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- Posted on Dec 23rd 2009 3:45PM by Tabassum Siddiqui
Except the last time she played the vast arena, it was 1999, and she was playing guitar in scrappy indie-rock outfit By Divine Right as they opened for Canadian legends The Tragically Hip, in what was the very first concert to grace the stage of the new site.
Flash forward nearly a decade, and the talented singer-songwriter was no longer playing second-fiddle on the ACC's massive stage -- she was owning it. At once tender and fierce, quiet crooner and strutting showgirl, she had the crowd of teenage girls, soccer moms, downtown hipsters, and concert newbies hanging on her every note.
Sure, after millions of albums sold, radio saturation, and a ubiquitous iPod ad later, it can be easy to deride the '1234' singer as that overhyped chanteuse even your parents like. But Feist's rise to becoming the defining Canadian artist of the decade isn't based on empty hype or overnight success -- if anything, hers is the classic story of sheer talent finally gaining recognition thanks to luck, timing and a whole lot of hard work.
After paying her dues playing guitar in '90s-era Toronto indie bands while her voice healed from teenage punk-rock rebellion and playing her own songs to largely empty rooms in closet-sized bars, a sojourn to Paris eventually led to the smooth folk-pop stylings of 2004's major-label debut 'Let It Die' -- which in turn introduced her to an audience beyond our borders through the relentless touring that helped cultivate a grassroots fanbase.
The first time you hear Leslie Feist's indelible voice, it can stop you in your tracks. From her bedroom-made debut album, 1999's whispery, exquisite 'Monarch (Lay Your Jewelled Head Down),' to the slinky 'Let It Die,' to 2007's Grammy-nominated mainstream breakthrough 'The Reminder,' that remarkable voice is front and centre, by turns painstakingly skilled yet playfully nimble. It's a voice that sounds both old and new at once, and yet like no other.
As if that fine instrument wasn't enough, the girl can also tear it up on guitar like nobody's business. Even before Apple came a-calling, she came to most Canadians' attention when she shrugged off a technical mishap during the live-to-air broadcast of the 2005 Juno Awards, continuing to strum away at her signature big red electric as if her very reputation depended on it.
There was also that small matter of her membership in a rather large band -- before Feist was known for her own material, her role in the vast Broken Social Scene collective (and their label, Arts & Crafts) helped bolster her cred as a musician who could both belt it out and rein it in when the song required it.
And those songs! While it's true that her iPod ad earworm '1234' was co-written with Aussie singer (and labelmate) Sally Seltmann, only Feist could give the tune the necessary panache to turn it into a veritable smash hit that resonated with listeners across the board. It even landed her a memorable spot on Sesame Street singing a revamped version to Muppets.
That Feist's steady rise only skyrocketed after '1234' was chosen to shill the iPod Nano back in 2007 certainly lends credence to the notion that it helped usher in the current indie-goes-mainstream paradigm -- but it's important to note that Apple simply borrowed her own giddy Technicolour music video for the spot. In effect, the singer and her quirky charm helped move those little music players just as much as they boosted her career. In an era where the latest blog-approved track can be heard in a car ad the next day without a peep from an audience that can't stop downloading long enough to notice, "selling out" is all but a notion of the past.
When any artist hits mass popularity, the inevitable backlash follows -- and yet, instead of sliding into mainstream monotony, Feist continues to develop and surprise, growing as a live artist (her innovative concerts boast gorgeous, artistic backdrops and live projections), taking on interesting cultural and political projects (she was part of the Cape Farewell expedition to learn about Arctic ecosystems last year), and continuing to support her peers and play a role in the Canadian indie scene (regularly popping up to lend a hand at low-key gigs like her BSS brethren Jason Collett's Basement Revue show in Toronto last week).
It may be a cliché, but despite her global superstardom, Feist remains refreshingly down-to-earth and seems to find more joy in creative exploration -- both in her own work and in her ever-increasing collaboration with others (the likes of Grizzly Bear, Wilco, and Beck this year alone) -- than the accolades it has brought her. How very Canadian.