METRIC with JASON COLLETT and the LOVELY FEATHERS at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Wednesday and Thursday (September 28 and 29), 7 pm. $20. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
No doubt the gruelling two-month, almost non-stop 47-date tour Metric's embarking on this week - Guelph to Miami and all points in between - to support their stunning new record, Live It Out, will hold its share of adventures. But for your favourite Toronto/Montreal/Brookyln-bred pop-noir purveyors of deceased disco, having Sonic Youth open for them last month at La Route Du Rock fest in Saint-Malo, France, was a pretty heavy milestone.
"Well, technically they didn't open for us," says the band's Juilliard-schooled guitarist and now producer, James Shaw, sitting across the table at a Chinese restaurant. "The way the festival is programmed, the headliner plays at, like, 11, and then the music just kinda keeps going. But, you know, I didn't mind perceiving it like that at the time," he laughs.
"And people said to us that it felt that way, which is nice," adds Emily Haines, the band's vocalist, songwriter and image. "But Sonic Youth are total legends. And it was definitely amazing that we got to be the next band."
With the delivery of their sophomore baby, Live It Out, Metric can feel closer to being total legends themselves. The album is Metric to the power of Metric broader and more detailed than their appealing debut, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? The mix is thicker, and the range of instruments has expanded thanks to the personal studio Shaw and co. built after the success of their first disc.
Listen for a saloon-like upright piano, harmonium and accordion over those peverse pop riffs. Despite the new array of instruments at their disposal, though, the album sounds more cohesive than Old World.
"I actually felt like when we were making this record it was gonna be a lot less cohesive," says Shaw. "It wasn't until we literally finished the entire record and sequenced it in that way that I heard that cohesion. It felt like that almost happened by accident."
"I think it naturally gelled better," says Haines, "because we're all" I dunno how to describe it. It's, like, less, uh, cognitive? The process of fleshing out a song it's the four of us, and we know how we feel."
Haines is back, feeling sharper, sexier and more disturbed than ever. In addition to all manner of new vocal tricks, dangerous new ad libs and half-whispered French parts (she's written an entirely French version of their unreleased EP, Grow Up & Blow Away), lyrically there are enough Haines-isms to keep you cozy all autumn and winter long.
"Looking on the bright side when there is no bright side," she sings in an eerie two-part harmony with herself on the sneering, throbbing Poster Of A Girl. "You hold my hands down I've been bad! I've been bad!" she shrieks on Monster Hospital, with its chorus, "I fought the war, I fought the war but the war won!"
Would it be wrong to assume that after touring the U.S. while George W. Bush was hijacking the country during his second election campaign, Metric have lost even more innocence, grown even more cynical?
"It's the opposite, actually," says Haines defiantly. "Obviously, your perceptions are valid, but definitely lyrically, in every way...."
"Well, the record does start on a more cynical note," Shaw cuts in. "The first two songs have a sort of darker tone to them than the rest of the record, but, you know, yeah we do have cynical elements."
"I don't think it's cynical," insists Haines. "We're just pretending that nothing bad has ever happened."