“If you’re here, you know I love a sing along, so don’t let me down, alright? Hook me up.” Metric’s Emily Haines, giving her introduction to the acoustic version of their classic song, “Gimme Sympathy”, which brought the intimate show at Mondavi Center to a close last night. 2013 is shaping up to be one of the best years in some time for live music concerts, and April in particular is weighted very heavy with competing and conflicting shows all over the West Coast due to Coachella and bands doing their own headlining shows in addition to that “granddaddy of U.S. festivals”. Even so, when Metric announced a little over a dozen dates running through June, I changed around my own schedule to be sure to see them twice. The only other artist I’m seeing twice this month is Prince, so I think that speaks volumes about the esteem with which I hold this band. With their show a Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, they certainly didn’t disappoint. Pre-show, looking around the beautiful venue at the crowd, it was hard to say what kind of audience the band was going to encounter. Opener Mona delivered and got them out of their seats, and by the time Metric came on stage, they were beaming with excitement that further fueled the band. It was definitely one of the top shows I’ve been to this year, and it was one of those shows that was so good, the only negative was those fleeting thoughts that it eventually had to come to an end. In any event, it was spectacular and unforgettable, and the band is one of the must-see acts touring today.
Venue: Robert and Margit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts
Presented By: Another Planet Entertainment
Where: Davis, California
When: April 17, 2013
Seating: Orchestra Center, Row A, Seat 103 (front center orchestra section, first row, four seats to left of center mic ; also photo pass first three songs)
A funny side note… fans are often frustrated by the whole ticket buying process that we are faced with today, with some of the best tickets never being made available to the public at face value, high service fees, scalpers, having to pay to join fan clubs to participate in their pre-sales, crazy high priced VIP packages where you pay 10X or more face value for a good ticket and a glass of wine and some swag you might not want…
Metric actually does their part to combat this, and mitigate some of the frustration to the best of their ability by quietly doing their own pre-sale on their official site, offering fans a chance to buy tickets from their own allocation without the mark-up and such. So kudos to the band doing what they can to show some appreciation to their fans.
You can learn more about this on their official site (LINK):
Wherever possible, we negotiate with the promoters of our concerts to take control of the best tickets to each of our shows and reserve them to be sold exclusively through our website, so we can offer the best seats in the house directly to fans, at the best possible prices by saving you the third party service charges. Unfortunately, we can usually only get about 10% of the total tickets available to each concert, so they tend to go fast and are available on a first come, first served basis. To be the first to find out when these tickets go up on sale, sign-up for free to the band’s mailing list on the top right.
In some cases, we’ve been also been able to include an MP3 download of Synthetica with each ticket purchased, at no extra cost, plus 5 Synthetica Reflections as a free bonus. If you already have the album, the download is fully transferable, so feel free to give it to a friend. Look for the icon below under “download” to know which shows this applies to.
I saw Metric for the first time last year – two times, actually – and they put on the kind of show that makes you a much bigger fan. If you’ve never seen them, you might not appreciate how much more they bring to a live environment – they are truly a rocking band.
I have some kind of personal, subconscious connection to the band and their live shows that I never really put together until I was watching them last night… I think part of it is purely visual – they have a really clean stage set-up, with their own futuristic lighting and each of the three band members up front – Emily, James, and Joshua – each have their own keyboards as well… and I don’t know… maybe the overall effect evokes some nostalgia about 70s and 80s sci-fi (Star Wars in particular). And I think the other element is that the band and their music kind of feel like some descendent of Yazoo… with the amazing female vocals and some synth, New Wave sound and stylings. Of course, the music of Metric is much more complex and dynamic, and the guitar work from James kicks it up into a different realm, but I have these feelings of nostalgia associated with something much, much newer. But maybe the band is something I would have imagined as the ultimate rock band as a kid in the early 80s, and now it truly exists.
So last night’s show was at Mondavi Center, which has become my favorite venue in California. I’m always encouraging my friends to check it out, if they have never been, in that it is a classy place, and up close to the stage, you can’t really have a better experience. The sound is awesome, the stage is nice and low, the house lighting is excellent, and the people who work there are among the best I’ve encountered at any venue anywhere – really nice people, and very professional.
