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Feist at Portland's Doug Fir Lounge
Managing expectations
by Mark Anderson

xpect nothing and you won't be disappointed. That's always good advice – in concertgoing and in life.

Let It Die, the 2005 U.S. version: a delicate, frothy joyride.

Yet tamping down expectations isn't always easy. And when Leslie Feist came to Portland's Doug Fir Lounge last month, the temptation toward great expectations combined musical anticipation along with something closer to a blind-date vibe.

That's partly because Feist's recent CD, Let It Die, is so easy to like. But also, even though the disc has spent more time between my ears than any other this year, prior commitments made me miss her last two trips through town.

So when she returned a third time – although I had to work at five the next morning – something was pulling me, hard.

Oh sure, blind dating has been redefined for the electronic age. And these days one prepares by surfing and downloading all kinds of things. Still, nothing can ever compare to that goose-bump moment when an object of throttled expectations enters the room and blows any preconceived notions away.

Feist did exactly that by starting out alone with electric guitar and sounding more like PJ Harvey or Kurt Cobain than the delicate, frothy joyride that makes up her album.

Then, despite self-proclaimed shyness, she engaged a roomful of admirers – gently coaxing them into humming and whistling the missing parts from her album while slashing away at her six-string, singing like a saint and telling little stories about stolen chords, learning guitar parts by phone and the songwriting brothers Gibb – all from inside of a snappy black dress.

Add to that a signature vocal quirk: Feist has a habit of straining to reach an occasional note but always ends up landing on the dime. That's probably the byproduct of a voice injury she endured some time back; nevertheless, it's among her seemingly endless charms.

Toward the show's middle, drums and a second guitar joined in. It was, according to Feist, their first of many performances together and the trio added unexpected textures without bogging things down. She finished up solo and the evening never lost its edge.

Let It Die, the 2004 Canadian version: a Juno award winner.

Feist, who goes by her last name, has a long and colorful résumé, especially for someone not yet 30: Broken Social Scene, Kings of Convenience, Apostle of Hustle, Chilly Gonzales. A previous solo album (Monarch, 1999). A punk band. Former roommates with the bawdy avant-garde electronica songstress known as Peaches.

And, during a tour of duty in Paris, 2002-03, Feist recorded Let It Die. The album was released in her Canadian homeland last year and won two Junos (the Canadian Grammy) in April: best new artist and best alternative album (beating out the Arcade Fire, A.C. Newman and Stars).

Let It Die finally arrived stateside that same month but has yet to take flight.

The remake of Ron Sexton's "Secret Heart" is a subtle wonder, as is a rendition of a song recorded by Blossom Dearie in 1956, "Now at Last." Feist's bubbling, bass-heavy cover of the Bee Gees' 1979 dance-floor smash, "Inside and Out," could easily cascade out of coast-to-coast convertibles for many summers to come. By some accounts that's already happened in Europe and Canada.

But the fact that her originals are on a perfect par is even more impressive.

"In the meantime I got it hard, second-floor living without a yard," she sings in "Mushaboom," sounding like the intriguingly self-aware girl next door. "It may be years until the day my dreams will match up with my pay."

Such command of darkness and light is exactly what gives Feist's persona a rarified air. Yet music, like blind dating, is a two-way street. And time spent with Feist eventually leads to the doorstep of dating's Holy Grail. In other words, if chemistry is lacking it isn't Feist's fault.

Which leads to that ever-present blind-date question: Would I like to see her again?

Yes. Yes! A thousand times yes!

Or, better yet: Um, that might be nice.

Monarch: the 1999 solo debut.

Because sometimes it's better not to let on. This is, after all, tripewriter's fourth mention of Feist this year (1, 2, 3).

Meanwhile, as she continues on an endless string of dates in a series of far-flung cities, I'm certain she'll find a way to let me know if and when she returns. The future of the relationship is totally up to her.

That doesn't really sound so bad. Because we'll always have Let It Die.

Besides, it's all just a matter of managing expectations.

E-mail Mark at andersonenterprises@hotmail.com, and see more tripewriter.

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