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(Above: Metric get raw for “Monster Hospital” on August 12, 2012, at the Beaumont Club in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

It took a few songs for Metric’s set to get off the ground Wednesday night at the Beaumont Club, but once the band finally took off they soard.

An abundance of new material and time getting the mix right contributed to the muted start, but the biggest issue was personnel. On their next tour, the four-piece Canadian indie pop band should consider bringing someone else to help with keyboards. Frontwoman Emily Haines is far too charismatic and has too great a stage presence to be wedged behind her synthesizers.

Although recent single “Youth Without Youth” got a warm response, the first big moment came during “Empty.” It is telling that this is also the first time Haines was feed from her station for a significant amount of time. Effortlessly prowling the front of the stage, Haines flipped her blonde locks from side to side with the beat and cooed a charged call and response from the crowd.

Once she had the crowd, Haines never let go. The icy synthesizers on “Clone” seemed to subconsciously draw the two-thirds full room closer to the stage. Radio hit “Help, I’m Alive” drew a predictably strong response and got most of the audience dancing and singing along.

For most of their 90-minute set, Metric shuffled a glorious deck of influences. At certain times strains of Brian Eno, New Order, Pet Shop Boys and U2 were plainly audible. During the encore the band showed another facet, dropping the synthesizers and playing straight-up rock and roll. “Monster Hospital” almost sounded like a punk song and the slyly political “Gold Guns Girls” featured Haines on electric guitar.

The setlist drew heavily from this year’s “Syntheitica” album. After reeling off five of its tracks in a row to open the show, Metric eventually performed all but three of the album’s cuts. Of the remaining songs Wednesday night, all but two came from 2009’s much-loved “Fantasies.”

Final song “Gimme Sympathy” turned the room from a discotheque to a campfire. With the rhythm section departed, Haines and guitarist James Shaw turned the fan favorite into a quiet acoustic number. On the chorus Haines posed the challenge music nerds have been debating for a generation: “Who’d you rather be/the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” The answer, of course, is that there is no wrong answer. By revving up the crowd with jackhammer dance beats and getting everyone to sing along a cappella, Haines proved that she can have it both ways as well.

Setlist: Artificial Nocturne, Youth Without Youth, Speed the Collapse, Dreams So Real, Lost Kitten, Empty, Help, I’m Alive; Synthetica, Clone, Breathing Underwater, Sick Muse, Dead Disco, Stadium Love. Encore: Monster Hospital, Gold Guns Girls, Gimme Sympathy.

Keep reading:

Review: Metric (2009)

Review: Metric at Lilith Fair

Review – Arctic Monkeys

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(Above: Sarah McLachlan and Emmylou Harris’ duet on “Angel” was the best musical moment of Lilith Fair 2010. The festival stopped in Kansas City on July 15.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The sunglasses every artist wore onstage at Thursday’s Lilith Fair were more than a fashion accessory – they were as vital as the instruments.

For five of the festival’s eight hours of music, performers played directly into the sun. Singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson summed up the misery.

“It’s so hot out here I felt sweat dripping down my legs, and for a second there I thought I pulled a Fergie,” she said, referring to the pop star’s onstage pee incident.

The performers had it easy compared to the fans. After their 40-minute sets they could retreat to cooler confines. Fans had fewer options. Many ditched their seats and scrambled to whatever shade they could find. This made an already undersold Sandstone Amphitheater look even emptier.

All facilities past the second section of seating were closed. Drivers expecting to park in the main lot at the top of the hill were directed to the auxiliary lot. Fans with lawn tickets were upgraded to second-tier seats, while those with second-level seats could move down. As the sun shrank the crowd grew, filling most of the seating, but it was rough going for the early bands.

Vedera fared better than most acts. Sequestered to a tiny side stage, several hundred dedicated fans crowded into the awkward space to hear the local band deliver new gems like “Greater Than” and “Satisfy” in their half-hour set. Vedera was the last of three local acts, which also included singer/songwriters Julia Othmer and Sara Swenson.

Emily Haines of Metric, looking hot and bothered.

Metric was the first band to appear on the main stage, and red flag the fact that holding an all-day event in a venue with little no cover was a poor idea. The relentless sun rendered moot any lighting or special effects. When it was finally dark enough for these tricks to emerge, the video screens captured a static image of the Lilith Fair logo, meaning fans in the back had no close-up view of events all day.

The four-piece indie band’s dark synth pop isn’t built for daylight. Sound problems plagued the first couple songs, but what the atmosphere didn’t kill the temperature did. When you’re sweating just standing still, it’s hard to be convinced to dance. Singer Emily Haines did a robotic dance to the Big Brother-esque lyrics of “Satellite Mind,” and prefaced “Gimme Sympathy” with a bit of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My.” Their set was heavy on last year’s “Fantasies,” but surprisingly did not include their contribution to the latest Twilight film, “Eclipse (All Yours).”

