“Doesn’t always make you popular, but it’s good to have a soul.”
With these words, Emily Haines launches into radio hit “Gold Guns Girls” and has the Air Canada Centre in the palm of her hands. The irony isn’t lost on me: years ago, when Metric was a band name whispered between afficionados, who could have predicted the band would come to fill such a large venue with fans singing along? Deserved the love, sure; capable of success in the formulaic music industry? Such a slim chance. Yet there I was, witness to thousands singing and clapping on expert cue, topped off as a beaming Haines declared that the band had “Stadium Love”.
Metric live is somewhat of a sonic journey, one with frequent detours into live incarnations of remixes, smooth transitions from one song to another and, of course, the constant movement of Haines from one end of the stage to another and back to her keys to groove another breakdown. Opening with Synthetica starter “Artificial Nocturne”, the stage awash in light, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve been inducted into a secret society, where Metric will play your pleasure and pain. Live It Out track “Empty” took off into progressive territory, becoming a sprawling expanse of sound live with its audience call outs and instrumental jams. Like their catalogue, the set features peaks and valleys, moving from upbeat rockers like “Youth Without Youth” into the electro-shoegaze of “Dreams So Real”. It usually pays off, although somehow, “Lost Kitten” (a song I don’t care for) became even less enjoyable live. While the new album was favoured, plenty of room was made for older material, primarily Fantasies tunes. It was a wise choice: their recent output is, on the whole, stronger. It’s also what the more casual fans in attendance responded to best.
With success comes a downfall: the more casual fans tend not to be as well-versed in a genre, meaning indie group Stars found it hard to gain traction with even a hometown crowd. Part of this lies in the venue itself and its notoriously terrible sound, which sadly muddied many of Amy Millan’s vocals, due to her delicate soprano. Part of the tale was told in the roaring reactions throughout Metric’s set to more rocking numbers. Opening with a synth heavy tune befitting the disco ball decor, Stars’ sound meshes better with the more ethereal end of Metric’s dreamscape-rock sound. Imagine, if you will, if M83 decided to form a rock bank, but refused to leave their retro-electro roots behind: such is the sound of Stars. By the end, they’d engaged their audience, winning their hearts with a grateful urging to never stop supporting art.
Support within the local art scene is what makes a line-up like this possible. Friends since their youth, Haines and Millan began their rise to fame not with music, but with participation in the Toronto Disarmament Network. Haines mused that their parents were proud of their being on the cover of the Toronto Star then, not knowing where they’d end up. All the same, Metric is astute enough to recognize the fickle and fleeting nature of fame, with Haines commenting on such themes before set closer “Gimme Sympathy”. Stripping it bare to acoustics, Haines bid fans farewell with the heartbreaking story of a fan in attendance whose brother was meant to come, but lost him before the night came to pass. “I feel the people here, and the people lost that we wish were here,” Haines mused aloud. “We all need to feel compassion,” she continues, because all of us have felt that pain, or will know it one day.
It is indeed a pain I understand, and I fight back tears, thinking not only of the woman in the story, but of my own lost loved one. And when Haines declares, “To all that were and all who are, this is dedicated to you,” I remember the strength and compassion that have brought me to this moment in a very crowded space, and am grateful for even fleeting moments. Moments like these are why I help fight to keep art alive.
Highlights: “Speed The Collapse”; “Empty”; “Help I’m Alive”; “Synthetica”; “Dead Disco”; “Monster Hospital”; “Gold Guns Girls”; “Gimme Sympathy”.
Setlist: Stars @ ACC, 11/24/12
The Theory of Relativity
A Song Is a Weapon
We Don’t Want Your Body
Soft Revolution (Lyric changed to “Old World Underground” to reference Metric)
Take Me to the Riot
Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It
Setlist: Metric @ ACC, 11/24/12
Youth Without Youth
Speed the Collapse
Dreams So Real (Remix)
Help I’m Alive
Gold Guns Girls
Gimme Sympathy (Acoustic, Emily & Jimmy only)