METRIC + Islands @ Metropolis

By Fraser D. McCallum - F-Train 120 - 03/01/2006

Montreal indie rock crowds can be pretty apathetic sometimes. In my experience, even when they are witnessing the most entertaining of big-name live performances, hipster concertgoers will rarely truly get into the show. This was not the case on March 1st at a sold-out Metropolis where Metric rocked the house. Although not the best sounding or most chatty that I’ve seen the band, Metric were energetic, dedicated and extremely tight, and the audience responded with feverish applause and danced from start to finish.

New Unicorns spin-off project Islands opened the show. In support of their first studio release Return To The Sea, Islands played roughly forty minutes of new music. The new music was fairly repetitive and sounded a lot like Unicorns B-side tracks. One dancehall song, ‘Abominable Snow’, was actually an exciting updated version of an old Unicorns song. Islands features Nick Diamonds as frontman and lead vocalist with J’aime Tambeur, the only other former Unicorn, on drums. At Metropolis, the band had nine members over the course of their set, including two violins, a clarinet, a rhythm guitar and a bass. Although some poppy tracks like “Rough Gem” and “Flesh” were quite enjoyable, on a whole Islands seemed disorganized, out of tune, and many of the members seemed unnecessary for the song requirements. One untitled song featured a cameo by an un-named fiery rapper who was much more interesting than Diamonds or his bandmates. Lead singer Diamonds was fairly irritating in his banter with the crowd, which seems to be his decided ‘thing’ as lead singer. All in all, this writer simply longed for the music of the Unicorns (RIP) as this Islands performance was fair to mediocre.

After an extended setup break, the night truly began. Emily Haines and her band took this stage to monstrous applause and immediately launched into Live It Out's second single “Poster of a Girl”. Unfortunately, Haines’ mic cut out immediately and sucked some of the wind out of Metric’s sails. The room was quickly re-energized with a sped-up version of the title track to their aforementioned new album. From there, the band kept up the new song streak with "The Police and the Private". This song was particularly entertaining with Haines playing both synth and piano, while lead guitarist James Shaw finger-picked through a standout solo. This track had the entire crowd thrashing and moving, and it was truly the most entertaining song of the night.

Then, Metric brought out some older favorites from their first album Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?. "The List" and "Succexy" were both exceptional with Metric truly hitting their stride of the concert. Emily Haines danced around the stage ever so sexually, much to the joy of the dozens of teenage boys in the front row. She also then said her first of few words to the crowd, coyly whispering “Hiiiiii…” into the mic before launching into one of the Old World singles "IOU". The incredible skill of the Metropolis lighting crew was truly demonstrated during these three tracks as well. Dozens of vibrant spotlights, glimmering row bulbs and flashing strobe effects were the perfect backdrop for Haines and company to truly rock out.

Next it was back to Live It Out tracks with “Glass Ceiling” and “Monster Hospital” sandwiched around the slower ballad “Love Is A Place” from the Old World album. This last track had the lighters and cellphones up, and featured some beautiful crooning by Haines. At the end of this track, she blathered something about “it being great to be the underdog, Montreal you’re so good to us”. Haines in general seemed fairly inebriated. Although this led to some peculiar stage banter, the music was not disappointing and Metric continued to rock the stage. Notable were the skills of Shaw on lead guitar, often breaking into extensive Hendrix-style guitar riffs and solos, which gave the Live It Out songs especially a furious and panicked charm. Shaw's and Haines' combined attack truly defines the band and was reaching incredible chemistry around this late part of the show. After another two songs (Old World’s slowed-down ‘On a Slow Night’ and Live It Out’s album opener ‘Empty’ -- another high point), Metric threw down their instruments and left the stage.

Of course things weren’t done as Metric soon returned to a howling madhouse of fans, so charged up that this writer worried about the Metropolis floorboards breaking in from the collective thumping of feet. The encore was quite solid with monster hits "Combat Baby" and "Hustle Rose" played seamlessly as one long track. The rhythm section was brilliant here and Haines' synth sounds were never more dead-on fitting than on "Hustle Rose". She was visibly exhausted from a night of jumping all over the stage, but nevertheless jumped right into closer "Dead Disco". This track was very exciting with the incredible light show again almost overshadowing the skills of the band. Still, the song was rich and layered with interesting bridges, although it was extended far too long into an effects 'n feedback-driven finale. Regardless, the crowd loved it and applauded long after Haines had blown kisses goodnight.

All in all, it was not the best I’ve seen Metric; they seemed better in past shows when they were still trying to earn the respect and in smaller venues to smaller crowds. Haines' odd banter was slightly distracting but she made up for it in spades with her incredibly seductive stage presence and angelic voice. She truly rocked the house and all eyes were on her all the time. The rhythm section was very tight, but not overly noticeable -- which is a good thing -- showing their attention to small details. As mentioned, Shaw, on lead, was excellent and it was truly his riffs and solid melodies that took the songs to great heights. Overall, it was a great show, which could have perhaps used more audience banter -- or maybe less drunken rambling -- but made up for in sheer talent and an electrifying wall-of-sound effect that translated the songs perfectly from the albums. The most remarkable thing, however, was the effect Metric had on the Montreal indie rock audience, who are usually bored and too-cool-for-school but feverishly animated and visibly enthralled on this night. If a band can do that to Montreal hipsters, then hats-off. 7.5 Metric Units/10

[Tune in to F-Train120 every Tuesday Noon to 2:00pm.]