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Concert Review: Haines Has Got Your Back

Beautiful Show from Metric...s Lead Singer at Paradise

By Sarah Dupuis

Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton

Paradise Rock Club

Monday, Jan. 8, 2007

I heard through the rumor mill that Emily Haines plays her solo shows blindfolded. The rumor made sense; Haines’ first single since taking a break from her main musical project, “Metric,” is a dizzying piano tune titled “Doctor Blind.” With the help of her backing band, The Soft Skeleton, Haine’s new album, Knives Don’t Have Your Back (2006), is a tight and full set of songs that dips into melancholy, pop, and rock tunes despite the generally minimalist instrumentation. So regardless of whether or not Haines wore the potential eye gear, I was looking forward to an exciting show on January 8.

She opted out of the blindfold, but didn’t disappoint. Haines started the show with “Our Hell,” the opening track from the aforementioned Knives. She then played “Doctor Blind,” the second track, and by the time she’d started “Crowd Surf Off A Cliff” I realized she was playing the album track-by-track in a chronological and complete order. Sometimes, playing an album live in its entirety can limit a performer or bore the audience. Half of the fun of seeing a concert is spontaneity and the sense of accomplishment one feels when a favorite song is performed. Luckily, Haines is talented and fascinating enough a performer to make the repertoire exciting regardless of the order it was presented in. Live, her songs had the naked feel of an intimate performance in a hotel bar, and all the seductive appeal of a chance meeting with a stranger.

In between songs, Haines engaged the audience with a personal rapport akin to conversation over coffee. “Rain’s cool if you’re looking for gloom,” said Haines of the evening’s weather, “which I’m not.” Ironically, most of her songs are just that: gloomy melodies gorgeously decorated with a tight backing band. This tone translated well in the live setting, and she was even more vocally emotive in concert than on Knives. Haines can turn off the rasp that defines her voice when she needs to, and at a few opportune moments she releases an energetic and resounding vocal clarity. Both ways of singing suit her and suited the show.

The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Haines’ performance of “The Lottery,” a cool number that discusses the new crime of “sexual suicide” and begs its audience to “commit it.” “You can commit sexual suicide by blatantly pursuing your desires... or by denying your true passions,” said Haines before plunging into a more staccato, playful version of the song. Although the Soft Skeleton did not play during every part of her set, Haines’ performance was so engaging she was able to convince us that the band is playing with her the entire time.

Although Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton have ended their winter tour, Knives Don’t Have Your Back is in stores everywhere. If you’re into haunting female vocals and tastefully rocking arrangements, make sure to check her out.