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British Sea Power builds it up; Feist strips it down

It's not entirely clear how two acts as different as British Sea Power and Feist ended up sharing a bill, but with their two-week tour nearing its end with Monday's stop at the Middle East, the contrast between them provided yet more evidence that less can be more.

That's something British Sea Power hasn't yet mastered, but it's a lesson the band seems to be learning. Less ornate than on record, where it sounds like a not-quite-so-erudite Decemberists, the band onstage called to mind another nautically named outfit, college rockers the Ocean Blue, with its pinging guitars and keyboard wash.

The more straightforward approach underlined singer/guitarist Yan's nervous menace and helped the band build up a head of steam by the end of ''Childhood Memories," ''Oh Larsen B" and ''North Hanging Rock."

Unfortunately, that momentum was isolated to individual songs and proved hard to maintain. Part of the problem was British Sea Power's distracting penchant for mild gimmickry, which included a pre-show mix peppered with radio-type promos for its new album, ''Open Season," recordings of ocean-themed sounds filling the gaps between songs, and keyboard player Eamon's invasions of the audience while beating on a drum.

Canadian singer Feist took the opposite tack, stripping the sad-sounding, vaguely continental songs on ''Let It Die" down to the bone and coming out the better for it. Bathed in a low light that barely illuminated her and accompanying herself on electric guitar, Feist sang in a hushed, vulnerable voice that was the female equivalent of Nick Drake singing like Jeff Buckley.

That voice was a boon to the downbeat material, such as her mesmerizing take on the traditional folk ballad ''When I Was a Young Girl," and it effectively transformed the Bee Gees' ''Love You Inside Out" into a torch song.

But Feist showed a playful side, too, with the skeletal ''Cherry, Cherry" accompaniment of ''Mushaboom," the on-the-fly samples resulting in multiple Feists layered in odd but fascinating harmonies, and the invitation to an ecstatic audience member to step onstage to scat during ''Gatekeeper."

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