When Feist told the sold-out crowd at the Lincoln Theatre that “it’s been a while, D.C.,” it wasn’t just because her tours haven’t come through the DMV lately. While it has been five years since she performed in the area, and 10 since she played D.C. proper, her absence hasn’t just been physical: Until the release of “Pleasure” earlier this year, it had been nearly six years since fans had held or heard a new album by Leslie Feist.
The time away has not dulled the Canadian’s talents as a singer, songwriter, guitarist or performer. Her compositions, which often begin as sparse, woman-and-her-guitar ballads before evolving into strident, wall-of-sound anthems, were recast and re-created by Feist and her three-piece band, which added twinkling keyboards and the sweet swells of violin to the mix.
And while the plucked, bent and strummed strings of her guitar are the rhythmic core of her songs, it is Feist’s distinct vocals that provide not just melody but soul. She sings as if lyrics are floating out of her lungs and mouth, her words tumbling from cloud to cloud before landing on earth. Her voice is powerfully fragile, like a deep wound sheathed in scar tissue, and she lingered on the last notes of each song until every demon was fully exorcised.
As she played for more than two hours on Wednesday night, Feist recaptured the magic of “Pleasure” and a handful of fan favorites, orchestrating moments of intimacy that made it seem like she was singing and playing for each individual in the audience.
But the delicate spells that she cast were often threatened by over-eager audience members who were ready to request songs, pronounce their love, or simply “woo!” or “yeah!” at inopportune moments. Feist handled these interruptions with grace and a wry Canadian humor, engaging the audience when the time was right, encouraging the crowd to sing a call-and-response portion of “Any Party” and to slow-dance in the aisles during “Young Up.”
After playing the entirety of “Pleasure,” Feist jokingly ended the concert before hopping in “the time machine,” revisiting “the most romantic, sad love song of all time” (“Let It Die”), the bittersweet pop brilliance of “I Feel It All” and the runaway freight train of “A Commotion,” among others. For an encore, it was just Feist and her guitar for “Mushaboom” and “Gatekeeper” – the latter an audience request that she soldiered through despite forgetting a note or two – before her band rejoined her to close the night with her 2007 breakthrough “1-2-3-4.”
But rather than the arrangement that soundtracked a fame-making iPod commercial, she played a radical reworking that stripped and inverted the familiar into something darkly magical: a final spell strong enough to last until her next return, whenever that might be.