My critical assessment of Metric’s Austin City Limits Music Festival set on Saturday night: They are so, so good.
Thank you, I will now collect my local newspaper paycheck for entertainment journalism. And I WILL be counting the zeroes.
To be slightly more serious, it’s hard not to find yourself a little dumbstruck after seeing these Canadian indie gods, such is their well-calibrated power. Metric has been around for a hot minute, fully stars during the great indie-rock boom of the 2000s. They’ve musically mutated several times within their own guitar-and-synths guiding light. And god, they're so kind.
“If you’re up, be up. if you’re down, be down,” singer Emily Haines said before playing the song “Art of Doubt.” “Either way, I wanna hear you.”
I talked with Haines and guitarist Jimmy Shaw before their Weekend One set last Saturday — again, so friendly; lots of jokes about air horns — and Haines got to the heart of the way the band meets their fans where they are.
“As always, we’re just trying to, without overthinking it, just express what we’re feeling and what we’re going through in the moment we’re living in,” Haines said when asked about a song on their latest album, “and hopefully find some solidarity with other people. Really, that’s the same thing we’ve done with every record.”
Even though Haines sang that you should never meet your heroes on set-opener “Breathing Underwater,” can confirm: It’s actually kinda nice, whether in person or watching from the audience. From the moment the band walked onto the VRBO stage for a tour-closing show on Saturday, Haines grabbed a tambourine like it was a sword, her arm thrusting triumphantly in sync with the light show.
“This song is about action,” she said before “Cascades” a couple songs in. “Action! Not words.”
Haines is all action onstage, an irrepressible force with an enraptured audience — jumping, skipping, headbanging, her voice like being stabbed in the heart with gorgeous stained glass, just like it’s always been.
When I try to pluck a word with a higher SAT score than "good" out of the Sunday morning fog to describe Metric’s show, it’s “loud.” Shaw’s T-rex guitars caused small tremors in those tiny bones in your face, launching a Fastball Special off of the steely brawn of Joshua Winstead’s bass and Joules Scott-Key’s drums. Haines sang about crashing and reaching over and over on the fantastic, New Wave-y “Dressed to Suppress.” “Dark Saturday” was a Grim Reaper throwing up a "Wayne's World" rock hand and thrashing his bones back and forth. Also going incredibly hard: fan favorite “Black Sheep,” from the movie “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” (Yes, Haines does keep up with the career of Brie Larson, who played the lead singer of Metric analogue the Clash at Demonhead in the movie, she told me last weekend.)
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As an album, “Art of Doubt” marries the band’s guitar-driven earlier sound and its later full-body embrace of synths quite effectively (and pleasingly to this longtime fan). So it is with the Art of Doubt tour, with “Gimme Sympathy” shimmering under neon and “Now or Never Now” scratching any LCD Soundsystem itch you might have come in with. “The last time I let myself feel this way was a long, long time ago,” she sang. Same, girl.
The dabblers got their singalong sprint of “Help I’m Alive” and “Gold Guns Girls” toward the end. The moon in Zilker Park was a spooky silver thing, not even trying to make a decent show of hiding in the gauzy clouds.
“I hope I helped you, because you certainly (expletive) helped me,” Haines yelled to the audience toward the end of the set.
Very kind. Very good. Very loud.