The last time I saw Metric perform was in 2009, when they played at the 500-capacity Manchester Academy 3, headlining a show that didn’t have any support bands (a DJ sat on stage and played records for about an hour). They were hardly an unknown band then, but their continued growth as a band and a brand over the last 3 years – including providing a song for one of the bands in the film ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ and writing the theme for one of the movies in the popular teen series, ‘Twilight’ – has led to their fanbase in the UK swelling considerably.
So this time around not only did they have support in the shape of London electro-pop outfit Chew Lips, but they were playing the 2000-capacity Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Of course, the band have played many large venues and festivals in the past so this was hardly something new for them, but it’s a good illustration of how much their profile has grown on this side of the Atlantic.
Their current tour is, of course, primarily to promote their latest album, ‘Synthetica’; so naturally the set was made up mostly of songs from that record. The band opened with the first – and in my opinion, best – song from ’Synthetica’, ‘Artificial Nocturne’. It’s a slow-builder, harking back to the angsty, new wave sounds of their debut, ‘Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?’ As vocalist Emily Haines sang “I’m just as fucked up as they say” it was fed back to her by the crowd’s youth quotient; presumably the line embodied their own sense of alienation in a world that doesn’t understand them, or maybe they just like being able to shout out swear words and not get in trouble.
I have to admit ‘Synthetica’ is not my favourite Metric album. To me it sounds more like a band influenced by Metric, mimicking their style and only achieving a watered-down pastiche of their sound. It’s good, but it’s not great. The band, however, inject the songs with an energy when playing live, and more importantly looked like they were having fun performing them. That feeds into the crowd, and I found myself, for example enjoying the dirty glam-stomp of ‘Youth Without Youth’ much more in this setting than on record.
There were a few choice picks from their back-catalogue too, of course. These generally got the biggest responses from the crowd, as one might expect; tracks from ‘Fantasies’ from 2009 seemed to go down best with younger fans, while the couple of songs taken from 2005’s ‘Live It Out ‘got the strongest reaction from those a bit longer in the tooth. The band also reached right back to their first album; ‘Dead Disco ‘causing the crowd to jump seemingly as one. It was a thrill to see these songs played live again, but for me it did also serve to underline my misgivings about Metric’s newer material. It just isn’t in the same league.
The band closed their show with an acoustic version of ‘Gimme Sympathy’ from ‘Fantasies’. Metric’s rhythm section – Joshua Whinstead and Joules Scott-Key – left the stage, leaving guitarist Jimmy Shaw and Haines to tell the crowd how much love they had in their hearts and their souls and to thanks them for their support. It was nice, if thoroughly cheesy. The version of ‘Gimme Sympathy’ was also very good, but the sing-a-long the band elicited from the crowd seemed a little forced to me; it almost felt like the band enjoyed hearing their own song sung to them more than the audience liked singing it.
All in all, this was a fun show, with plenty to enjoy and much dancing, jumping and cheering to be found. Occasionally, as with their finale, the band came across as a little self-indulgent – when they played ‘Empty’, one of my favourite songs from ‘Live It Out’, which is what I would consider to be their best album, they extended the middle section to such a degree that it really started to out-stay its welcome, leaving me feeling relieved when they finally brought it to a close. If you’re willing a band to finish playing a song, something isn’t quite right.
Happily these moments were few and far between, and I sensed that my opinion of the show was probably a little harsher than the majority of the crowd. Certainly their was not a single fan in the seated areas of the venue who remained sitting down for the show, and the thunderous applause at the end of every song would suggest that Metric are a band who don’t really need to pay much heed to critics such as myself when it comes to putting on a performance.