HOWIE BECK with FEIST at the Phoenix, December 2. Tickets: $15. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Sweetness and sensitivity count for a lot in the singer/songwriter game, but when you're a lonely opener trying to snag a big room of tipsy fans on a school night, you might need more oomph to sell your act. So discovered poor Howie Beck , who faced a roomful of eager Feist fans Thursday night at the Phoenix . The buzz was so high on La Feist's triumphant homecoming that at quarter to 9 - 15 minutes before Beck was set to hit the stage and a full 45 after the door time - scalpers harassed the lineup, which stretched past the shuttered Sally Ann to the gas station at the corner of Sherbourne and Wellesley.
It's what you'd expect from a U2 gig. That a sometime-local indie babe who used to barely fill the likes of Ted's Wrecking Yard could command such a reponse shows you the kind of icon Leslie Feist has become.
Despite the tough crowd, Beck's efforts were valiant. Backed only by a guitar-toting Dean Drouillard (who also filled in the harmonies Beck sings with himself on disc), the understated songster quietly strummed hrough a melancholic set drawn mainly from this year's lovely self-titled disc.
If you shut up and listened, the dude was great. Beck's bittersweet tenor oozes remarkable emotion without veering into maudlin Conor Oberst territory. Instead, you get the simple pathos of a defeated sigh on the subtle hook of Zombie Girl, a slight crack in the choruses of My Low and Alice. While Beck's drawn to sad-sack melodies, upbeat numbers like the bouncy, Beatleseque Don't Be Afraid managed to reach the chatty crowd.
But the room was too big, the audience too distracted to appreciate Beck's low-key approach. Even his amusing anecdote about hooking up with a girl who thought she was a zombie flew under the radar.
The charismatically sultry Feist received a much warmer response, and deservedly so - the Phoenix Feist totally blew last summer's Mod Club Feist to tiny, stylish bits.
From the opening duel with her own pedal-looped vocals to the flabbergastingly stunning version of Broken Social Scene's Lover's Spit, that closed the show, the woman was on fire. She oozed self possession even during a technical gaffe, when she invited audience members to participate in an impromptu make-out contest. Amazing what months of European touring'll do for a girl.