Obviously, I was very excited when I learned about Metric, one of my favorite bands, coming out to play Mondavi, one of my favorite venues.
But I did have the pleasure of going to the show with one of my concert-going friends from the Bay Area, and this was her first time at Mondavi, and she came away very impressed.
The opening act for Metric last night and at tonight’s show at the Fox Theater in Oakland (which I will also be covering) is Mona, who also played Coachella with Metric, and I was not previously familiar with the band.
- Nick Brown (vocals, rhythm guitar, piano)
- Vince Gard (drums)
- Zach Lindsey (bass, backing vocals)
- Jordan Young (lead guitar, backing vocals)
Mona comes from Nashville (originally from Dayton, Ohio and Bowling Green, Kentucky). Their debut eponymous studio album was released in the U.S. about a year ago, though they’ve released a number of singles over the past four years, all but one accompanied with music videos.
My first take on the band as they took the stage and kicked into their set is that they are the real deal – a throwback to genuine rock and roll, sans pretense and they attention-seeking trappings that are typical of newer bands today. They just seem to want to play authentic rock and roll, and tap into soul and emotion to put on a great performance.
There is a new interview with the band in which they talk about their new single, “Goons (Baby I Need It)”, and listening to them totally reinforces my visceral take away from their live performance at the show last night.
I would totally go out to see them headline their own show, and they got the place rocking last night, and got everyone up on their feet. I also just bought their album, EP, and new single on iTunes… so collectively I guess that represents the opening band trifecta.
Below are some photos of Mona performing on stage (click any image for higher resolution):
- Emily Haines (vocals, synthesizer, guitar, tambourine)
- James Shaw (guitar, synthesizer, backing vocals)
- Joshua Winstead (bass, synthesizer, backing vocals)
- Joules Scott-Key (drums)
I have written extensively about Metric in prior articles, which can be found below:
- “Not So Silent Night” by Live 105 (Night 1, #NSSN) at Oracle Arena | Oakland, California | 12/7/2012 (Concert Review)
- The Rock Subculture Journal 2012 Year In Review (Jason DeBord’s Top 10 Live Music Concerts; Top 10 Studio Albums & Songs)
Having seen them for the first time last year, I summed up my first impressions from that show by noting that, in a perfect world, Metric would represent the future of music. We don’t live in a perfect world, of course, but all the same, we have Metric and their music, and with my first experience seeing them live, it reaffirms my belief that there is tremendous talent in the music industry among some relatively newer bands (though Metric is five studio albums in, they still feel relatively fresh and new). They make brilliant music that wants to be free – that wants to be played live.
The band was actually founded in Toronto in 1998. Singer Emily Haines had quite an eclectic and International upbringing, as the daughter of a poet, born in India and raised in Ontario, while holding dual citizenship there and in the United States, she ultimately pursed the arts in college and collaborated with others before forming Metric. James Shaw, guitarist for the band, was born in London and also raised in Ontario and attended Julliard in New York.
Ultimately, the pair were connected with legendary producer Stephen Hague and began work on their debut album, Grow Up and Blow Away, which came out in 2001. Thereafter, Joules Scott-Key joined the band as their drummer, bringing a different element to the band, which was employing drum machines; his friend, Joshua Winstead, joined as the band’s bassist. The first “official” album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? debuted in 2003.
In 2005, their second studio album, Live It Out, was released, and thereafter the band toured with the Rolling Stones as the opening band. Reading about the band’s history, they’ve been incredibly busy ever since, and have also been involved in a variety of side projects and efforts.
The first show I saw in Las Vegas last year was of the full band variety, as was the case at Mondavi last night. The show I attended as part of my “Not So Silent Night” coverage in December was altogether different… their equipment did not make it to that gig, so Emily and James did an amazing acoustic set, with just a rented guitar and piano. The fact that they went on with the show under such circumstances I think speaks to both their character and their artistic ability and versatility.
