Last night my friend Anna and I went to see Feist playing at Shepherd's Bush.
As we walked to the Empire the place was packed. The stage was filled with instruments and microphones, a sight that always makes me feel sick with longing. A disco ball glittered promisingly overhead, and swathes of multi-coloured lights were draped from the flies. Clutching squishy pints of over-priced lager, Anna and I manoeuvred our way to the front to find a good vantage point, discussing as we went the particular songs we were each looking forward to hearing.
When she came onstage, Feist was alone - a small dark-haired figure amongst a sea of lights and instruments. The disco ball started twisting, casting bubbles of light across the hall. She began to sing. Her voice was at once delicate and powerful, stronger than it sounds on any of the tracks I've heard. She used a loop pedal to record and playback, both for her guitar and for as-you-go backing vocals. Given that, recently, I have been writing everything with washes of vocal tracks, I was fascinated by the ease with which she built up a song like that live.
After a while she introduced the rest of the band, who all emerged from the wings with trendy insouciance. They played my favourite Feist song, Secret Heart, filling it with rock riffs and huge sounds. It was amazing. The concert began to really gather momentum.
Then Feist went and sat down at the piano. She turned to face the audience.
"So" she began. "Do we have any great pianists in the house?"
Nobody much responded, confused by the question.
"Anyone who, when they start to play, everyone just stops to listen? Somebody who can really, really play?"
Just in front of where Anna and I were standing a group of people had started to cheer and jump up and down, all pointing at one guy. The whooping and cheering got steadily louder and more enthused, and eventually Feist invited this maestro up to the stage.
"You'd better be good." she said, jokily. "When we were in Pittsburgh some guy's friends all said he was, like, the best thing ever, then he got up and was like..." She sat down at the piano and played a jerky version of Chopsticks.
By this point the bloke in question was standing nervously on the stage, all trendy glasses and lime green skinny jeans.
"Everybody! May I introduce to you.." Feist leaned over to him and he whispered in her ear. "Camden! Camden?" She looked at him and he nodded. "Ladies and gentlemen, Camden on piano!"
We cheered as he sat down and moved the microphone to his mouth.
"I wrote this for my mother."
"N..no, I really did!" he said blinkingly, in response to the laughter that swept throughout the hall.
He began. Anna and I looked at each other in shock as he played the most beautiful music. It was atonal and strange, but sweepingly gorgeous. As he finished the crowd erupted with warm cheers. Feist stood up from where she had been perched on a speaker and walked over to a mic.
"I think that Camden would like to say something now."
He walked up to the front and adjusted a different microphone. He stared straight ahead and started to speak.
A poem. About London. About nothing making sense. About nothing making sense without her.
It became clear to me only moments before he said it.
"Lauren. Will you marry me?"
Please forgive me for indulging in such tired cliché, but, just then, the crowd went wild.
People were jumping and cheering. Everyone laughing and clapping and craning their necks to see the reaction of this woman, Lauren. Her friends we hugging her and she was lost in the collective enthusiasm of hundreds and hundreds of people.
"What's she saying?" asked Feist from the stage, peering into the darkness in front of her. "Is that a yes? Oh, she said yes!"
Camden launched himself back into the crowd to fall into the embrace of his new fiancée.
"Oh!" continued Feist. "That's so great. We had a little meeting today after he called here earlier on. He really didn't think she'd say yes. She's supposed to be going home to South Africa in a few weeks, this is the only way he could get her to stay! Oh, how fantastic!"
Anna and I both paused in our celebrations and glanced at each other.
For the rest of the show we were both tense. Standing on tiptoes to see this newly engaged couple, wondering what the real story was. How could she possibly have said no in front of that many people, and in the face of such bravery? They were standing, watching the gig, he smiling with his arms around her and she, staring at the stage, face frozen with the smile of one who knows they are being watched.
As the gig finished, Anna and I walked to the tube station, discussing the events we had just witnessed. We had both, it turned out, been immensely cross with ourselves for moving so quickly from delight to cynicism, and for doubting that his gesture and her acceptance had been out of anything other than pure love.
It soon became clear, though, that we both wondered whether, Lauren had a choice. If she had been going to go home to South Africa, maybe now she was going to resent him now for having taken that option away from her. She could not have said no. We decided between us that we had both picked up on something in that girl's face, some sense of forced happiness as they stood being congratulated by strangers at the end of the gig.
Perhaps both of us are programmed not to believe in the happy endings, and perhaps we are unfairly transferring our own disappointments onto the face of someone who has just been made the happiest woman alive. Perhaps she simply hates the attention of strangers, and it made her tense and nervous. Perhaps.
Whatever it was, Anna and I both felt that our sense of intimacy with the gig had been broken. Thinking through all the possibilities: that she wants to go home, that she would have said no if it hadn't been so public, that she now will have to hurt him more deeply than if he hadn't asked in the first place. All of these are painful to contemplate.
Worse, perhaps, is the possibility that none of these are the case, and that instinct tells us not to believe that anything is as it might appear on the surface. That happy endings do not exist. Not for other people, and not for us. Maybe we are both so deeply skeptical about love that we simply cannot allow room for the possibility that two people have wholeheartedly decided to spend the rest of their lives together.
After that moment the rest of the gig is a blur. Which seemed a shame, as I had been looking forward to seeing Feist in concert for ages. Perhaps in future I should call in advance to make sure that nobody ruins my enjoyment of the music by calling into question my belief in the Happy Ever After.