Feist, Grizzly Bear @ The Fillmore, San Francisco, 2007 June 26

July 14, 2007
photo courtesy of Muhammad Asranur

Visuals, baby. That’s what it was all about at this show. I’d bought tickets for my girlfriend Nicole and me with confidence that we’d hear a great show, and of course the music was great – a perfectly harmonized flood of sound flooring the audience at every turn – but what made this show amazing was how good it looked.

It starts when Grizzly Bear trudges up, slouching with a jaded weariness, staring gauntly out into the audience. After briefly announcing that they have just arrived from Portland, they silently turn to their instruments. The drums strike up and the guitar strings begin plucking their way into “Easier”, the first track from their 2006 album Yellow House. The song chugs steadily away for a while, the musicians silent and tight-lipped. Then, as the aural atmosphere coalesces, one by one each man slowly raises his head to gaze up into the lights, eyebrows lifting precariously, jaws finally wrenching open to deliver a magnificent mixture of moans and croons and wails, light and airy yet exquisitely piercing. The overall effect is to free the notes from their crude human sources – chords seemingly drift up out of nowhere, and ethereal voices layer on one by one, with bass/clarinet/flute player Chris Taylor’s almost imperceptible falsetto ringing in the echoing background of every beautifully blending chord.

Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor on flute
photo courtesy of Muhammad Asranur

As the set progresses, Grizzly Bear’s weariness seems to melt away as they become the heavenly vessels of a rare sonic purity. Taylor especially is an amazing spectacle to watch, his eyes shut beneath his pale hair, mouth stretched wide open in a Charlie Brown-sized wail as he clenches his hands tight over the edges of his bass guitar, which bucks and twitches with every crest and valley in his fluctuating falsetto. Drummer Christopher Bear too provides phenomenal stage energy; his body taut and twisted at an odd angle from all the tension within, he releases energy in incredible bursts of speed, sticks flying through the air to bottom out the songs with quick, pounding beats. Whereas on the album, percussion was relegated to the backseat for the swirling harmonies, here the beats are at the helm, driving and controlling the mood of each song. The songs overflow beyond their album instantiations throughout the set, especially an expansive, messily loud take on “Little Brother.” Thirty minutes of heavenly harmonies and textures, and then the band vanishes from the stage after some thank you’s, leaving the air ringing with the silent echoes of their performance.

After a short break, Feist’s backup band emerges under a dim blue light, scuttling across the stage to their places. The light beats of the xylophone begin, playing in the familiar pattern of “Honey Honey”. Feist enters and bends down to one mic, singing: “Ah-ah-ahh, ha-ah, ah-ah.” Her voice comes echoing back at her through the speakers, strained and fuzzy, reflecting off the walls as she stands still, listening carefully. And then she bends down again, a sweet harmony dropping from her lips into the mic, where it locks tight against the repeating melody. Feist lowers her head four more times, each time adding yet another harmony until the hall is filled with notes reverberating against every surface, clinging to one another in a beautifully fragile chord. And then, taking up the other microphone, she finally breathes the lyric into the aural fold: “Honey, honey, up in the trees, fill the flowers deep in his dreams…”

You know the way Feist’s voice is sultry and seductive, yet breathily girlish, seemingly encompassing all the romantic fancies of a seven-year-old girl in a summer dress running through the field as daisy petals swirl around her? Witnessing that voice in action is all that and more. The way she tilts her head from side to side, hair shaking out in a delicate wave behind her; the way she playfully punches pow-pow-pow along with the drumbeats; the way she peeks out demurely from behind her bangs with a spark of mischief in her eyes; the way she sways all across the stage, slow and mesmerizing during the quiet pieces but in wild joyful arcs for the upbeat numbers, stabbing at her guitar as she stamps her feet and flicks her hips back and forth. Innocent, girlish exuberance radiates from her in all directions, flowing through the crowd and infecting everyone with a silly childish energy.

The set is a stunner, checking off almost every song from The Reminder, from the soft acoustic rhythm of “So Sorry” to the carefree histrionics of “I Feel It All”. The lights strung across the stage explode the dimness away, sweeping swathes of reds and blues, with the Fillmore’s giant disco ball shattering them all into a million pieces and flinging shards of light across the faces of the ecstatic audience. All throughout, Feist slathers on her thick, throaty voice with the help of loops and vocal effects until the air drips with croons and simpers and even whistles and bird calls (creating a peaceful atmosphere for “The Park”).

Melissa Wong plays Debussy for Feist at The Fillmore
photo courtesy of Daniel Khamsing

At one point, Feist calls for a classically trained pianist from the audience, and the crowd yields Melissa Wong, an 18-year-old from San Mateo who coaxes a beautiful rendition of Debussy’s “Reverie” from the upright piano on stage. Wong creates just as compelling a vision as Feist, quietly swaying her body into and out of the piano’s reach as her hands move gracefully along the keys. The rest of the audience gets to participate too when Feist invites them to harmonize on a chord, with each person’s interval determined by the material in the soles of their shoes (rubber, leather, and wood). The chord hangs suspended in the air for good ten seconds, and then suddenly melts into the sweetly wistful lyrics, “I’m sorry…two words I always think after you’re gone…”

After playing “1234”, Feist and the band exit the stage swiftly. Soon enough, though, the band returns to their stations. At first it appears that they are fooling around on their instruments to entertain the crowd, but soon a rhythm of hand claps begins, and the phrase “Sea lion!” can be heard faintly from the back of the stage. Feist reenters to screaming cheers, and the band proceeds to tear into an incredibly raucous rendition of “Sealion”, complete with a scalding guitar solo and band members dancing everywhere. The audience cries its appreciation, but before they can finish, suddenly Kevin Drew is there on stage, moaning the words to “Major Label Debut” with his lips pressed up to Feist’s with only a mic to separate them: “Forced to live like it’s a curfew – translation: means ‘I love you’.” Drew and Feist together are a serious hazard to the stage, swinging in all directions with a dangerous madness – Drew wields his microphone stand recklessly, stooping it down to ridiculously acute angles, and Feist jumps about waving the neck of her guitar back and forth as if it’s a sabre.

When it’s all over, Feist steps up and professes her pseudo-love to the crowd (“I saw Janet Jackson when I was 13, and when she told the audience ‘I love you!’, even then I was cynical enough to think, ‘That’s such a lie!’”) before closing with a quiet, gentle “Let It Die”. She stands there simply, plainly singing with little ornamentation, just as I stand there with Nicole, just as all the rest of the audience stands there – together quiet, together mirroring what we together witness – and the sight is beautiful to see.

Video: My Moon My Man (2:55)
Video: Open Window (Sarah Harman cover) (3:50)
Video: Sealion (0:49)
Video: 1234 (2:53) (June 27 show)
Video: Lover’s Spit with Kevin Drew (4:06) (June 27 show)
(all videos courtesy of Stephanie Hefner)

Photos: Feist @ Fillmore (courtesy of Daniel Khamsing)
Photos: Feist (courtesy of Muhammad Asranur)

Link: Melissa Wong’s Livejournal entry about her experience (courtesy of Ms. Wong herself)
Link: Feist setlist (courtesy of Muhammad Asranur)
Link: Grizzly Bear setlist (courtesy of Daniel Khamsing)

posted by ninjajabberwocky


One Response to “Feist, Grizzly Bear @ The Fillmore, San Francisco, 2007 June 26”

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