I can admit a number of things about this show. One, I didn’t think I would get cleared to go shoot. Another, I have been a fan of Death Cab For Cutie since my record store days, where they were filed in the ‘punk’ section and I fell in love with their cut-thru artwork for We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes, which to me was the piece-de-resistance of graphic design in 2000. Finally, I have only seen them once before, largely because I thought seeing them live would be far too devastating for me to handle. I caught their set at a festival a decade ago, and it was so far away I felt a little gypped. So, suffice to say, I was pretty excited to head out to this. Metric was technically headlining, but DCFC was the big draw for me. Metric I have seen before a number of times, but not for probably a decade as well.
I arrived in the nick of time, dodging piles of frat boys and sorority girls in formal dress on their way to the thumping frat house village across the street from the venue out at the University of British Columbia. The show was being held in a sports arena. I’d never been in here before and was anticipating it being kind of like a big gymnasium, but it was actually a pretty good sized hockey stadium. The place was packed, with big lines out front. Shortly though, we were in, awaiting the show. Well, I wasn’t disappointed. DCFC focused more on newer material, as one would imagine with a year-old record still to showcase. Early though, they also dipped back to “Crooked Teeth” off of 2005’s Plans album, and would later revisit that disc with the haunting “What Sarah Said” and “Soul Meets Body.” These guys are from Bellingham/Seattle so it is a wonder we don’t see them up here more often, but singer Ben Gibbard claimed it was nice to be back and that it had been a while indeed, citing our “sweet new PM” as one of the new things since their last northerly visit. Someone on stage droned “Trudeauuuuuu…” to which Gibbard concurred, adding, “I’ve got a crush on that man, not gonna lie.”
Their set list was pretty upbeat for being a band that I know mostly from their really upsetting distant past. It was very loud, and the sound wasn’t the greatest in that stadium, but they worked with what they had. Gibbard whipped his mic cord and hair around, spraying sweat as he did so. The keyboard player (who Wikipedia says is currently a fellow named Zac Rae, but I’m uncertain if that is accurate for this show) was well-dressed but also well-hidden on a riser. The whole band was backed by a massive banner with missing-letter versions of the band name scattered all over it. Mid-set, Gibbard spoke fondly of their old friends in Harvey Danger, a band that took them on some of their earliest tours, and who recently lost bass player Aaron Huffman just this month to respiratory failure. They dedicated a song by them, to them, and launched into “Why I’m Lonely.” They finished the great set with “Transatlanticism” off the album of the same name, and around the crowd, lighters sprang up, followed by the glow of dozens of cel phone flashlights. Then we had a beautifully swift changeover to Metric’s impressive set-up.
Now I know the guy who helps design the amazing lighting for bands like Metric, and he always does crafty and wonderful things, but they really outdid themselves designing this stage. It was a few songs in before those things really shone, but a giant trio of triangle-shaped light fields hung behind the band, occasionally accented by a massive disco ball, and those light fields could do darn near anything. Through the set we were treated to glittery explosions, pulsating pinks, blinding reds, and much more. Up front while shooting, it was really hard to hear singer Emily Haines’ vocals, but once at the back of the room, they sounded a bit tinny. I think it may have just been the stadium. The various keyboards and synths around the stage were decked out in faux fur and a sort of mirror ball covering, Haines herself in black leather. The band is super energetic and fun to watch, but there is something about them that I think I am personally just over in a live setting. Recorded, I really rather dig a lot of their catchy, get-er-moving songs, but here, perhaps the stage overwhelmed them a bit. I’m sure I am in the minority there, judging by the audience’s bonkers dancing. Partway in, Haines started into a speech about girl power and environmental problems as a huge amount of people trickled onto the stage behind her. Then suddenly, she introduced David Suzuki, whose words would surely make us all feel better! Suzuki stepped out and gave a brief, invigorating speech about the power each of us has to make a difference, alternate fuel sources, and a thanks to the crowd for contributing to his foundation, as a dollar from each ticket sold that night was going to it. This all led to the band singing “Dreams So Real” off their album Synthetica, prefaced by a possibly Joni Mitchell-referencing line about how the world is full of parking lots.
Every so often, Haines would leave the stage and pop out in some 70s glam rock accoutrement, either a fringey cape or a glittering scarf of some kind that she would swirl about her as she pranced across the stage. She teased with an a capella snippet of their massive breakout hit “Combat Baby,” but instead carried on into “Gold Guns Girls.” A standout was the grooving, synth-laden “The Shade.” They cracked out the confetti canons in “Celebrate,” much to the utter joy of the crowd, also bringing down that giant disco ball and cranking up some fans to blow Haines’ hair around as she sang. I feel they are a band whose songs are so electronic in nature and require a certain polish that they can’t quite pin down live instead of in the controlled recording environment. That said, the stage production, energy levels and audience interest is through the roof – a long way from simpler club shows gone by. Metric these days is most definitely a show!