Michaelson had better success connecting with the sparse crowd with her jangly pop. Backed by a five-piece band, Michelson bookended her set with ironic covers, incorporating Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” into her own “Soldier” and closing with Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” which featured everyone onstage in a synchronized dance. Both moves drew big cheers. In between, she delivered her hit “The Way I Am,” which recalled Regina Spektor’s quirky vocal phrasing, the bouncy “Locked Up,” and new song “Parachute.”

Halfway through the Court Yard Hounds’ set, Emily Robison found herself in trouble.

“This is a quintessential chick song,” she said, intending to introduce Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight.” The chick the crowd knew, however, was Robison’s main gig with fellow Yard Hound and sister Martie Maguire, the Dixie Chicks. The unexpected burst of delight flummoxed Robison for a moment.

“No, no, not that chick,” she said, trying to recover. “I mean a hippie chick.”

Robison and Maguire released three Dixie Chicks albums before singer Natalie Maines arrived and turned the group into superstars. When Maines bowed out of making new music, the sisters soldiered on. Their sound hews closer to Americana and roots music than the Chicks’ pop country, but suffers without Maines’ feisty spirit. “It Didn’t Make A Sound” featured a nice honky tonk piano solo, and “The Coast” was a pleasant tribute to the sister’s native Texas beaches, but it was too gentle to engage the crowd.

Sisters Nancy (left) and Ann Wilson, the heart of Heart.

Conversation ceased, however, when the sisters unleashed a furious bluegrass instrumental that had fans on their feet, clapping and stomping along. The set ended with a moment out of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” when Maguire’s 6-year-old twin daughters joined the ensemble, tentatively playing percussion alongside their mother.

Emmylou Harris is the Mother Maybelle Carter of her generation, collaborating with everyone from Bob Dylan and Neil Young to Ryan Adams and Lyle Lovett. The artists everyone else on the bill respect as legends, she calls contemporaries. Yet even her distinct, wonderful voice wasn’t enough to sway the crowd. As with most artists during the day, the audience was divided between hardcore fans, politely curious listeners and everyone else, waiting impatiently for their act to appear. The ambitious and diverse bill ended up leaving everyone out at some point during the day.

Harris and her four-piece Red Dirt Band leaned heavily on her 1999 album “Red Dirt Girl,” mixing in the good old country of “Wheels” and “Born to Run” (a Paul Kennerly song, not a Bruce Springsteen cover). The most riveting moments were the a cappella gospel arrangement of “Calling My Children Home” and Harris’ own hymn, “The Pearl.”

Harris also shared the day’s best musical moment when she joined Sarah McLachlan on “Angel.” These multi-artist bills should have more of this synergy. Witnessing Harris and the Hounds collaborate on a Bill Monroe bluegrass number, or Haines join McLachlan on “Possession” would have been special events fans would treasure long after they had forgotten the heat and the ticket price.

Lilith Fair found Sarah McLachland closed out the day.

It wasn’t until Heart took the stage at 8:45 that the fair had its first galvanizing musical moment. The raucous blast of “Barracuda” eradicated the gentle sway of the afternoon and invigorated a crowd that had traded the sun for the moon and was finally ready to move. Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson delivered a heavy slab of ‘70s rock that had fists pumping and hips shaking. Guitarist Nancy Wilson concluded her acoustic intro to “Crazy On You” with a scissor kick, cueing the rest of the six-piece band. Singer Ann Wilson was in top form, belting the refrain from the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” during their own “Even It Up” and easily finessing the dynamics of “Magic Man.”

Lilith Fair founder Sarah McLachlan closed the day nearly eight hours after the first act appeared. The Vancouver native congratulated the crowd for braving the heat and rewarded them with many of her biggest hits, including “Building a Mystery,” “World On Fire” and “Adia.” She needlessly apologized before playing each of her three new songs, but the crowd responded well to those numbers as well.

Here’s a tip to established artists trying to introduce new songs: If you act proud of your new material, fans will be more likely to embrace it. Today’s new song is tomorrow’s sing-along.

The night ended with the gentle lilt of McLachlan’s “Ice Cream” before most of the day’s artists -– including Swenson, who shared a mic with the Court Yard Hounds -– joined together for a joyous romp through Patti Smith’s “Because the Night.”

Setlists:

Metric – “Twilight Galaxy,” “Satellite Minds,” “Help I’m Alive,” “Gold Guns Girls,” “Hey Hey, My My” > “Gimme Sympathy,” “Dead Disco.” Ingrid Michaelson – “Soldier” > “Pokerface,” “The Way I Am,” “Parachute,” “Maybe,” “Locked Up,” “The Way I Am,” “Toxic.”

Court Yard Hounds – “Delight (Something New Under the Sun,” “It Didn’t Make a Sound,” untitled new song, “Then Again,” “Fear of Wasted Time,” bluegrass instrumental, “The Coast,” “Ain’t No Son.”

