Metric, Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains, and Band of Skulls @ Wiltern, 6/8/09
There were rumors circulating inside the Wiltern on Monday night that some people had shown up only to catch the sinister blues of Band of Skulls on their last night in Los Angeles before dashing across town to see another show. High praise, considering their album Baby Darling Dollface Honey only came out in March, tickets were $33 a pop, and the Band of Skulls went on at 8 (which meant getting there in rush hour traffic which is nothing to sneeze at). But man, oh man, was it worth it. The sparse outfit which included only a bassist, guitarist, and drums set the world on fire with their dark dirty London blues.
In a traditional black leather jacket, lead guitarist Russel Marsden smoked and sizzled with hair raising riffs which complemented Emma Richardson's smoky voice exactly. With her husky timber reminiscent of Joan Jett or Chrissy Hynde, and his slightly high resonance, their harmonies had a slightly androgynous quality. As if their voice belonged not to them, but to some multigendered seducer who was going to swoop down and fuck you senseless, no matter what your gender, sexual preference, or moral code as Matt Hayward's heavy, monster drums kept time. What I’m saying is that it felt good.
Ironically, this was the exact feeling that the next band, Sebastian Grainger and the Mountain, was hopelessly trying to create. I know this because they had labeled themselves “Fuck-Rock” under their music description on their MySpace page. A more accurate description would probably be “Pity-Fuck-Rock.” You know the kind of music that your friend makes you listen to because they’re worried that their band isn’t very good. We’ve all been there. You put it on in your car and assure them repeatedly that, “No, this is awesome,” though secretly longing for the moment when their gone, so you can throw it in the backseat and forget it ever happened.
To be fair, Sebastian Grainger and the Mountain looked really promising when they strode out on stage. Clad from head to toe in virginal white jumpsuits, the members of the band looked depending on their confidence level either like a mass of Elvises (Elvi?) or a group of painters who had decided to form a rock band. In case anyone was confused, Sebastian Grainger had felt the need to write SG on his back along with a giant black splotch on his left buttock. It appeared as if he had sat on a tiny squid.
However, their intriguing clothes did not, as so often happens, translate into any interesting music. The set was comprised into simple love songs with inoffensive themes, dressed up with odd synth squelches that the keyboardist threw in to add some edge. Grainger’s high voice ended most of his lyrics in an odd yowl, the kind that bad guys make when they’re pushed off balconies in the movies. Above all there was this lingering air of desperation that hovered over the Wiltern, which may have been rooted in his banter. “We’re from Toronto. You guys are from Los Angeles. This doesn’t mean we can’t be friends,” he reassured us before launching into "Who Do We Care For," a song that delves into why people just can’t get along. You know, the kind of stuff Jason Mraz would think was deep and insightful. I mean their single (and most promising tune) is entitled "Love Can Be So Mean." One can only hope Grainger will change the name of his band to Captain Obvious and the D’Ohs.
This is a message to all of those who left after Band of Skulls: You fools! You missed a great show. Yes, okay, when I arrived, I wasn’t sure whether or not Metric was worthy of the Wiltern, either. The Fonda sure, the Palladium okay, but to play the Wiltern you need to put on a heck of a show. And by gum, the sparkly Canucks did not let me down.
Supporting their latest disk, Fantasties, Metric live up to their name as risk takers. In the words of a much wiser man, NPR DJ Stephen Thompson has compared their songs to candy colored insects, which I think is apt. One the surface they're all sunshine and good times, but if you listen closely you'll find some deliciously snarky lyrics. Sample lyric: "All the gold and the guns and the girls in the world, couldn’t get you off."
Metric is one of those rare bands in which their album is just a blueprint for their musical ambition. Like the first time you see plans for a house, you can only kind of imagine what it’s going to look like. But then when it’s built, you gasp at the majesty that you couldn’t visualize on the paper. Metric’s live show is like that house that you couldn’t see. It’s bigger, larger, and more complex than the album. The drums are enormous, the guitar solos are hard and enormous, and the synth glitters.
A vision of sparkling gold, lead singer Emily Haines, exploded on stage, with a frantic energy that reminiscent of a young Debbie Harry. She was up, she was down, she’s dancing, and head banding (which in a strapless dress is no small feat), and making sure everyone knew that she was putting every ounce of her being into that number. And it was irresistible. You couldn't help but head bang along and jump up and down along with this shimmery visionary on stage. The rest of the band were adorned with a more somber black where no less impressive. They made the industrial sounding “Help Me I’m Alive!” their current single, sound magnificent in the giant theater. The only way for that song to be heard is when your whole body is vibrating with the refrain “My heart is beating like a hammer. Beating like a hammer!" With the bass beating down on you and you physically feel like you're being pounded to death with a hammer of noise.
I only wish more bands would take the time that Metric did to write this album. Four years was totally worth the wait because they were really excited about every song that they performed. There were no filler moments at the Wiltern. It was all gold.