Canadian singer-songwriter and indie pop solo artist Feist performs for a cheerful crowd at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda on May 9. (Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)

Five songs into her Wednesday night show, Leslie Feist paused to scan the cavernous Music Center at Strathmore and shook her head. She looked up, and then down, and then up again, until finally:

“You! Up there in the angels’ quarters,” she beckoned to fans in the nosebleeds. “Come, descend down to Earth and fill these empty seats.”

Feist, as the Canadian singer is more widely known, was referring to the sold-out show’s odd amount of vacant orchestra seats (she blames scalpers). But what the crowd lacked in bodies, it made up for in energy. People sitting up top were giddy to fill the lower half of the amphitheater, while Feist egged them on.

“Mmm, life on the edge,” she whispered into the mike.

This is Feist in a nutshell. Loath to play prisoner to rules or roles, she tends to do things her own way, or not at all.

Take, for example, the tsunami of success she received in 2007 when her sugary sweet single “1234” soared to the top of the pop charts after airing on an iPod commercial. Despite several Grammy nominations and a media frenzy that included “Sesame Street” and “The Colbert Report,” Feist withdrew from the public eye. The song, she later told Spin magazine, wasn’t in line with the rest of her sound, and she found the pressure to pander dispiriting.

She retreated to her home in Toronto and then to Big Sur, Calif., before reemerging last year with “Metals,” an album so gorgeously at odds with expectations that it felt born from a different woman. And in many ways, it was.

This time around, Feist has let her guard down, flexed her muscles and forgiven us for that time we begged her for more icing when she’d made a whole cake. Peer at her résumé— it includes Calgary punk band Placebo, indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene and collaborations with foul-mouthed electronic artist Peaches — and “1234” falls short of representative. So these days, she’s chirping less, howling more and strumming like she means it (she even broke a guitar string during “Circle” on Wednesday).

She’s also entering new territory on her current tour. To join her onstage, she tapped the female folk trio Mountain Man. Cooing into a single microphone, the group — barefoot and wrapped in dark robes — was a perfectly strange accompaniment to Feist’s quivering wail.

The result was a 90-minute show introducing us to the more complicated sides of Feist. She was brooding and bare during “Cicadas and Gulls,” fierce and hot-blooded for “Graveyard” and slightly reserved during “Get It Wrong, Get It Right,” when the chemistry between her and Mountain Man felt as natural as it was precise.

Even those who longed for the bubbly songstress got their wish; she sang her pop hits “I Feel It All” and “Mushaboom,” blowing two kisses to yesteryear.

She left out “1234,” an absence that might have been a statement on its own. But neither the crowd nor Feist seemed to miss it.