#15. Feist – Look At What The Light Did Now (OST)
Before anyone freaks out, wondering how they didn’t know that Leslie Feist put out a new album last year – she didn’t. Rather, she further milked the success of 2007’s The Reminder, her breakthrough album, by releasing a DVD that documents the entire Reminder experience, in studio and on stage. Accompanying the DVD, entitled Look At What The Light Did Now, was this 13-song collection featuring music from the documentary.
Now, I’m not usually one for live albums, but there are those rare occasions where an artist’s approach to performance is so transcendent that the intangibles of the stage simply can’t be documented in the studio. Or, in some cases, the studio version and the live version of a song are two entirely different entities, crafted for a different purpose, and thus, a different performance… There’s a lot of that at work here, in fact.
It was a Springsteen live album, after all (the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon show in London, to be specific), that first allowed me to fall deeply in love with the Boss. You could hear his presence on stage, soak in his persona, and just picture all of those young English eyes, transfixed on a performer making his first appearance on their side of the pond. His voice deviated often from the documented melody, boosted by adrenaline into more vibrant registers. The band sounded young and big, cinched in time but loose with energy. It was the kind of performance that documented everything there was to say about a performer. Sure, the studio versions of some of the songs are classic, re-listenable ad infinitum, but the live versions simply erupt on a whole other level.
What were we talking about? Oh, right, Feist. Well, she’s no Springsteen, but she does share the same approach to the stage, performing in the moment and allowing herself to be captivating, rather than be held captive to the idea of what the song is supposed to be. Although the production quality on Light varies with the setting (some are obviously large venues, while others sound more like field recordings, like the album-opening solo version of the title track, a cover by K Records band Little Wings), it always affords Feist the perfect amount of space. Her voice is entirely free to take flight here, as even in the smaller confines where the acoustics prohibit a neverending decay, she still takes just enough pause to let the note linger and settle. The real appeal of this collection is that there aren’t the four walls of the studio separating Feist from her audience, allowing for an intimate and consistently untreated performance. Not that she needs any “treatment”, mind you – her vocals here, and really the performances as a whole, are majestic through and through.
The material varies widely, in both selection and execution. The second and third tracks, “Limit To Your Love” from The Reminder, and “When I Was A Young Girl” from 2004’s excellent Let It Die, both feature a vibrant full-band concert delivery. The recordings are lush and deftly mixed, being sure to include exclamations from the excited audience to up the authenticity factor. A more intimate version of “My Moon My Man” follows, stripped to acoustic and electric guitars. Feist delicately settles into a slightly shifted melody before effortlessly ascending into the chorus, complete with male backing vocals. The Ron Sexsmith penned “Secret Heart”, also from Let It Die, resonates again in a larger venue, although it begins with a similarly sparse delivery. The band falls into the sultry groove at the chorus and proceeds to churn out a spirited version of the song in trad-rock styling, complete with warbling organ and slide guitar. Even if that’s not really your thing, it immediately engulfs the listener in the show. As cheesy as it sounds, you can put on your headphones, turn it up (y’know, pretty loud), and close your eyes… and you’re there. Isn’t that what live records are for, after all? To bring the experience home with you?
In an effort not to completely rehash material that is no less than three years old at this point, Feist throws in a couple covers. The first is a hauntingly beautiful acoustic rendition of The Kinks “Strangers”, the second, a quaint reworking of Peggy Lee’s “Where Can I Go Without You?” featuring only piano accompaniment. Speaking of piano, I hope you don’t mind it, because the next four tracks are instrumental piano versions of songs from The Reminder: ”Intuition”, “The Water”, “Sea Lion Woman”, and “1234”. Now, none of the recordings bear much resemblance to the originals, but in this case, that’s a good thing. It’s possible that I have a special appreciation for solo piano performance, as my wife happens to be an amazing pianist who teaches lessons out of our home. But, that said, I hear it a lot. So for me to say that all four songs, particularly the first two, are truly beautiful examples of classically-styled contemporary piano, I suppose that’s saying something.
The “album” closes much like it opened, with Feist performing the title track, this time as a duet with the song’s writer Kyle Field (of the aforementioned Little Wings). It serves as a nice return to the intimacy that opened the album, and also underscores the theme of the DVD – that “Feist” is not just Leslie Feist, but the cast of characters that aid her in all of her musical endeavors. Feist is truly a singular talent, with an unparalleled vocal gift that is, to use a rather cliché phrase, “often imitated but never duplicated”. But she, as well as many solo artists of her stature, does in fact get a little help from her friends, and clearly she wanted to take this opportunity to show her fans just how much help she gets. I suppose it’s just a silver lining that the byproduct of her demonstration happens to be one of the more gorgeous collections of live material released in the last few years.
Now, if she could just get some of those friends to help her write and record some more original material. 2006’s Open Season was an album of remixes from Let It Die, and The Reminder was repackaged in “deluxe” form in 2008, a year after its initial release. Here’s to hoping Feist skips the remix album this time around, because we don’t really need another reminder of The Reminder. It’s time to let it die. But for whatever it’s worth, it was nice to be… reminded… of why I loved Feist in the first place.