National Stadium, Dublin
Canadian singer Leslie Feist last played in Dublin in August 2022, as the opening act for fellow Canadians Arcade Fire, who were starting their European tour. But though she turned in a superb performance at the 3Arena, her heart just wasn’t in it. News had just broken that four people had made allegations of sexual misconduct against Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler.
Feist felt the same betrayal felt by many of the band’s fans, and playing the two Dublin gigs felt like “an out-of-body experience”, she told The Irish Times. “I couldn’t continue.”
On Wednesday night, she was back in Dublin, on her own terms, and if anyone was going to have an out-of-body experience, it was the lucky fans who gathered at the National Stadium and found themselves totally disarmed and charmed by a unique artist with a big vision, an even bigger soul and just a pinch of mischief.
The minute she stepped on the small, round stage in the centre of the venue and launched into songs such as Mushaboom, from her 2004 album Let it Die, and The Redwing, from her new album, Multitudes, Feist proved herself a master at breaking down boundaries between performer and audience, immediately establishing a rapport and intimacy, plucking her guitar with almost animalistic vigour and effortlessly letting her wonderful voice dance deftly around the melodies.
Many artists put their guitars through loop pedals, but Feist put her finest instrument – her voice – through the loop, building up heavenly choral harmonics that seem to come from nowhere.
The backdrop shows a live video feed from her mobile phone, and she asks for a volunteer to go around the venue and film the show from all angles and perspectives. A chap named Peter duly obliges, zooming in on various details such as people’s tattoos, the floor and Feist’s dainty pop socks. It’s only when he opens a bag tucked away somewhere, “finds” a black notebook filled with poetry and lyrics and places it on the stage for Feist to pick up that we start to suspect Peter may be a plant. The Multiples-themed after-images on the feed should have given us a clue.
She also invites an audience member to come up and do a song, and a fella named Dave Thomas O’Gorman does Dublin proud while Feist becomes a temporary member of the audience. Dave apologises afterwards for trying to upstage her, but he needn’t worry – she easily gets back in the flow with Gatekeeper, Martyr Moves and A Man Is Not His Song.
Then she pulls off the most stunning trick of the evening, setting it up with the skill of a star illusionist. After tentatively reading out a few lines of poetry from the proffered black notebook, she steps back among the crowd and delivers a searingly personal spoken-word piece, poetically processing the death of her beloved father, Harold, in 2021. We’re still dabbing tears from our eyes when a huge sound begins to swell up as if from the earth itself, the backdrop rolls up like a tablecloth swept away by a magician, and there stands a full band on the main stage, blasting into the opening of I Took All My Rings Off.
Like a site-specific theatre crowd, everyone follows Feist towards the main stage, and is soon singing and clapping along to My Moon My Man, A Commotion, Any Party and Hiding Out in the Open. The thumping drums combined with swooping violin and synths give the music a tribal edge – conjuring up echoes of Moving Hearts, Kate Bush and Angélique Kidjo.
In Lightning, the opening track from the new album, is a tour de force of intertwining ideas, while 1234, Feist’s biggest hit, and famously used in an ad for the iPod Nano, is rebooted for a new age of uncertainty.
“Thank you for coming with me on this magic carpet ride,” she says, before doing one more solo run with Of Womankind, bringing us back down so gently we can hardly feel the ground as we leave the venue. Pure undistilled magic.