Metric at Art Basel Miami Beach's Art Loves Music, December 1

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See the full Metric at Art Loves Music slideshow.

Oceanfront Pavilion at Collins Park

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Better than: A trip to the beach during daylight.

The sun is severely overrated. Sure, we all need our Vitamin D. But the after-dark hours provide exactly the kind of cover one needs for illicit indulgences, like the public consumption of alcohol and making out in the sand amid bottle caps and cigarette butts.

Oh, yeah ... And a free ocean-side Metric show.

At about 6 p.m., pale, blonde frontwoman Emily Haines and her all-male crew -- guitar guy Jimmy Shaw, bass player Josh Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key -- came out for sound check just as nighttime officially fell. The band ran through four song fragments ("Black Sheep," "Satellite Mind," "Poster of a Girl," and "Help I'm Alive") while an ugly, clouded sky churned overhead, threatening to pour rain.

After fifteen minutes, the presets were done. Haines had a few last directives for the stagehands. The gear and Marshall cabs got covered. Then Metric slinked backstage and (if the band's Twitter can be trusted) took off to "The Webster for The Last Magazine event."

So, three and a half hours till show time, the diehards were left alone to live it out. The only other signs of human life in the area were some sea bums, roadies, and techs. But even that early and empty, before anything had actually happened, the setting for this impending Basel scene was all drama: a big, black stage looming strangely at the far end of a hard-packed expanse of totally deserted white sands, all of it dwarfed by the atypically vast, grey emptiness of South Beach and overcast gloom.

Waiting, people cracked open beers, sucked down airplane bottles of vodka, and sipped mystery booze from McDonald's cups. They smoked cigarettes and spliffs. And they talked shit. There were rain sprinkles, but it never stormed. And as 9 p.m. slipped past, the crowd finally started to fatten, filling the space near the front of the stage and spilling outward from there.

At exactly 10:07 p.m., Metric returned from its quick party sprint at the Webster, rolling right up to the stage in a big white SUV, disembarking, and taking the stage from the lefthand side as a slow-crawl version of the Velvet Underground's "We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together" played over the PA.

Center stage, Haines settled behind her mike, synth, and keys station. Sloppy hot in black pleather tights, a baggy lamé shirt, and a tangled clump of necklaces, the singer was flanked by her two sidemen, Shaw and Winstead, almost twins in black boots, jeans, and jackets with white tees and dangling chains. Off to the left, Shaw strapped on his axe while across the stage Winstead grabbed up the bass and Scott-Key disappeared behind a sparkling kit with a butterfly painted on the kick drum.

With lights low and fake fog funneling out over the crowd, Metric spun out a slow, synthy intro that exploded into the first song, "Black Sheep," off the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World soundtrack. In usual maniac femme mode, Haines dipped, danced, and taunted the crowd. She half-sneered and half-smiled, singing: "Now that the truth is just a rule that you can bend/You crack the whip, shapeshifting trick, the past again."

(Side note: Partway through that opening cut as the band veered into an extended instrumental interlude, a crusty punk crowd-surfer crashed the stage and thought for a flash about hugging Emily Haines. But soon, he spotted the big, hulking security guard hunting him down. And instantly, the surfer changed his mind and left the way he came as fast as fucking possible.)

Next, the band slashed through the rest of that short sequence ("Satellite Mind," "Poster of a Girl," and "Help I'm Alive") played earlier for sound check. It ended up being an accurate template for the rest of the show, flitting between Metric's new and old material, from 2009's Fantasies to 2005's Live It Out and back. And the whole time, Haines shot crazy eyes at the crowd, stalked around the stage, led bird call games during "Satellite Mind," banged her tambourine, and scoped everything from behind a flap of blonde hair pulled down over her face.

For a very brief moment, the sixth song, "Empty," took a turn toward calm, entering another one of those synth-soaked, mildly droning pop segues. The sweaty mass slumped one against the other, drunk and winded. But a minute later, Haines started quietly chanting, "You've got to fight for your right to party," racheting up the intensity and volume by increments until it all reached an appropriate level of insanity. The epilepsy lights came flashing back. And Metric's skinny vamp stood pigeon-toed, slapped hands on hips, and whipped her head side to side, repeating in a pristine screech: "Shake your head it's empty!"

Just into the final half of the show, Haines and crew dug into a three-song set of Fantasies stuff, slipping seamlessly from "Gimme Sympathy," "Sick Muse," to "Gold Guns Girls." It was a minor revelation hearing these tracks live at the very end of Metric's long bid touring this most recent album. (Yesterday, via Twitter, Metric called the performance the end of its current on-off tour, writing: "Such an amazing setting for our last Fantasies show!") On record, "Gimme Sympathy," "Sick Muse," and "Gold Guns Girls" are highly controlled yet twitchy dance punk. But last night, these tracks went on wilder, noisier trips through messy indie distortion and heavy battering-ram rock while still keeping the supercatchy choruses intact.

Finally, closing it all down, Metric sandwiched "Dead Disco" (off 2003's Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?) and newer cut "Stadium of Love" into a single 12-minute epic. Jimmy Shaw scorched through solos, strangling his guitar and buckling over his amp. And Emily Haines finished as furiously as she started, crouching at the foot of the stage to touch fans, popping up to deliver karate kicks in their faces, and then spinning away, dipping backward, and reaching for the crowd as the lights went out.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: There were the diehards camping out near the stage from sound check till show time, like local pop-rockers Radioboxer and road-trippers from Tampa. The rest (babes in combat boots, hipster dads and their toddler offspring, out-of-town arty people, etc.) bumrushed the scene at the last minute.

Random Detail: After the show, Metric updated its Twitter, writing, "Just walked off stage in Miami..and got our first Grammy nomination!!" So we scanned the official 53rd Annual Grammy noms and it looks like the band was referring to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse's mention in the Best Compilation Soundtrack Album category.

Metric's Setlist:

-"Black Sheep"

-"Satellite Mind"

-"Poster of a Girl"

-"Help I'm Alive"


-"Gimme Sympathy"

-"Sick Muse"

-"Gold Guns Girls"

-"Dead Disco"

-"Stadium of Love"


-"Monster Hospital"*

-"Combat Baby"*

*The planned encore cuts were never performed.

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