MUSIC: Rejecting the Metric system

“I wish I could make it that everyone who sees the Soft Skeleton has to drink Guinness,” says Emily Haines, Metric’s cool, commanding and completely sexy front woman, as she takes another swig, “but it’s okay if you’re having, like, a vodka soda. I just don’t think you’ll totally get what we’re doing, but that’s okay!”

Despite the absence of Guinness anywhere in the general vicinity, last Monday night’s show at Le National Théâtre was not lost on many. The spectators, even if sober, were completely entranced.

Haines opened with the thought-provoking “Our Hell,” then proceeded to play the rest of her album, as everyone sat down (how civilized), eyes closed and absorbed sound waves with smiles.

Haines’ new solo album, Knives Don’t Have Your Back, although diametrically opposing the rough-and-tumble electronic excitement of previous Metric albums, is no less engaging. Heart-felt, heart-breaking lyrics are superimposed onto soft, organic piano refrains, complemented by a wistful, natural and almost-eerily dystopian atmosphere.

At the show, Haines’ “Soft Skeleton,” her two man back-up band, was almost superfluous. The set would have been even more striking and powerful with just a solo pianist, without the distraction of a drummer and guitarist. Basically, the Skeleton was soon forgotten beneath a skin of beautiful, cascading melodies. Haines’ voice and the impressionistic, sonographic black and white video clips played repeatedly on an overhead projector were hypnotic. It was difficult not to be mesmerized if you were watching the images flickering on-screen or admiring Haines’ vivid and intense facial expressions as she compellingly sang the words which obviously meant so much to her: “[I’d] Rather give the world away than wake up lonely… to thyself be true.”

Forty-five minutes after she first ensnared the crowd into her own gentle, psychedelic fantasyland, she announced that she was playing her last song. Disappointment filled the crowd.

No show should be that short, even if you’ve played your new album all the way through and played it damn well. Fans were further disappointed by the absence of an encore… no Metric songs adapted for solo performance, nothing from her 1996 solo album Cut in Half and Also Double. The audience was a little upset, needless to say, because 50 cents a minute is a little pricey for poor students, even for a trip to Emily Haines’ world of dreams and tears.

So what is Haines like sans Metric? The artist may be touching on the question herself with the rhetorical “what’s a wolf without a pack?” that she asks in “Winning,” the concluding song of her album. A wolf without its pack may be lonely, vulnerable and world-weary, and so is Haines without her Metric. That’s not to say she delivers her new art without style or grace. Her set may have been a tad short, but true fans would probably forgive her, and thank her for taking them on an intimate journey through her heart. She probably just wanted to take the night off to drink more Guinness anyway.

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