As I wrote in that review at the time, as I was making the long drive into Oakland for that show, I listened to the interview with Emily and James from their iTunes Sessions for the first time. It became clear that they are brilliant, thoughtful artists. They aren’t just making music, they are making art, and it was fascinating listening to them, learning more of their background, and hearing their candid thoughts on what goes into their writing and creative processes. They talked about a concept that they employed in the making of Fantasies, under the guidance of producer Gavin, in which he said that if a song can’t be played on an acoustic instrument, that there is probably something wrong with the song. I found this to be really interesting, and obviously it in some way lead to their Plug In, Plug Out EP. But in the interview, James talked about how their songs had to pass “the campfire test”.
So it was really surreal to have all this in mind, going into that show, and then see the magic happen on stage – and not as something planned, but as a result of events out of the band’s control.
I have such respect and admiration for this band and how they approach music, and to see them take a problem that would have resulted in most bands skipping out on the performance, they instead brought an incredible showcase performance to a huge arena, with a real stripped down and vulnerable performance that I will never forget.
As a bonus with the December show, as I was reviewing the show side stage and walking back stage, Emily and James were walking down the ramp from the back of the stage. There was big black vinyl drapes hanging down from the ceiling, so I held one of those open for them to help guide them from the blackness of the behind the stage area to the main backstage area… I couldn’t *not* say something complimentary, and since I got the sense that they were in uncharted territory doing this stripped down show for such a huge audience, I told them that their set was epic (a heartfelt sentiment on my part); they were extremely nice and friendly, so I mentioned that I was a fan, and had seen their show in Vegas in October, and they both thanked me and extended their hands to shake hands, and went on their way. Just a very brief encounter, but I feel very lucky to have had a chance to thank them for the amazing performance that night.
Which funny enough kind of leads into one of my impressions from last night’s show, in contrast to another show I attended from the front row in the past week. The latter I did not publish a review for (and will leave the artist unnamed herein), but I went to another concert and was similarly fortunate enough to be center and up against the stage, and with that artist, I couldn’t help but notice that she never so much as glanced down at the audience… for a full hour and a half set. She kind of just looked over the heads of the fans in attendance, in stark contrast to the very small and intimate venue.
I’ve always been an advocate of fans of music going out to see their favorite artists live in concert – and one of the best elements of such experiences is making that direct connection with an artist. So it was really striking for me that this other artist I saw recently made an effort to avoid any connection. I decided to completely skip even reviewing that show, as I had such a negative, disappointing impression from the artist. This is the first time I’ve passed on doing a review for a concert I’ve attended in two years. And my impressions were completely cemented when I met this other artist for a signing after the show. Snobby, rude, unfriendly, dismissive… not sure why the artist would even bother with a signing if she does not like or respect her fans.
My impressions from Metric, from my limited experiences, is that they are so completely opposite, and have a genuinely heartfelt approach to their music, their fans, and their live shows. I shot the first three songs from up front, but since I bought a front row seat had the privilege of enjoying the entire show from the front of the stage, and all of the band members naturally make those connections with their fans… not looking over our heads, but seeking each of us out and sharing a smile or a glance, or in the case of James, a cool look as he transitions into a guitar riff.
Even at the end of the show, each member came to the edge of the stage to reach out to fans, literally, and shake our hands and share in real appreciation and kindness.
These efforts obviously come naturally from the band, and I get the sense that they enjoy the experience as much as the fans… but it makes such a huge difference, and I know that fans love the good will and authentic efforts on behalf of the band to thank fans for coming out to the show.
This reminded me of my interview with Steve Marker from Garbage (another band featuring a really genuine group of people) a few weeks ago, when he expressed gratification with touching the lives of fans, helping to get them through hard times, and things of that nature, and I think the best artists of any discipline are driven by an impulse to touch people’s lives, whereas some in the music business are motivated by less altruistic factors.
