out all the bells and whistles – and two drummers! – her songs become so much more inviting, sometimes going down small wandering paths; I didn’t know that I needed a live Feist album, but I guess I do. She only let her band fade away once, so that she could perform her classic “Mushaboom” solo. She reveled in the crowd’s willingness to join in on the song’s “shh-boom, shh-boom” on the chorus, no doubt helped by the shouting of “SEA LION!” on “Sea Lion Woman” just one song earlier. She deployed these same tactics at the end for her also-beloved “1234,” utilizing the crowd to sing harmonies with her (splitting the crowd up into three groups: “People on this side,” “People on that side,” and “Canadians, and people who were at Pickathon”) – maybe the only time I’ve actively enjoyed this level of crowd participation.
You may wonder (I did) why Broken Social Scene and Feist were playing just two weeks apart at the same venue. Wouldn’t they sell more tickets if they teamed up? But Feist doesn’t fit the egalitarian mold of her former band; solo, she commanded the unusual venue and enthusiastic crowd with a force that even Kevin Drew doesn’t quite achieve on his own. She doesn’t need to back to her old bandmates; she’s got more than enough talent herself.