As I headed to midtown Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom on March 11 to see the legendary Canadian synthpop foursome Metric, featuring opening indietronica act Joywave, I was prepared to be potentially disappointed by the hyped-up main act and impressed with the lesser-known openers — but I experienced the opposite.
Metric‘s latest album Pagans in Vegas, released September 18, sounds like it could be a video game soundtrack, with heavy electronic beats and seemingly auto-tuned singles like “The Shade” and “Cascades.” The sassy, rock-influenced Emily Haines I heard and fell in love with on Live It Out and Grow Up and Blow Away is absent from the new album’s robotic tracks. The rest of Spotify seems to feel similarly: Of the band’s top five most-played songs, three are from its 2009 album Fantasies and only one is from Pagans in Vegas.
While Metric seemed to be on the decline, Joywave was on the rise, attaining fame for its collaboration on Big Data’s “Dangerous” and critical acclaim for danceable singles like “Tongues” and “Destruction.” With hints of Phoenix, MGMT, The Shins, and CAKE, they sound like every band I listened to in college blended together in a totally new way. They mentioned during Friday’s concert that things were “going really well” for them, with an upcoming performance on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
But their performance was underwhelming. The same way lead singer Daniel Armbruster’s stage presence couldn’t fill the large concert hall, the instrumentals overpowered his voice to make even some of the catchiest melodies hard to decipher. The band members came off like five emerging musicians star-struck to be sharing a stage with Metric. Nevertheless, their excitement was contagious, with the audience bouncing up and down during “Tongues.”
But Metric’s performance was energizing on another level, with nostalgic, true-to-the-recording renditions of “Help I’m Alive” and “Gimme Sympathy” and an a cappella intro of “Raw Sugar.” Even in the newer, more electronic numbers, Haines’s voice projected a surprising authenticity, which was magnified when she invited audience members to accompany her on stage as she sang “Dreams So Real,” emphasizing the line, “to believe in the power of girls.”
You might not think of Haines as music’s biggest girl-power icon, but she’s aligned herself with feminism in several interviews. Songs like “Patriarch on a Vespa,” “Poster of a Girl,” and “Glass Ceiling” paint bleak portraits of our culture and call out its misogyny. Haines recently told Paste that she put feminism up front in Pagans in Vegas by starting the album off with “Lie Lie Lie” and “Fortunes.”
Perhaps it’s because Metric has such broad appeal that all the patriarchy-smashing has slipped under the radar. Whatever the reason, based on Hammerstein Ballroom’s fist-pumping fans, Metric mania isn’t slowing down any time soon, and hopefully, neither is Haines’s feminism.