Synth-rockers Metric put on an electrifying show at Ottawa’s TD Place on Saturday.
Touring in support of their album Art of Doubt, the Toronto band showcased their distinctive hybrid of punk rock, indie, and new wave with fan favourites from throughout their career.
Metric kicked things off on a lively note with “Dead Disco,” an early track that had lead singer Emily Haines playing the world-weary punk. “I know you tried to change things,” she sang wearily, lamenting the proliferation of “Dead disco / dead funk / dead rock-n-roll.”
They then switched things up with “Twilight Galaxy,” a sparse Fantasies-era track that set aspirational lyrics (“Did they tell you, ‘you should grow up’ when you wanted to dream?”) to mellow synths straight out of an 8-bit video game. Their live version concluded with a surprisingly heavy guitar solo that eased the transition into the anthemic “Synthetica,” which was in turn followed by recent single “Risk.”
The best Metric songs have an air of discontent – an unease behind the uplift of their irresistible synth hooks and grandiose arena rock choruses. Their minimalist poetry took on an extra poignancy in concert, with Haines frequently exhorting the audience to live authentically and reject the artificial. Introducing Synthetica track “Breathing Underwater,” she encouraged fans to find their own truths within the song’s enigmatic lyrics, which – depending on your perspective – could be about achieving your wildest dreams (“Is this my life? Am I breathing underwater?”) or drowning.
“When you come to a Metric show, what you want is some fucking catharsis,” Haines said. “There’s no pasted-on smiles.”
This intermingling of vulnerability and defiance was represented by the band’s blend of moody electronica and energetic, guitar-driven rock.
The dramatic “Art of Doubt,” which mixed punk-rock energy with gothic melodrama, was contrasted by earnest synth ballad “No Lights on the Horizon.” Gently motivational Pagans In Vegas standout “Cascades” shimmered like a disco ball before giving way to industrial-style soloing, leading into Art of Doubt single “Dressed to Suppress.”
Later, founding guitarist James Shaw joined Haines at centre stage for a stripped-down rendition of “Love Is A Place,” a melancholy ballad that closed out their 2003 debut. This wistful moment was juxtaposed by the alienation of “Underline the Black” (which boasted a withering Leonard Cohen-esque refrain of “I’m not sorry, I don’t think if you that often.”)
Haines introduced their nostalgic breakout single “Gimme Sympathy” by reminiscing on Metric’s early days opening for Mississauga rockers Billy Talent. She recalled initially struggling to win over Billy Talent’s rabid punk fanbase, to the point that singer Ben Kowalewicz would have to beg the audience to go easy on them: “Please don’t throw bottles at Metric.”
The band closed with two more Fantasies favourites, “Sick Muse” and “Gold Guns Girls,” before returning for a four-song encore.
After skewering a socialite on “Dark Saturday,” they provided another blast from the past with manic Live It Out single “Monster Hospital” and 2010’s “Black Sheep,” a punchy kiss-off written for the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World soundtrack.
Towards the end of the set, Haines paused once again to denounce the current era of “build your fucking brand or whatever.”
“Have a friend – have a good time,” she pleaded. “If you want to do something with your life, do it now.” They underlined that message by closing, appropriately, with “Now or Never Now.”
Opening act: July Talk
July Talk’s stark opening set felt like the hard rock equivalent of watching a film noir.
Equal parts infectious and abrasive, the alt-rock band’s harsh music is built around the contrast between the gruff growls of singer/guitarist Peter Dreimanis and the high-pitched, siren-like voice of Leah Fay. The two leads have an electric stage presence together, their frenetic yet fluid movements capturing the psychosexual tension of songs like “Touch,” “Picturing Love,” and “Lola + Joseph.”
After kicking things off with energetic rocker “Headsick,” they followed with single “Guns and Ammunition” and “Now I Know,” which was as danceable as it was discordant.
With soothing singing by Fay and a deceptively lullaby-ish melody, new track “Pay For It” could have been mistaken for a torch song; according to Fay, though, the tune is actually “about toxic masculinity.” Later track “The News” was similarly misleading, draping drippingly sarcastic lyrics in sunny power chords.
The best moments, though, came when the band let their rock-n-roll roots shine through. “Summer Dress” was a hard-edged, bluesy rocker, and “The Garden” was a wild rockabilly number which had Fay writhing onstage beneath a giant inflatable moon.
They closed with a hat trick of “Beck + Call,” the voyeuristic “Picturing Love,” and finally “Push + Pull,” during which the stage was bathed in rainbow spotlights. This was the dimly-lit show’s first flash of colour, and it felt like the cast of The Maltese Falcon had been picked up and dropped into Oz.
Opening act: Murray Lightburn
The Dears’ frontman Murray Lightburn got the evening off to a mellow start with a set of plaintive folk songs, showing off his soulful voice and bittersweet lyrics with just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment.
Line-up: Murray Lightburn / July Talk / Metric
Date: Saturday, April 27/2019
Venue: TD Place, Landsdowne Park, Ottawa ON