Flashback to 2005 yo! As we entered the Fillmore that night, we were greeted by venue employees who provided us with complimentary thick-rimmed glasses, oversized beanies, and flannels. Talk about immersion!
Starting off the night were Secret Machines. First time seeing them live, and I gotta say this band really seems to love Roxy Music. and Gary Numan. And the Human League too! Entering the stage through a dense wall of fog-machine smoke and wild spotlights that illuminated the theater, they exploded with their signature style of spacey prog-rock, laden with larger-than-life choruses. The band has always stood out in the post-punk revival scene of the early aughts mostly due to the influences tending to gravitate more towards straightforward kraut-rock and noise rock. At least they sound like something(Strokes fans beware…)! Those noisy instrumental climaxes were my favorite part of their set, with some really cool, seriously entrancing interplay between the drums and guitars arising through their dedication to repetition. The vocals were also pretty fun! They cut through in the live performance even more than they do in recorded material, and a really prog-inspired theatricality shone in all the tracks they played. Overall a really good way to open the concert! Onto the headliners…
I think I’d be ignoring the elephant in the room in denying that Metric were partial progenitors of the “indie-industrial complex” that we’re still somehow collectively stuck in as a society. Their critics tend to decry their music as uncomplicated, brash, and pedestrian, with lyrics reliant on simple refrains and clichéd platitudes likely engineered in a laboratory somewhere in an underground Canadian compound with the intent to foster stadium singalongs. Well, I’m not gonna deny that most of that’s all probably the case. However, and though this may be my own nostalgia and pre-adolescent adoration of the band talking, is that such a bad thing?? Yeah, sure, Metric are probably the AC/DC of “Brooklyn Vegan”-reading, microgreen-sandwich-eating, Portlandia millennials. But dammit if they aren’t really good at it!
They fully played into this image of the stadium indie band. From Emily Haines jumping around stage, guiding the audience with her arm waves, to guitarist James Shaw swinging his guitar neck around at the audience during those all-too-80’s guitar solos(more than one!). They opened with the first track from their newest record, the sprawling 10-minute cultural critique “Doomscroller”. In our dystopian post-COVID landscape, every band is allowed one concept album to talk about how “the internet sucks and stuff”. Bonus points if they make reference some hot-topic buzzword like, y’know. They followed that up by switching back and forth between older hits and newer material. The difference was mostly apparent in instrumentation, with a lot of their music from recent years opting to forego traditional rock instrumentation in favor of synths and other such programmed electronics. The new stuff was unfortunately far less memorable than the old, and that might partially be due to that classic material being such a formative part of my pre-adolescent years(I’d be lying if I said that the chorus in their performance of “Help I’m Alive” didn’t get me bobbing my head like some sort of Pavlovian conditioned response from having heard it a billion times when I was 11 years old). But there is an upsetting irony in that Metric was definitely a band that all those mega-popular synth pop groups from the mid 2010’s ripped off big time, but with this new stuff they sound nearly indistinguishable from that whole crowd save Haines’ vocal style, which still thankfully gave the tracks some character. Gosh, I nearly burst out laughing when they toned down the energy from “Gold, Guns, Girls” for what straight-up sounded like some late 70’s dad-rock, complete with a cheesy, Eagles-esque guitar solo laid over some overly-sentimental synth chords. Here’s for trying new sounds I guess.
Halfway through the set the drummer and bassist departed for a spell, with Emily Haines giving an endearingly goofy speech about the fractured state of the world and the need for mental rest over a strummed acoustic guitar. They then broke into a really cool unplugged rendition of “Combat Baby”, and let me not understate how incredible of a vocalist Haines is! Her range, intonation and the emotion of her delivery commands an impressive presence that few of her contemporaries were able to muster. The second half of the set was unfortunately not as memorable, with many of the songs, unsurprisingly mostly newer ones, blending in just the teensiest bit. There were several standouts still, with the last two songs they played before the encore being highlights, but the energy just wasn’t there like it was at the start. The encore was great though, with them playing a couple fan favorites, along with some deeper cuts from old albums, that heavy rawness of their early material really standing apart from the other tracks they played in a refreshing way. Metric are nearing a quarter-centennial as a band, and they’ve clearly gotten their act down to a science. And in spite of all their pseudo-radical sloganeering and anthemic simplicity, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(Photos by Saima S.)