I hope, in years to come, to be proved wrong about Emily Haines and her band, but Metric's disjointed live show at the Fillmore Auditorium last night left me disappointed.
Looking at Metric's discography, perhaps the live show's lack of coherence is understandable. The band's early music landed right between the cresting wave of 2000s indie rock and the rising tide of post-punk, electro-pop and eventually EDM. Haines drew songwriting strategies from the Ben Gibbards and James Mercers of the world, those who could turn a hundred phrases while wearing their heart on their sleeve. Metric's sound came from '80s synth pop, the growing trend of electro made famous by LCD Soundsystem and old-school glam rock. The group's later releases, however, play the synths like a crutch, amplifying the noise while losing most of the depth. Put those two styles into the same setlist, and the overall atmosphere gets muddled and messy.
Last night was a mix of headbangers and futuristic techno jams halfheartedly mixed with acoustic slow songs and ballads. Besides the light engineering, the show didn't seem to be crafted with much care. The slower, denser songs somehow lacked gravitas, and the upbeat tracks, after about four of them, felt garbled and flat.
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SHOW ME HOW
There were moments, bright ones, during which Metric transcended its troubles, as when I turned to my friend and said, “This is like if David Bowie performed in the Tron universe.” Another example was “Dreams So Real," a song that will forever give me chills: a vulnerable and raw interlude in the middle of the dark, repenting Synthetica, where Haines's vocals and songwriting skills outshine any of her peers. Last night, however, when she brought the VIP ticket-holders on stage and had the crowd sing different parts of “Dream On," it came off as hokey and unemotional, like a kindergarten-class sing-a-long.
This, I think, is the true reason for my disappointment: Every moment that could have been great were simply almost, full of potential with no follow-through. Metric is a fantastic band, but the band's live performance is less than stellar, especially compared to its recorded output. There were bursts of inspiration, and the Pagans in Vegas material, which was lukewarm on the album, actually held up better in the concert setting. But I wanted more: I wanted the show to exceed the band's set I caught at a Toronto festival in 2014. I wanted my love to be reaffirmed. Instead, I probably won't pounce on tickets or new Metric tracks, though the band will continue to occupy a special place in my heart and on my Spotify playlists.
Critic's Notebook: Did I mention the light engineer? That was hands-down the best stage setup I’ve seen in years: the blinding strobes, the fog, the color changes and synth and drum setup that looked like the Aggro Crag from Nickelodeon’s "GUTS." From the pounding silver, black and red during “Help, I’m Alive” to the band in just shadows and fog throughout “Twilight Galaxy," it was all beautiful, almost overwhelming. If only it sounded as good as it looked.