When I was a teenager, I listened to mostly male vocalists bare their feelings over intricate rock riffs. It was the golden era of emo/indie rock, and I was swimming in the testosterone — with very few exceptions. Metric was one of them, and in Emily Haines’s wounded howls, I found a specific kind of kindred spirit that has remained unmatched through the years.
Recently, I had a chance to tell Haines about my teenage ~*feelings*~, and in exchange, she told me a little bit about the live show that the band’s put together for their latest tour, in support of sixth (!) album Pagans in Vegas. What I didn’t tell her then was that the Metric music that had touched my life the most was from their earlier, more rock-heavy records; what became clear during the band’s stop at the Hollywood Palladium is that I just hadn’t been listening closely enough.
But first: Joywave, a band with a cheerful name and a hyper on-stage demeanor, lassoed the early audience into paying attention. Frontman Daniel Armbruster toed the line between enthusiastic and frustrating, but his hype man antics eventually did fall into “adorable” rather than “exasperating.” Many bands and artists pull off the “I’m so grateful to be here” speech, but Joywave shows you how delighted they are to be making music. And as someone who came into the show with no knowledge of their music, I found their glittering-electro-meets-Nine-Inch-Nails mash-up sound aesthetic captivating; “Nice House” and “Bad Dreams” especially made the Palladium’s ballroom space shake.
And then — two giant pyramid light structures flanked Metric as the Canadian band unleashed Old World Underground opener “IOU” on the crowd. Alas, it was one of the only “old songs” (meaning not from their three most recent releases) that they played all the way through, though Haines and co. were surely aware of the affect that playing those songs would have on the audience. (As demonstrated by an impromptu acoustic “Combat Baby” verse and a quick “Hustle Rose” tease.) Which didn’t mean that the band had anything approaching a dearth of material: Everybody in the crowd raised their fists for “Help I’m Alive’s” repeated mantra “Beating like a hammer,” and Synthetica opener “Artificial Nocturne” was elevated to a hymnal level as the song’s wash of synths baptized the crowd.
That particular effect, the electronic translating live, was the most ecstatic revelation of the night. While the grungy rock sound that catapulted the band into the music-listening public certainly has its enduring appeal, the band’s swerve into more electro-influenced music left some long-time listeners (including myself) in the cold. This feeling was obliterated by the live atmosphere of songs like “Twilight Galaxy,” “Synthetica,” and Pagans’s tracks “Cascades” and “The Shade,” wherein those elements gave much-needed auditory breathing room for the tighter, more intimate songs, like a sing-along of “Dreams So Real” and an acoustic rendition of “Gimme Sympathy.”
Which didn’t mean that the full-on rock moments were unappreciated. “Youth Without Youth” kicks in the live; “Sick Muse” is deliciously demented and danceable; in particular, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World track “Black Sheep” had me reaching for Haines’s sublime vocal highs, and “Collect Call” brought tears to my eyes.
The night came to a close around midnight, as Haines and her longtime guitarist Jimmy Shaw led the crowd in a hushed rendition of “Breathing Underwater.” Stepping out of the Palladium’s sweltering heart and into the pleasant chill of the LA evening, it felt right, and easy, for this intense and prolific band to have gone out on that note.
Photo Credit: Lauren Adkins for THE RADICAL