Emmylou Harris – “Here I Am,” “Orphan Girl,” “Evangeline,” “Wheels,” “Born To Run,” “Calling My Children Home,” “Red Dirt Girl,” “Get Up John,” “Bang the Drum Slowly,” “Shores of White Sand,” “The Pearl.”

Heart – “Barracuda,” “Straight On” “Even It Up/Gimme Shelter,” “WTF,” “Hey You,” “Red Velvet Car,” “Alone,” “Magic Man,” “Crazy On You.” Encore: “What Is and What Should Never Be.”

Sarah McLachlan – “Angel” (with Emmylou Harris), “Building a Mystery,” “Loving You Is Easy,” “World On Fire,” “I Will Remember You,” “Forgiveness,” “Adia,” “Out Of Tune,” “Sweet Surrender,” “Possession.” Encore: “Ice Cream,” “Because the Night” (with most of the day’s perfomers).

Keep reading:

Review: Metric

Elvis Costello – “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane”

Review: Robert Plant and Allison Krauss

Wakarusa Music Festival: A Look Back

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By Joel Francis

Metric – Fantasies
Indie synth band shines
on fourth album. Smart dance-pop
bests Metric, Phoenix.

Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy
Fun from start to end,
Brit blends hip hop, jazz and soul,
wins Mercury Prize.

Bela Fleck – Throw Down Your Heart: Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3
Mismatch on paper
Banjo goes to Africa?
A joyous result.

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Red-head continues
streak of amazing albums.
Doubtless to persist.

Allen Toussaint – The Bright Mississippi
NOLA pianist
and songwriter honors roots
with great jazz album.

Me’Shell Ndegeocello – Devil’s Halo
Poetry, jazz, soul –
Don’t try to classify this.
Bass phenom triumphs.

Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar – One Fast Move or I’m Gone
Voices of Death Cab
and Son Volt pay homage to
poet Kerouac.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears – Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!
Southern soul throwbacks
bridge JB, Otis.
For fans of Daptone.

Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come
Indie sensation
examines life via Bible.
(Isn’t Christian rock.)

Mos Def – The Ecstatic
Fourth LP finds MC
back on game. Fans rejoice. More
rhymes, less acting, please.

Honorable mention:
Maxwell – BLACKsummer’snight
Eight years, a long time.
Welcome back, neo-soul man.
Slow jams worth the wait.

Keep Reading:

Top 10 Albums of 2008 (haiku remix)

Top 10 concerts of 2008

Review: Son Volt (2005)

Review: Neko Case, Son Volt and more at Wakarusa 2005

Green Ribbon Haikus (2008)

Feature: Hail Death Cab

Review: Bela Fleck’s Africa Project

Top 10 Albums of 2007

Top 10 Albums of 2006

Review: Mos Def, Kweli, others at Rock the Bells (2007)

Top 10 albums of 2005

Top 10 Albums of 2004

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(Above: Metric roar through “Dead Disco” in their native Toronto.)

By Joel Francis

It’s hard not to be impressed by the Midland Theater. The opulent 3,500-seat venue has hosted scores of acclaimed performances in its 82-year history. Both Spoon and the Bravery commented on the austere surroundings during their sets at the annual “The Night the Buzz Stole Christmas” concert on Thursday night. And why not? The grand old venue was both more stately and spacious than the clubs and outdoor festivals they were accustomed to playing.

Emily Haines, the vibrant front woman for the indie pop quartet Metric, however, did not comment on the hall; she owned it. Overcoming an unkind mix and unfamiliar audience, Haines commanded the stage and the band slowly won over the crowd with its merger of ‘80s pop, dance, industrial and indie rock.

Filled by the swirling synthesizers of opening number “Twilight Galaxy,” the Midland felt more like a basement club than a cavernous theater. Metric is much edgier in concert and they put it to good use. Haines strapped on an electric guitar for “Help I’m Alive” and locked eyes with guitarist James Shaw while he peeled off a solo that recalled Mike Campbell’s on “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” “Dead Disco,” the lone number not drawn from “Fantasies,” the ensemble’s celebrated new release. Packed with several crescendos, it was an industrial barrage that felt like a Nine Inch Nails outtake.

The first half of the 40-minute set felt like a teaser for the second. Haines prefaced “Gimme Sympathy,” a song that revives the age-old debate over the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, with part of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My.” The performance drew a spirited response from the crowd. Metric seized on this newfound attention by segueing into the spiky “Sick Muse,” which drew even more cheers and hands in the air.

By the time Haines roared into “Stadium Love,” it felt like the band was ready to play Arrowhead. Although Metric headlined the much smaller Granada Theater six months ago, and couldn’t command a crowd this size on their own – the band was second on the “Buzz” bill of four acts – they’ll get there soon enough. And when they do, they’ll be ready for it.

Setlist: Twilight Galaxy, Help I’m Alive, Gold Guns Girls, Gimme Sympathy > Sick Muse > Dead Disco, Stadium Love

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