Yes, a dual review! My review followed by my friend Clint’s review. He is a musician to watch for on the Montreal scene, whereas I provide the non-musician review (or the I am slowly learning to become a musician review)!
Stars opened the show. I cannot say I am a fan. They are a local Montreal band that are mostly indie pop/dance. Their set was fairly laid back till a few songs from the end, when they said something along the lines of the party starts now and ends when Emily leaves the stage! Hats off though to Stars’ singer Stars’ Torquil Campbell for calling our Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ‘An Evil Man‘!
Metric’s set started with the opening track from Synthetica, “Artificial Nocturne”, and after about a minute and a half, moved into a faithful rendition of Synthetica‘s first single, “Youth Without Youth”.
Their entire set was centred around Sythetica, the album of course they are touring with presently. At the time of the show I had only listened to the album a couple of times at most, and had yet to digest it. This made really getting into those songs a little difficult. I now have listened to it more and enjoy it.
Their new album, as my friend Clint noted after the show (not sure if he will have written that in his review, as I am writing mine before I see his), Synthetica is very much a synth-y album (hence the title?), as each band member, save for drummer Joules Scott-Key, had a keyboard, and Emily had two.
Metric did of course play some older tunes, including “Dead Disco”, “Help I’m Alive”, “Stadium Love”, “Gold Guns Girls” and a couple of others which were all nice to see live, given that it was my first time seeing them, however no “Combat Baby” which I was really hoping for!
The lights in the background were creative, composed of outlines of squares, 3 panels on stage, and 3 higher up, both two by four, and a two by two panel on stage left and right. They were multi coloured, so for example they were aqua colours during breathing underwater. And they made a countdown clock after their main set, counting down to the encore.
Despite not getting into all the songs from Synthetica, and the fact that it was at the Bell Centre, which was far from full, but would have easily sold out venues holding just two or three thousand fans, they put on a great show. I think I would prefer to see them in a more intimate venue (and now that I have listened to Synthetica more), even though they are definitely growing as a band, stylistically, and of course in popularity.
They closed the encore with a dedication, generally thanking fans that have stuck with them, stating how people had said Metric were too big for the underground, and too underground for the mainstream, followed by an acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy”. I would have preferred the full version, but what can ya do?
Has Metric Broken Their ‘Glass Ceiling’?
In an era where downloads, iTunes cards and widespread file sharing is now firmly entrenched, concerts are probably more crucial for musical acts than at any time since mass market recording began. The vinyl renaissance remains largely a specialty market which fails to reach or interest most music lovers. DJs and audiophiles aside, going to see live music is where audiences not only make an emotional connection with artists, but how an artist may actually get paid.
Here in Montreal, affordable and artist-accessible clubs have a bonus feature: the gentle, somewhat ponderous nature of Montreal audiences. I have seen Montrealers sit through hours of frightening drivel without a harsh word. Applause is forthcoming, if only as a gesture of obligatory politeness. Why Montrealers (and indeed Canadians generally) are so polite and publicly non-judgmental is not our focus here; but if you belong to one of the many bands working in Montreal or are making your way to the land of lower urban rent and Arcade Fire, you may soon be heaving a sigh of relief.
The trials and tribulations of mounting a live show are plentiful. Factors that threaten a great or even a good show are plentiful. Was the drummer up until 4 am beating his best Playstation score? Did the rhythm guitar player’s tube amp get jostled one too many times last week? Did the lead singer blow up her vocal cords during her 100th gig of the year? Did no one tell band member X that hard drugs will not transform them into Jimi Hendrix or Thom Yorke?
Setting aside the shortage of professionalism and dedication that sinks many a band, there is still the logistics and strain of working with a different crew in a different venue night-after-night. Welcome to Stressville! For better or worse in Montreal the Bell Centre is the big venue in town. As such, when someone takes a seat in the Bell Centre they expect a world-class concert experience. Scoring a free ticket to a Bell Centre show on November 21st, I arrive with the expectation of having my world rocked. Or at least “alternated”, or swayed pleasantly or… well, you fill in the word. When the call came, this Metric fan music jumped at the chance.
