I am now going to unabashedly gush about Metric, who played a sold-out show at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore Friday night.
The combination of the sweet, breathy vocals of Emily Haines along with the rock guitar of James Shaw and the dependable rhythm section of bassist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key make for an irresistible concert performance. The band always has been a favorite of mine since I first heard the single “Combat Baby,” and their first album, “Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?” In that song and many others on their first few albums, the band relied on catchy melodies and wordplay to create fun, thoughtful songs.
But in their last two albums, Metric have stepped it up a quite a bit. The fourth album, Fantasies, and the fifth, Synthetica, which came out about a year ago, marked a quantum leap in exhibiting their capabilities in songwriting and crafting infectious dance music. The strengths of the band members and the power of the Synthetica album were on full display Friday as they opened with “Artificial Nocturne,” which starts out in a sweet and fragile vocal and sparse instrumentation before blowing up into a full-blown disco thumper — a favorite Metric tactic. It’s an entrancing, intoxicating song that is readymade to be a concert opener, luring you in and then opening you up to more intricate sounds as the song moves along.
Next up, Metric play “Youth Without Youth,” a sultry glam track that comes alive in performance in a way that it doesn’t in recording. Although it’s an awesome track in its own right, Metric are terrific performers and their ability to bring a physical presence to their music is unmatched by many of their peers today. Their stagecraft is showcased in a performance of “Dreams So Real,” where Haines samples herself on the refrain “I’ll shut up and carry on/A scream becomes a yawn” and plays it back as an echo when she sings. With the atmospheric effect, the song becomes almost spooky but still wonderfully danceable.
Lest you think Metric neglected their earlier albums, the new wave quartet soon played live concert favorite, “Empty,” allowing Haines to shake her head emphatically to the lyrics “Shake your head, it’s empty” and shake her hips to “Shake your hips, move your feet.” It’s a crowd-pleasing, high-energy performance, which again very effectively brings the music to life. It also allows Haines to show off her very underrated synth-playing with a very fun song.
A quieter number, the beautiful and powerful “Breathing Underwater,” gets Haines out from behind the synthesizer to sing plaintively to the mesmerized crowd. Metric brings it back up to dancefloor speed with “Dead Disco,” another wonderfully glam cut and a great selection for showcasing the clever wordplay that served as a hallmark of their earlier works.
The two-song encore brings with it both sides of the band — the glitzy “Gold Gun Girls” from the incomparable album Fantasies and a stripped down rendition of the same album’s “Gimme Sympathy,” which starts out only with Haines and guitarist Shaw on stage, building up a slow start that builds into a thundering chorus as the audience sings along with the entire band.
For my money, you could not formulate a more perfect show — or a more perfect band for that matter. Haines’ sex appeal and the perfect pitch of her singing voice and the precision and focus of her bandmates make for a must-see performance. For me, the Toronto-based band really follows in the footsteps of some of the most unforgettable bands of all time to use their same basic formula — bands like Missing Persons or Berlin, which peaked quickly in the 1980s, leaving a string of new wave dance hits. Metric’s talent, the band’s strong chemistry, and the terrific stage presence surely are all factors that have allowed the band to enjoy a longer run than some of the other bands in their mold.
I personally cannot believe it took me so long to see them live (my first time was only in April for the Coachella Valley Music Festival), and I certainly won’t miss them again the next time they pass through our area. They still have a handful of dates in Michigan, Minnesota and Canada for the rest of this month. I strongly urge you to check them out if they are an old favorite or if you’re looking for a good new concert experience. Metric are at the top of their game.