Anyway, I make kind of a big deal about it here because as much as fans might hope all bands are cool and down to earth and appreciation is ubiquitous, it is not, and I know I have a much more substantive respect for a band when I come to the conclusion that they are good people, and everything I’ve come to know about Metric makes me sure that this is so. And it makes me that much more of a fan and supporter of their work and efforts.
Also by way of a little background for those not familiar with the band and their work… I regarded them very highly in my 2012 Year in Review article, naming their show in Las Vegas as my #9 Concert of the Year, “Youth Without Youth” as my #5 Single of the Year, and Synthetica as my #2 Best Album of 2012 (and their best album to date).
Since my 2012 Year in Review is quite long, here is my review of their album below:
It comes across to me that a lot of thought and discussion went into figuring out the track order on the album, as it all flows wonderfully. “Artificial Nocturne”… I can’t imagine any of the other songs adequately painting (with sound) the atmosphere and world that these songs “live” in… it gets your attention, and like a lot of Metric songs, goes through changes quite nicely, and that’s something that this band does with the best of them (from New Order to Nirvana to The Pixies) – taking the listener on a journey and melding together different bits of music to make something really magnificent. And I fell in love with “Artificial Nocturne” at first listen, and remember wondering if they opened with the best, or if I was in for something incredibly special, and it proved to be the latter as the opener melted into the second track (and first single) “Youth Without Youth” – an even more incredible song. With it, Metric proves that you can create music that is super catchy and hooky without being saccharin and distorting raw vocals into some Garmin GPS-sounding Auto-Tune mess. Emily Haines has an amazing voice that doesn’t sound like or mimic anyone else – her voice breathes into any song and you immediately recognize that gift as hers… and James Shaw’s guitar perfectly compliments her heading vocals through this and every song on the album.
Like that first transition, “Youth Without Youth” blends magically into “Speed The Collapse”, and the consistency of the beat makes you feel like everything is quite upbeat and going somewhere, even though there are elements to the songs which run counter to that… but it’s all cohesive and yet different song to song, just like any classic album is supposed to be. The funny thing is, the next song, “Breathing Underwater”, for me sounds like a song that is almost anthemic, and I could see them playing this to a huge stadium, even though they aren’t really that kind of band. It’s layered and builds in the same way you might expect with Coldplay during a peak moment in one of their huge shows. So imagine my surprise, during that fateful “Not So Silent Night” show in Oakland a few weeks ago, when Emily and James played this song stripped. Again, I think it really speaks to and illustrates the brilliance of their songwriting, that they can produce a brilliant, polished, electronic-driven track in the studio, and, on the fly, play it acoustic and deliver it in such a totally different form.
“Dreams So Real”, which follows, is almost like a companion piece to “Breathing Underwater”, whereas the former is uplifting, “Dreams So Real” kind of brings you back down to earth and is a bit more solemn. And this is immediately contrasted with the more playful “Lost Kitten” that follows. In the context of the album, this song is very much stripped down to a more basic beat and illustrates Emily’s incredible vocal ability to bring the song to life almost exclusively on the merits of her vocals. This song proves the old adage, “less is more”, also can apply to music.
“The Void” is now among my very favorite Metric songs, and is really tied with “Youth Without Youth” for my favorite on this album, and another one that shows how this band defies broad genres of music and really breaks the mold with preconceptions of music being made today. They have the ability to create this catchy music that demands repeat listen, yet they don’t sound like anyone else. They really understand how to create music that connects with their audience immediately, and I get the sense that they don’t struggle to find the hook, but that is what they build on. The title track, “Synthetica” for me is really all about the chorus, as it is faster and there is not as much to sonically grab onto in the first half of the song other than the chorus – I actually preferred the stripped down version played live a few weeks ago (which you get a sense of a little after two minutes into the studio version, which is what totally makes the song for me – that transition). And again, the layout of the tracks on this album work perfectly, as the next song, “Clone”, is more of Metric in a stripped down mode, so you have that nice rise and fall on the song level and the song by song level.