North American bands on lengthy, large-scale tours frequently put Canadian dates at the beginning or end of their tour dates. This can lead to tired or rusty bands swimming on a sea of crappy sound. On a Wednesday evening in Montreal the crowd is a little drowsy, but there is some enthusiasm brewing. This is when what used to be called “showmanship”, can come to the rescue. Veteran local group Stars, opened the night under some large, slightly embarrassing mirror balls. They display reasonable tenacity. After a couple songs, I am firmly convinced that nobody in Stars is playing with “the pick of destiny”. To be fair, this is a band specializing in quirky, mid-tempo dance tunes. Stars tunes feature steady, soft guitar work and also tend to emphasize rather fragile melodies. An arena is not the dream venue for this genre of music. A less than electrifying stage presence is countered somewhat by a diligent, professionally paced set. Singers Amy Millan & Torquil Campbell seem genuinely thrilled to be playing “in the big leagues”. However Stars come across as emotionally constipated with merely adequate drumming. This hurts them in a space as acoustically unforgiving as the Bell Centre.
Metric takes the stage around 9 PM with onstage props that seem a little too familiar to those who saw them play Metropolis last year. By music arena standards this is a low-key stage set. Symmetrical patterns of white light flash inside of box-shaped racks. A rather flat, two-dimensional light show for an arena. Now it should be said that Metric and Stars belong to the alternative/Indy camps. This means that too glitzy a spectacle might seem incongruous, if not disconcerting to these bands and their fans. Putting aside notions of image and critical nicety, I think a Bell Centre audience expects to be wowed by an “arena band”. Unfortunately, this isn’t happening on this occasion.
One reason for this is the ubiquitous, layered keyboards of front person and chief songwriter, Emily Haines. Both Stars and Metric have roots in Broken Social Scene which to be honest, is likely why Stars were chosen as the support act. Metric begins their set a little sluggish and seem almost intimidated by the night’s venue. Perhaps a tiring tour and a “nothing-to-prove-at-home” attitude are also factors.
However, things do take a turn for the better when the band launches into more aggressive, stripped-down, melodically-charged songs like “Satellite Mind, Empty, Help I’m Alive, Sick Muse”, and “Breathing Underwater”. The band plays “Stadium Love” before their Bell Centre encore. Perhaps the title is too cute to resist. Make no mistake Metric is made up of professionals and when drummer Joules Scott-Key, guitarist James Shaw, and the considerable talent and charms of Haines are fully in sync with each other, this is a special band.
Unfortunately the last song of the night is a somewhat clumsy acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy”. Arguably, this song’s plea for audience understanding and a sharper perspective on the performer-spectator relationship, make it a good candidate for the increased intimacy of an unplugged performance. Sadly, without the driving keyboard riff and electric guitar and surging rhythm of the full band, “Gimme Sympathy” became a mushy, indulgent exercise. In a way this miscalculation, is the story of the night, because when Metric unleashes the part of their catalog which bristles with guitar riffs, legs, asses and hearts start pumping. Too bad the band became a little bogged down in keyboard wanking.
Sorry Emily, I did want to love everything! To her credit, Haines took the time to thank the Montreal crowd and the band’s management team & record company for gambling on Metric to appeal to stadium-sized crowds and reach a larger audience in the United States. It is a relief to see a talented band bringing some of the authentic feel and ethos of the 1980’s onto stages in the 21st century. Once Metric tweaks their larger-scale shows, they will truly be a musical force to be reckoned with.
1. Artificial Nocturne
2. Youth Without Youth
3. Speed the Collapse
4. Dreams So Real
5. Satellite Mind
6. Lost Kitten
8. Help I’m Alive
11. Breathing Underwater
12. Sick Muse
13. Dead Disco
14. Stadium Love
15. Black Sheep
16. Monster Hospital
17. Gold Guns Girls
18. Gimme Sympathy (acoustic)