14 Jun 2009: Metro Theatre Chicago
It should be noted that I was not feeling too hot as I approached Chicago’s Metro Theatre for Metric’s sold out show on Sunday June 14. The lingering effects of the Chicago Cubs rooftop from the day before, coupled with a crazed night, weighed me down as I shuffled into the jammed venue. I’ve always been an unabashed Broken Social Scene fan, and the many splintered projects of the Canadian Arts and Crafts scene. But something about Metric had never really clicked with me until the release of the band’s latest album, Fantasies. After a four year recording hiatus, the record feels personal and lived in, rather than a continuation of the band’s early, new wave deconstructionist approach towards indie rock. My friend J and I fought through the crowd for a decent spot, but the place was such a crowded sweatbox that we could barely move. A true Metric fan, J kept trying to pump me up, telling me how crazy cool Emily Haines is in the live environment, and after checking my preconceived notions at the door, I remained skeptical. As I chugged water, I couldn’t help but think it would take something miraculous to change my thinking about Metric. And then Emily Haines and Co. took the stage, the houselights flooded the stage red, and palpable electricity overtook the venue. From the moment she touched the mic, Haines owned the crowd, and I was entranced.
The slow, synth driven burn of “Twilight Galaxy” off Fantasies opened the set, and established the perfect mood for the night. “Did they tell you / You should grow up / When you wanted to dream / Did they warn you / Better shape up / If you want to succeed.” This is some of Haines finest songwriting, proof that her pre-album sojourn to Buenos Aires sparked a revitalization of soul and a renewed belief in her songwriting craft. Fantasies, while never losing the pomp and swagger of previous releases, is deceptively nuanced and tortured. The lyrics speak of self-doubt and love lost, and the desperate need to find a life that doesn’t exist in current circumstances. A key to the album’s success is the mood, which is never dour or shoegaze. Onstage, Haines brought the album’s best tracks to life. Fantasies best track, the single “Help I’m Alive”, opens with industrial drums pounding over Haines’ mock vulnerability “I tremble / They’re gonna eat me alive / If I stumble.” Ultimately, the song reveals itself as a veiled tribute to empowerment and the joy of realizing you’re alive again, and that duality manifested itself in Haines performance.
Onstage, Haines played the quiet, coy chanteuse, her blond locks and delicate beauty reminiscent of a 21st century Nico. A second later, she would shake out her hair and become a riot grrrl of the highest order. A natural born rock star, Haines knew how to never overplay her hand, taking time out to playfully banter with the crowd. “I’ve really missed Chicago. Sorry it took so long to make the album,” she quipped after a frenzied rendition of “Gold Guns Girls”, aided greatly by the excellent musicianship of guitarist James Shaw and bassist Josh Winstead. The band was extremely tight, never missing a beat, but my eyes never left Haines. True, she is beautiful, and yes, she has an incredible voice. But there was an aura about her, similar to seeing a rock legend like Keith or Mick, a magnetic cool that just belongs onstage. As Haines ponders in the rave up “Gimme Sympathy”, who would you rather be—The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? The answer is pretty clear. Haines is pretty damn cool with being herself, and that shines through clearly on Fantasies and in her live performance.
After a fan favorite encore of “Monster Hospital” and “Live it Out” Metric left the stage after a group bow. With the house lights on, the crowd was sweaty, exhausted, and smiling. I realized that I had hardly stopped moving the entire show, my notebook empty after the first couple songs. Well, I guess I was converted, and as I chatted with Haines a week later for a PopMatters interview, I spoke with her as a fan, not just a journalist.