For me, the one song that didn’t click with me was “The Wanderlust”, which feels a little like a mismatched puzzle piece in a brilliant mosaic, but I guess you could say it adds character. Then the album proper closes out strong with “Nothing But Time”, which nicely bookends with “Artificial Nocturne” in many ways, and has a similar feel to the song in the midpoint, “Breathing Underwater”.
The “Deluxe” version of the album includes five bonus tracks – acoustic versions of “Youth Without Youth”, “Breathing Underwater”, “Synthetica”, “Gimme Sympathy” (from Fantasies, and which of late has served as the show closer in stripped down form in their live gigs, and “Strange Weather” (which is a cover of the Tom Waits song). The “Deluxe” version is obviously the one to get (and costs the same as the normal version on iTunes).
In any event, I obviously love this band, their music, and in particular, this album, and can’t recommend it enough.
So the concert last night… awesome. As mentioned, I love Mondavi center with it’s low, wide and deep stage. I also love that it’s black, which might sound silly, but the black stage and black background allows the artists to really stand out, especially with good lighting. And while Mona took advantage of the excellent house lighting, Metric powered up their own lighting set up, which is awesome. Everything about their lighting, their staging, the performance… it all really suits the music.
As is typical, the band opened with the same three songs reflecting the opening of Synthetica – “Artificial Nocturne”, “Youth Without Youth”, and “Speed The Collapse”.
Emily is of course a joy to watch as she performs on stage, at times on keyboards, and other times bouncing and dancing around the stage (with some of her moves, as times Michael Jackson crossed my mind!). And somehow she always has the coolest shoes, and with last night’s choice, they were quite cool with all the lighting changes. My friend even suggested I get a good photo of them.
Metric always seems to have the sound dialed in well, with good, clean separation so the vocals and all the sounds can breathe.
I was standing pretty much between James and Emily’s center mic, so had a good perspective to see them at work. I love to watch James on guitar, as he is a phenomenal player, and since I have no musical talent or ability, it is mesmerizing watching him pull the familiar sounds from the studio work out of his instrument on stage.
Since I do photography and am always trying to obtain as much information about a show in advance as possible, I had kept a bookmark on StubHub for the front row for this show (which was how I obtained my own ticket), and there was a block of most of the front row still on sale on the site even after doors opened, so I was interested to see how it filled out. A young woman who I’ve seen at many local shows waiting in line for different artists saw me and came and found me, along with her friend, so I let her know of that front row situation, so she was able to take advantage of it and move up one row, as did a few others… and I’m pretty sure all were fans who bought tickets nearby on the aforementioned Metric site pre-sale, so it was a great group of real fans all up front and happy to be there, which was awesome.
My one mistake with the show… when I go out to these shows and do reviews, I always try to get a bit of dialogue recorded to quote from in my article later, for flavor and context and tone… and while Metric was all business leading up through and into the encore, when Emily and James were positioned to do their acoustic rendition of “Gimme Sympathy”, Emily went into a bit about walking down the dirt road, and I thought I had set my iPhone to record part of this to quote from later, but I must have hit the record button twice before putting back in my pocket, so captured none of it. And I don’t really like to paraphrase, but suffice it to say, it was really, really funny. Which is not surprising, as I think her and James are quite brilliant artistically, so that would fit (especially if you read my Colin Hays review from a few weeks ago, and my theory about the connection between quick wit and comic ability and intelligence). But you can get a bit of it here, courtesy another fan who shot some video with his phone and put on YouTube (and thanks to him, as it helped with my quote in the opening).
Below is a photo of Emily’s set list…
- Artificial Nocturne
- Youth Without Youth
- Speed the Collapse
- Dreams So Real
- Help I’m Alive
- Breathing Underwater
- Sick Muse
- Dead Disco
- Black Sheep
- Monster Hospital
- Gold Guns Girls
- Gimme Sympathy (acoustic)
My hope is that someday I’ll attend a Metric concert in which they play “Lost Kitten” and “The Void” (both from Synthetica) in concert… love those songs!
Below are some photos of Metric performing on stage (click on any image for higher resolution copy of each photo):