Metric

[17 October 2005]

By Megan Milks

First off, I confess to spreading common-cold pathogens to my compatriots, but you know, there was a lot of germ-sharing that night. We were all wet: soaked both by sweat—First Unitarian’s concert space is a boiler room—and rain.

The space is not actually a place for prayer, as implied by its name, but a blank-walled, squarish auxiliary room within said place of prayer. And uh, if I may say so, the overhead fan system just doesn’t cut it for a crowd of a few hundred.

So, with good humor quashed by a leaky nose and sweaty pits, I tried to keep as still and to-myself as possible, dead-centered under a fan in the back. But for better or worse, Metric got me moving, and that, my friends, is a recipe for contagion.

I went to Metric expecting a decent showing of new-wave tunes with a faint leftist undertow. What I got was a dance-rock blastoff and a new interpretation of Metric - they’re no longer just-sorta political popskotchers; they’ve become activist musicians with a point to get across.

Metric’s first full-length, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, is fun and polemical but the fun sorta outweighs the polemical. A song like “Combat Baby”, for instance, is critical of “faux punk fatigues” and that whole unearned “look”, but it doesn’t really rise up and incite anything with its brain-invasive hook.

The Toronto-based Metric is touring on their sophomore release Live It Out, and this new batch of songs are more authoritative and demanding then anything the band has done before. A call-to-arms sensibility jumped off the stage and, like my cold, entered listeners through various orifices—like ears! Ha.

From the first chords of show-opener “Empty”, I knew the band’s new direction was one I liked. Frontwoman Emily Haines sounds blasé on some of the band’s recorded work, but in concert, she’s electric and has loads more emotional inflection in her voice. However ironic the lyrics may be, you gotta inject the irony into your vocals for it to be effective. The new songs trade the blasé non-attitude for major punkitude. Don’t blink, or you might think you’re seeing the Breeders.

“Empty” started cool, with a rippled, Goo-cribbed (they toured last year with Sonic Youth, and it shows) bass riff that after two verses launched into a blaring chorus: “Shake your head / It’s empty / Move your hips / Move your feet” as Haines shook her head (as Marlon Wayans said on Conan, we white chicks are literal, dontchaknow) instructively. The mood was one of somber, dry rage, setting the mode of the show with a take-us-seriously-we’re-not-vapid-popmobiles tone. It worked.

And new-wave pop-tart “Succexxy” came across about two hundred percent move livid than it does on album. The synth swirls made room for fiercer guitar, and were pretty effective in terms of helping the band toss the ambivalent-ironic approach and affect a more biting tone.

That was the theme all night long. Make no mistake, the band was still fun—the hooks have lost none of their contagiousness—but the new sound felt rougher around the edges. It’s less like friendly synth-pop and more pisspunk rock ‘n’ roll. The quartet has ripened for sure; these new songs are less formulaic and the band seems more willing to veer in different directions.

Take new single “Monster Hospital”, for instance, which pits gloomy post-pop (what?) against an agitprop chorus. And though that chorus—“I fought the war / And the war won”—sounds plaintive on record, in concert it’s activist-brassy. The twis (“and the war won’t STOP for the love of god”) is nothing if not empowering. Haines bounced all over the stage, egging the audience on.

Best song, hands-down, was the closer “Dead Disco” from the first album. If someone had told me a day earlier that I’d be hearing a ten-minute version of this song with an extended breakdown and added, experimental vocals, I woulda laughed hard, sucker. But hey, guess what, I underestimated Haines as a vocalist—she scatted the lines “it’s all right / if we want it to be true” from whisper-soft to howl over the course of a three-minute breakdown, and it rawked.

After said breakdown/buildup, though, I was praying for the band to loop back to the song’s chorus. If I just coulda had that hook one last time… or even a last “lalalalalalala…”—but no dough. Distortion, feedback, etc, and then, the end.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/metric-051007/