Concert Review: Metric at Bowery Ballroom: November 19, 2013
As a person grows older, their tastes, outlook, and place in the world all tend to change. We become a little more jaded, a little more reserved (perhaps even becoming “conventional”) and hopefully more successful – in whatever way we choose to define success. Often we don’t take the time to step back and take stock in where we were and how far we’ve come, to appreciate all we’ve accomplished while considering whether all that change has been for the better. Hopefully if and when we do take stock we find that the person we’ve become isn’t so different, just a new and improved version of oneself that can reach back and grab the younger self when desired, now and again.
What does all this have to do with Metric? Last night, on a night off from their arena tour with Paramore, they played the intimate Bowery Ballroom for the first time since 2005 (according to singer Emily Haines). This wasn’t an example of a band having reached a peak and then hitting smaller venues on their way back down. Metric has never been hotter, having finally broken through with their fourth album, the 2009 mega-hit (by indie standards) Fantasies, and following it up strongly with 2012’s Synthetica. This was a band revisiting an old haunt and blowing off some steam in the middle of their run of success, which I imagine might be arduous even as it is rewarding. In doing so, Metric took that step back to see how far they’d come (Emily actually marveled at her own success at one point during the show) and took the opportunity to do a “throwback to 2005, when things were very different”, playing a non-traditional set by Metric standards, including as many pre-Fantasies songs as ones from the last two albums.
It didn’t start out that way though. The band came out and played three songs off of Sythetica, with Emily showing off her trademark energetic style in “Youth Without Youth”. After those three songs though it was time to revisit Metric’s raw beginnings. First was the melodic “Ending Start” (from 2005’s Live It Out) followed by the dynamic “Empty” from the same album, with Haines’ whipping her head back and forth on cue (“Shake your head it’s empty …”). Empty is always a highlight – it seems to get Haines’ juices flowing – but on this night in particular Metric played a terrific version that lasted a solid 10 minutes, included the crowd for a sing-long, then ended the way it started, Haines soft voice taking us out slowly. Needing a well-deserved breather, Haines took her first pause of the night, telling the audience about this being a throwback night where things will be “fast and loose so have an open mind.” Naturally this led to another Live It Out song, the hard rocking “Patriarch on a Vespa”. We were about halfway through the show and you could feel the crowd’s excitement, happy to see a side of Metric they hadn’t seen before. This was Metric circa 2005 with the experience of 2006-2013 guiding them.
From then until the end of the main set it was back to the traditional, with five of the next six songs coming from Fantasies or Synthetica. Hits “Help I’m Alive” and “Breathing Underwater” were the biggest crowd pleasers, though personally I enjoyed the duet between Haines and guitartist Jimmy Shaw, “Love is a Place” from 2003’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? This was yet another song that in my previous four (four!) times seeing Metric I hadn’t heard. My only disappointment was that Metric didn’t play “The Wanderlust”, which, on the album version, features the late Lou Reed (and which featured him as well when Metric played Radio City Music Hall last year).
For the encore, only Haines and Shaw initially came on stage. Before launching into a song Emily celebrated the fact that New York City has a new mayor, and dedicated the song “to the end of stop and frisk.” I may be in love with Haines, but some of her political ramblings last night were a little lost on me. It doesn’t matter though, as long as it gets her to sing beautiful music, as the two performed another older and lesser known duet, “The Police and the Private”. By that point I wasn’t the least bit surprised by that choice of song, or that the next two were from Live It Out as well, as the rest of the band rejoined Haines and Shaw on stage. But as good as those older songs were, the night’s highlight was still “Gold Guns Girls”, a flashback (flash-forward?) to a super-energetic and lively Haines, and including one of the most incredible guitar solos I’ve seen in a long time, by Shaw. The band easily could have ended there, but one more duet was in order – to quote Emily, “this one’s for Lou.” An acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy” was the perfect, simple, touching dedication to Reed, and with that the band took their bows and left the stage.
Metric has come a long way since their early days as a band, with Fantasies being a highly polished, made-for-popular-consumption record (that’s not a criticism – the album is fantastic) and Synthetica more of the same. But as Haines & co. looked back on those early days, she found that Metric is still “punk rock.” I’m not sure I’d classify them quite like that, but it’s good to see that beneath the sheen of the new and improved band the emotional underpinnings of the earlier days still live inside them. It wasn’t a typical Metric show, but it was a classic.
“Gold Guns Girls” Jimmy Shaw guitar solo
Metric at Bowery Ballroom – 11/19/13 Setlist:
Nothing But Time
Youth Without Youth
Speed the Collapse
Patriarch on a Vespa
Help I’m Alive
Love Is a Place
The Police and the Private
Too Little Too Late
Gold Guns Girls
Gimme Sympathy (acoustic)