With Half Moon Run
Fillmore Miami Beach
Friday, September 28, 2012
Better Than: Ugly people playing boring music badly.
The last time Metric played in Miami, it was at an outdoor show on the beach during Art Basel. Paired with the band's outsized sound were exceptionally large easy chairs and hammocks that could hold a dozen people each.
Though Crossfade maintains that this is the appropriate size for all hammocks and that the single-person models are way undersized, being swallowed up gave concertgoers a feeling of being dwarfed by Emily Haines and company's massive sound.
Over the weekend at the Fillmore Miami Beach, Haines and Metric returned to South Beach in support of this summer's synth-bashing Synthetica album. It was from this album that nearly half the set list came. And why not? This, their fifth album, is possibly their best and certainly their most consistent.
Metric found a way to link their earlier guitar-driven songs with the new ones (which sometimes required three of the four band members on keyboards at once). Their songs have long felt like frantic dispatches from the near future and on their current tour, they are gleefully rebelling against a perceived dystopia of the banal.
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Over a decade into Metric's existence, frontwoman Emily Haines still dazzles. Even if her bandmates have begun to show the wear of years on the road, she still looks like a plucky grad student who has just stepped out of the shower to walk into a surprise party thrown in her honor. She often dances in place while playing her keyboards, although "dances" feels less apt than "pantomimes leading a spin class." It was nine years ago that they first released "Dead Disco" on Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? but she's still finding the joy in that "la la la la la la la la la la" refrain.
"You make your own night," she said during the encore. "And right now, you are making this the best show." Platitudes from a touring musician, perhaps, but it felt genuine. Haines's enthusiasm is nothing if not infectious and the energy crackled in the room the way we all hope it will when we plonk down a few hours' wages for a concert ticket.
Visually, the band was backed up by a lighting show that at times looked like a spasmodic Ms. Pacman game. But it could also be timed, say, to the drum snaps during "Sick Muse." Haines bounced around the stage in a leather jacket with strands swinging from the back, looking like she'd just barely escaped an attack by highwaymen armed with Silly String. As she sang "Help! I'm Alive," Haines beat a fist in the air in time with the "Beating like a hammer/Beating like a hammer" pre-chorus. And while that technique did not inspire confidence in her carpentry skills, it was spot-on in terms of getting the crowd to follow suit.
A side note: The tendency these days is to want our entertainers to do everything - sing, dance, act, judge reality shows. It's nice to see a band that is willing to focus on the music and leave the furniture building to someone else.
The first four songs of the night replicated the chilly, distant feel of the new album. But when Metric's guitars were unleashed on "Empty," the Fillmore bore witness to some of the hardest tambourine-led head banging since Davy Jones and Dimebag Darrell started duetting in hell. From there, with the exception of a pair of the livelier cuts from Synthetica, the band kept to some of the bigger crowd-pleasers from their back catalogue. This peaked with their Jock Jam-iest moment as a band, set-closer "Stadium Love" from Fantasies.
Metric's arrangements are intricate and precise. But their attention to detail was best embodied by a pioneering new development during the break after the main set. As soon as the band left the stage, the lighting set up that had been behind them turned into a large digital clock, counting down two minutes.
What would happen in two minutes? When Girl Talk played the Fillmore, he found excuses to drop everything imaginable from the ceiling: balloons, confetti, bubbles. Would the hyper-literate Metric drop dictionaries? With a minute left, the concerned were covering their heads and the oddest in the crowd stretched their arms toward the spaceship they expected to appear and carry them off into the heavens. The last three seconds were counted off by the audience and the band rushed back onto the stage. An encore!
Punctual and considerate Metric then proceeded to pound out three more songs, including the unstoppable "Monster Hospital," which seemed to morph normal humans into half-goat/half-Seacrest kicking, grinning weirdoes. The final song of the evening had Haines singing "Gimme Sympathy" with only guitarist James Shaw on acoustic.
Metric has long made a habit of reinventing unlikely songs as emotionally dense acoustic finales, finding resonances in them that aren't immediately apparent in the more frenetic album versions. This was no different. Bassist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key rejoined them for some hand-clapping, vocals, and togetherness, as Metric pleaded with the audience to "play me something like 'Here Comes The Sun.'"
Voice, melody, emotion. It's easy to associate Metric with the period of early 2000s Canadian indie rock supremacy when Broken Social Scene ruled the critics' lists and it seemed like even a bottle of maple syrup could get a record deal. But in that final sing-along, it became clear that Metric isn't a band whose appeal is limited to a certain time or place, but one whose music has the goods to outlast its own zeitgeist.
Sonically, Metric in 2012 sounds like the Internet melting. Lyrics feel pulled from snarky blog comments, translated poetry, and Long Read think pieces. Sirens, squelches, and gulping tones fight against more traditional indie rock sounds. Crossfade's plus-one, in the ice cream marketing/queer literature studies biz, remarked that when ice cream is sold, "It isn't the flavors on offer, but a sense of fun that lures people in." Though Metric has the songs, their immediate appeal is their sense of play.
And though the crowd was duly videotaping the show from every imaginable poorly-framed angle on their smartphones, very few shots seemed to be capturing the crowd itself. No bother, here's a video of babies eating ice cream for the first time. It should give you the basic gist of how the crowd reacted, although it might help to imagine these babies tan, screaming, and wearing heels too high to possibly be safe:
Personal Bias: Once lost a game of checkers to a Metric roadie. Have mostly gotten over it.
Crowd Tattoo Notes: A tall guy with a fedora had what appeared to be a prison tattoo of Emily Haines's face on his arm. Not the best work we've seen and it very easily could have been of a young Helen Hunt. The man had the hardened but rehabilitated look of a man who finished serving his time long enough ago that "Mad About You" was still on the air.
Afterparty: Sweat Records threw an afterparty in the barroom off the Fillmore's lobby. There was cheap booze, giveaways, and WVUM DJs playing Metric-friendly jams. It was fun but Crossfade left early to go for a little night swimming at the beach. For the rest of our life, we are going to regret not finding out what was under the lids of those chaffing dishes. Pigs in blankets? Hundreds of tiny, naked people that have gone missing in the last decade, miniaturized by that weird guy who sleeps in the chair at Sweat sometimes? MINI QUICHE?!?
-"Youth Without Youth"
-"Speed the Collapse"
-"Dreams So Real"
-"Help! I'm Alive"
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-"Gold Guns Girls"
-"Gimme Sympathy" (acoustic)