Live Music + Gig Reviews

Metric @ Electric Ballroom, London

19 May 2009

Coming off the back of their critically-lauded fourth record Fantasies, Canadians Metric blew into Camden’s Electric Ballroom for the final night of a lengthy tour.

The band, led by sometime-Soft Skeleton and Broken Social Scene frontwoman Emily Haines, haven’t graced these shores for a few years, and it seems, at least on tonight’s show, that they’ve been polishing their act to a gloss finish.

That they’re still playing venues of only medium size is surprising at this stage in their career – not to denigrate the Ballroom’s obvious charms, but the scale and ambition of the group’s work is more suited to aircraft hanger, typified by the early arrival here of latest single Help I’m Alive.

The track, for which the term ‘radio-friendly’ could have been invented, is rapturously received by the crowd as Haines, a cross between Courtney Love‘s sweaty younger sister and the pouty one out of The Ting Tings, bounces puppylike between her keyboard and thumping her chest at the front of the stage to the chorus’ “My heart’s still beating/ Like a hammer”.

Haines is certainly an accomplished frontwoman, whose every utterance is greeted by an enormous cheer from the largely partisan crowd. She is very clearly the band’s strongest selling point – oozing punk sexuality and tossing well-chosen and enthusiastic platitudes to the Camden crowd. However, to the cynical British eye there’s something a little off about her banter – typified by her half-serious apology for the band’s inevitable rise to stadium-filling status. You get the feel that despite their efforts, there’s little intimate about the band’s performance, and there are times that her monologues about the comparative excellence of the Rolling Stones and The Beatles could have been delivered by Avril Lavigne at Wembley Arena.

Luckily, the music more than makes up for the uncomfortable between-song banter. The aforementioned Stones/ Beatles debate is flung into song – form on the superb Gimmie Sympathy, despite some pretty duff lyrics about “playing Here Comes The Sun”. This is torch-waving pop at its purest distillation, and The Killers should take note of what is achievable without appearing too pompous or overblown. The band themselves are ludicrously tight, bringing a kind of professionalism to their individual roles that is rarely seen in British bands. That this sometimes blows into self-indulgence is understandable if not excusable – there are a couple of overlong guitar solos during Gold Guns Girls and, unforgivably, a bass solo for which the spotlight falls literally on bassist Joshua Winstead.

Most of the material is culled from the new record, meaning that the majority of the gig is a bombastic blast of power-pop with little room for breathing space. Only slow-burning synth opener Twilight Galaxy and closer Live It Out (here preceded with the non-more accurate introduction “This is Metric’s Freebird”) give the band chance to catch breath, and by the end even Haines seems exhausted.

The unflagging pace can be a little one-note, but when the teenage thrash of The Clash-mentioning Monster Hospital sounds this good, it’s difficult to begrudge them. A couple more numbers from debut-that’s-not-really-a-debut Grow Up and Blow Away or Old World Undergound wouldn’t go amiss, especially as the crowd don’t appear to be newcomers to the cause, But, as Haines and crew already seem to know, there’ll be plenty of time to do that at Wembley Arena next time.

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