Scarf-and-sweatered, I took my place at the very end of a very long line that wrapped around Martini Ranch and down Stetson Drive. For amusement, confused attendees waltzed up and down the line, asking with perplexity, "Is this the will call line?" I gathered that the majority of the Metric fan base did not spend much of their leisure time at Martini, for musical performances or trips to the club's Shaker Room. Upon entering, it was obvious the gig was sold out, with the Old Town establishment brimming with anyone but its regular, generally repugnant, Ed Hardy-draped clientele.
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Preemptively disappointed that the set would be acoustic, and therefore a shadow of what the band actually sound like, I angled through to the front of the club and waited. Next to me, a drunk blonde in a beret forcefully slurred at her date: "I will kick your ass if you don't come with me to the back." Stumbling over her wobbly ankles she growled, "You have the worst taste," plus some profanities and a basic assertion that she would rather be anywhere else. At that point, I shared her sentiments. Then, Emily Haines climbed onstage, quickly followed by fellow Broken Social Scene alum James Shaw.
Haines sat at the black baby grand while the stage remained unlit and, directly following, Shaw sat to play a rotating trio of acoustic guitars. The duo went straight into a relentless rendition of "Gold Guns Girls," from their latest release Fantasies. I was ecstatic. 1: Because nobody from FM 103.9, a sponsor of the gig, made a goofy, unneccessary stage announcement, and 2: Because I immediately knew I wasn't in for a night of boring, watered-down song rehashes. Haines' haunting, sometimes childlike meow hoovered over the crowd, struck silent by the raw power in her gentle croon. Even our blathering drunkard friend shut her trap. Bobbing her head with increasing intensity to the beat of "Satellite Mind," Haines built up to the line, "Heard you fuck through the wall, I heard you fuck," immediately demanding the attention of the least interested of the obliged boyfriends demographic.
Haines took a mic in her hand and stood at center stage, spitting melodies like the best emcee for the dropping groove of "Front Row." She first addressed the crowd, encouraging communal singing: "I wear black, but I'm a hippie inside." Preceding to get all hippy-dippy, Haines discussed unity and how it's cool to come together and enjoy something, like this show, at a point in the year where priorities sometimes get out of whack.
While Metric's records are largely focused on Haines' vocals, in this less textured setting listeners experienced the songs in newfangled ways. A particularly touching alteration was the acoustic version of "Live It Out," one of the group's most unabashedly pop songs. Shaw and Haines melded harmonies and, with such microscopic focus on the lyrics, they morphed what was a rocking song into a tortured opus.
Shaw took to the piano for the ultimate showstopper: a cover of Pink Floyd's "Nobody's Home." With the intonation of Randy Newman, and the piano man chops to rival any of the greats, Shaw moved slowly through the song, with Haines taking the distressed harmonies. "We did not write that song," Shaw said once they finished. "We're good, but not that good." Haines then delved into a bit of band history, the recording of their first record in 2001 (which was not released until 2007), and their ultimate settlement in New York where they were largely influenced by the garage rock scene. She professed her admiration for The Strokes, who played a big part in Metric leaving behind their electronic outings and focusing on music that was all about the live show, and then covered "The End Has No End," from The Strokes' Room on Fire.
Indeed, the half of Metric who played to the packed Martini Ranch were all about presenting their songs in the most entertaining and engaging of methods. Bringing in the crowd, who were often signing at mere whispers for fear of overpowering Haines' volume, into the breakdown, and eventually the chorus, of "Gimme Sympathy," was just what Haines had in mind when hoping to bring out the hippies in all of the hipsters. "Help I'm Alive" brought the seemingly quick set to a close. "We're Metric. Much love. Much respect," Haines signed off. Despite fan fervor and cheers that turned into prayers for an encore, the house lights came up.
Further Listening: If it's the female vocals you're into, check out any of the BSS-related crew, including solo projects from Amy Millan (also of Stars), Elizabeth Powell's Land of Talk, Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton, and, oh yeah, some lady named Feist. Note: There are other extremely women associated with the Broken Social Scene outfit, but you can do that research on your own. Here's Amy Millan with "Skinny Boy."