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Melissa Fossum

The moment the word “escape” crossed Emily Haines’ lips, it’s hard to go back.

In concert Wednesday, as it is on the band’s latest release Synthetica, “escape” comes in the first verse of the first song. If there’s a time to think about what that means, it comes later, after the waves of Metric’s urgent dance-rock have faded into ear-ringing memory.

That’s what Haines and Metric accomplish so well, better live even than on record, giving a sense of escape, of abandon, of rebelliousness, of alienation and letting it seep just under the skin. It’s like a drug you don’t know you’ve taken.

The Canadian quartet — Haines on vocals and keyboard, guitarist James Shaw, bassist Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key — deals so effectively in big riffs, steady beats and the irresistible vocals of an amped-up siren that it’s difficult at first pass to catch onto everything else.

The slashing guitars of “Youth Without Youth” perhaps mask a bit the flirting-with-danger impulsiveness of the lyrics. Pulsating and spacey, the song nevertheless drives that same message home.

Playing mostly from Synthetica, Metric accented the music with a nimble light show. Bursts of light emanated from stacks of bright neon squares, ever shifting colors and even pulsating themselves. It was a frame that helped deliver the sci-fi undertones that run through the album.

Fantasies also got plenty of attention from the band. The crowd boosted “Help I’m Alive” with fist pumping to the lines “My heart keeps beating like a hammer.” “Stadium Love” closed out the set, with Haines stage presence easily crossing into arena level.

Before the encore, the band’s light show morphed into a giant digital clock, counting down the seconds until the band returned. It was a clever and artistic way of presenting the encore, especially when the numbers went red and the crowd joined the countdown at T-minus 10 seconds.

Metric leapt into the harsh-edged “Black Sheep” before reaching back a few years to Live It Out for “Monster Hospital.” With Haines on electric guitar, the band rocked “Gold Guns Girls.” The 90-minute show ended with an acoustic duo version of “Gimme Sympathy,” proving the old adage that a great song will sound great no matter how you play it.

Set list:

Artificial Nocturne
Youth Without Youth
Speed the Collapse
Dreams So Real
Help I’m Alive
Breathing Underwater
Sick Muse
Dead Disco
Stadium Love

Black Sheep
Monster Hospital
Gold Guns Girls
Gimme Sympathy (acoustic)

Critics Notebook:

Last Night: Metric with Half Moon Run at the Marquee Theatre

The Crowd: Metric clearly pulls in a wide variety. Hipsters outranked the middle-aged, but not by nearly as much as I would’ve guessed. And any night the Been-There-Done-That crowd shows up in good measure, you can trust it’s going to be a great show.

Overheard: “We need to have a night when we call a taxi and just go out.” “No shit!”

Random Notebook dump: Am I the only non-epileptic who detests strobe lights?

Published Oct. 11, 2012 in the Phoenix New Times.

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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