Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
El Rey - January 23, 2007
Live Review by Alexis Roberts
I was lucky enough to be able to see the very last show of Emily Haines’ first official solo tour. Although she didn’t really show it—nor did The Soft Skeleton or The Tall Firs—the emotions had to be running high.
The El Rey is a great venue because of the odd architecture featuring three tiers for standing, making it easier for everyone to see. For the tour, Haines & The Soft Skeleton were requesting to play in venues that they could set up like theatres; when we got into the El Rey, there were rows of plush chairs from wall to wall. It was like some sort of gift from God himself. A seated show! The gig wasn’t incredibly crowded, but all of the chairs did fill up and eventually there were people in the back who weren’t lucky enough to get a chair. But the theatrical atmosphere really added a nice touch to the set.
The band that opened was Brooklyn natives, The Tall Firs. Here’s all I’m going to say: my first impression of their music is that it's boring as hell. Two guitar players (who were incessantly switching guitars every song) and a dude who plays drums with a bow, yes a bow like for a stringed instrument. Their stage banter, however, was golden. I was just waiting to hear what they would say next. Clearly a little bit drunk (or something), they were talking as if amongst themselves about dance parties, hookers, booty jams from Detroit and valet parking. I thought they were hilarious; nobody else really got them, though.
After a quick tease with the lights and stage curtains opening and closing for no reason, Haines’ band took the stage, followed by a string quartet, and then Emily Haines herself. She is normally dressed up in some kind of cute skirt or dress with high heels and stuff, but that night she just wore a pair of skinny jeans, black shirt and cardigan, a big necklace and some plain shoes, but still managed to look fantastic. She is a petite lady and all of the dark color on her clothes almost allowed the stage to swallow her, but her presence is very big and she couldn’t be missed.
The band played every song off of Knives Don’t Have Your Back, consecutively. Behind Emily and her electric piano were projections of work by Canadian indie film director Guy Madden. They were stark black and white images that reminded me of winter and seemed to mesh well with the music and the atmosphere, despite being a bit distracting.
I didn’t even hear the string quartet kick in until the fifth song, “The Lottery.” On the record, the first minute or so sounds almost like it is a showtune. There are strings on the recording as well, but for some reason, my God, that string quartet on stage made that song into something new and even more amazing. It gave it a fourth dimension, making a song about burning bras suddenly ten times sadder than before. Haines spoke to the crowd about not wanting to be sad any more and that is why she wrote this album. “We just want to play this record and make you feel better,” she said, but I think playing these songs makes her feel better as well. As the whole motive behind releasing Knives was the death of Haines’ father, it seems like many of the songs would be extremely close to her heart.
“Reading in Bed” was another one of the songs that stood tall amongst the others. She added a second verse: “There is a house in New Orleans/ they call the rising sun/ when will you escape?” That haunting verse fills a big void from the recorded version.
Her overall performance was flawless, and always is. I have seen her perform with Metric before and as frontwoman of that band, she exudes nothing but confidence and energy. Metric is always so clean, well rehearsed and precise, so it was nice to see her do a casual performance. She sat at her piano with imperfect posture and had a shy, almost childlike presentation as she would sing her own songs. Her speaking voice and singing voice sound exactly the same: beautiful. It’s small but lovely. Sometimes you have to strain to hear her when she sings in a whispering tone. It‘s the equivalent of a tiny light shining in the distance that you have to squint to see.
The “encore,” which wasn’t really an encore because the lights never went down, was superb. The Tall Firs returned (each with a bottle of Jameson in hand) to play their song “The Woods.” It was a very, uh, inebriated version. Then everyone hugged and left the stage, except for Haines, who proceeded to cover “Expecting to Fly” by Neil Young. When that song was over, she gave a victorious fist pump in the air, thanked everyone for coming, and walked off into the wings.
I sincerely hope she is able to balance a steady solo and Metric career because her songs need to be heard. They are intelligent and mysterious, yet still open to interpretation. Not only that, but you can’t take your eyes off of her when she is performing; even her own guitarist stood awestruck watching her play during “Winning.”
Metric - Live - March 23, 2006
Metric - Live It Out
More by this writer:
The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead
Needle - Songs Your Mother Never Sang You
A Northern Chorus - Bitter Hands Resign
Starless & Bible Black - Starless & Bible Black