Metric’s Emily Haines and James Shaw surprised a packed crowd with an intimate, acoustic performance of virtually all-new material.The Toronto alt-rockers first got formed in New York, and have always considered it their second home, so it was natural that they’d head to the Big Apple to record on their upcoming new album, the follow-up to 2005’s blow-up Live It Out. Singer/keyboardist Emily Haines also has a solo career, most recently with last year’s What Is Free To a Good Home? EP (QRO review), so when, while in town, she scheduled three shows in one night at Brooklyn’s small Union Pool (QRO venue review) on Sunday, September 7th, the tightly wedged-in crowd was expecting that material. But Metric guitarist James Shaw joined her for all three sets, and, about an hour before the first, the pair decided to play the nine new Metric songs. So each of the three crowds got a special sneak preview into this hotly anticipated new record.
This was, however, a different side of Metric, and not just because of the new material and that the band was missing their other half, bassist Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key (who have their own side-project, Bang Lime). Metric has always looked heavily towards the active rock side of the indie-rock equation, with such anthemistic, stadium numbers as “Combat Baby”, “Dead Disco”, and “Monster Hospital”. But at Union Pool it was just Haines, Shaw, a piano and an acoustic guitar. However, just as Haines can switch from rockin’ siren in Metric to her stripped, soul-bearing solo work, so too can the band as a whole. Most recently at All Points West Music Festival (QRO photos), they’ve been doing it with their self-proclaimed ‘hippie version’ of Live It Out’s title track to finish out their set. In Brooklyn, it was all hippie, all the time.
After letting the crowd know they were going to get new material, Haines and Shaw opened with “Gold Gun Girls” (note: all song titles subject to change). With Haines on the piano and Shaw on the guitar, the haunting piece really evoked a sort of ‘lost to the past’ feeling, transfixing the crowd into a hushed, awed silence, right from the get-go. “Help, I’m Alive” brought a greater impetus in its slow parts, but it also saw an upswing alt-country/blues from Shaw in other parts. Haines and Shaw were able to spice up the natural sad singer/songwriter setting to their show with sharper elements throughout the night, with “Fantasies” getting a bit of biting edge to its ‘sad song about the world’, making it extra effective. Even their ‘lost people, lost times’ songs like “Gold” and “Sympathy” had that extra heft, with the ‘lost dreams’ “Sympathy” employing the powerful, carrying refrain, “Who would you rather be – The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” (reminiscent of Haines’s audience banter about the two classic acts when Metric was in New York last September – QRO video).
Emily Haines & James Shaw playing the new “Fantasies” live at Union Pool in Brooklyn, NY:
Haines & Shaw weren’t all ‘songs from on high’, as they also proved surprisingly approachable and engaging while on stage. Haines joked about being unable to sing the simplest of their new songs, to the point where she was questioning her identity, “The challenge with Metric is that we think we’re clever … but we’re not clever enough…” She joked about her solo tour, Portland, Florida, All Points West, the drunk “Rah!” vs. the introspective drunk, and more. When she asked the crowd for ideas for the title to the new record (“It can’t be a song title – that’s only where I’m at right now…”), Shaw chimed in, “If you have ideas, graffiti them on the side of the Kellogg Diner across the street…”
The ‘simple song’ “Front Row” was, yes, simpler, but its catchy rhythm made it charming, while Haines’s vocals really took the lead on “Twilight”, swaying with a reverberating carry. But maybe the most impressive song of the entire night was “Satellite” (flipped up with “Twilight” from the written set-list) – driving, yet haunting, yet epic, yet soul-pressing; it was all that and more. The sad stillness of the evening, of the setting, with the crowd in quiet silence, helped set the stage for Haines’ voice to break through that quiet on “Collect Call”. And “Blindness” closed the new material with a strong, pressing guitar from Shaw, over and through the rises and falls of life.
Haines & Shaw did throw down one already-out piece, when they sat together and ended with the hippie version of “Live It Out” – the crowd pretty much joining in without having to be asked (Haines was surprised they knew all the words…). From start to finish, the audience was captivated by the duo – no doubt helped by Haines’ beauty, yes (not that Shaw isn’t attractive in his own right – though his hat may be hiding a receding hairline…), but also the pair’s charm and wit, not to mention just being so close. However, it was still the music that played center stage. The yet-to-be-titled record (our vote: Kellogg Diner…) won’t play the same way, electric & with Winstead & Scott-Key, but Metric is a group that can step between giant rock show and intimate acoustic set (and they’ve got some new anthems in their back pocket, like “Freddy Mercury” & “Stadium Love” – no word on whether they’ll be on the new record, too). Electric or unplugged, Haines & Shaw perform.
Emily Haines & James Shaw playing “Live It Out” live at Union Pool in Brooklyn, NY: