Music scenes can create fascinating ecosystems, with bands cross-pollinating amongst themselves. Seattle’s grunge scene had multiple examples, such as Temple of the Dog (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam) and Mad Season (Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees). Near the turn of the millennium, closer to home in Toronto, a similar petri dish of musical cultures spawned Broken Social Scene. A product of multiple up and coming acts, including Stars and Feist, no band from that scene has had more success than Metric.
Finding early success through regular airplay on Much Music (at a time they actually aired music videos), they hit their stride with 2009’s certified platinum Fantasies, the first of four straight Top 10 albums released in the past decade. With multiple Junos and a dozen Top 10 singles (five of which hit #1), Metric has established themselves as a pillar of Canadian rock.
The downside of having so much success is that Metric has been busy touring the world and hadn’t had a chance to tour across Canada until this year. In particular, up until last Saturday, they had only played a one-off show in Ottawa in 2017 as part of an NHL sponsored event. Before that, you’d have to go way back to 2013 when Metric played a few songs on Parliament Hill for Canada Day. After having played every Bluesfest from 2005 to 2012, the lack of Metric shows since then had been rather stark. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Saturday night at TD Place was an absolute love-in as Ottawa rekindled its relationship.
After Murray Lightburn set the stage for July Talk to blow the roof off with one of their most elaborate sets ever in Ottawa (complete with a giant inflated glowing moon). Fans were treated to all the familiar cuts from their two albums, as well as a few new songs yet to be released, including surefire hits “The News” and “Pretender.” Expect those on radio airwaves this summer.
The crowd’s energy was still buzzing by the time Metric took the stage, and exploded as the band kicked off with early hit “Dead Disco.” The mix of old and new was a constant theme throughout the set, as they played tracks from each of their albums. Unfortunately, in order to make room for songs from their latest release, Art of Doubt, a few fan favourites didn’t make the setlist, including “Youth Without Youth”, “Stadium Love” and early hit “Combat Baby.” However, the fact that the new songs are strong enough to deserve key set slots, including the encore opener (lead single “Dark Saturday”) and closer (current hit “Now or Never Now”) is a testament to just how good their latest album is. They’re just at a point in their career where they have too many great songs to fit into a set.
Singer Emily Haines dazzled as she swayed from sweetly sung high notes to harsher lines passionately delivered with the punky flavor that imbued their early releases, all while covering every inch of the stage multiple times. She had the crowd in the palm of her hand from start to finish, sharing the spotlight on occasion with lead guitarist Jimmy Shaw and his technically proficient and emotionally on point solos.
We managed to chat with Shaw on an off day before embarking on the second leg of their cross Canadian tour.
OSBX: Thanks for taking the time to chat Jimmy. Now that you’ve finished the first half, how has the Canadian tour been going so far?
Jimmy Shaw: It’s going great! We’re having a really good time. We did a long U.S. tour a couple of months ago, which ended about three weeks before this one started, also with July Talk, and another band called Zoé out of Mexico. So we were with July Talk, but there was this other band, and we were in the U.S., so there was a whole different feeling. This one being in Canada, and being just us and July Talk, and now with the addition of Murray Lightburn who’s opening the show, it’s just a really cool bill. It’s great to see July Talk be able to bring their whole production, and they just put on such an amazing show. We’re all just having a really good time. It’s really awesome.
OSBX: Having chatted with Peter (Dreimanis of July Talk), he gave off the same vibe, that the American tour was very different, first with the size of the venues giving the show a different feel to it.
JS: It does, and it’s strange. The music industry is a weird industry. I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s set up perfectly. But we played a couple of places in the U.S. like Houston for example that was about 3,800 capacity or so, which isn’t really that different than a lot of the arenas, but it’s just set up so differently, and the fact that arenas are made for sports, and concert halls are made for concerts. A lot of these shows there may be 3,800 people there, but it’s in a hockey rink and it’s just a completely different feeling. You have to bring in everything, the production is entirely up to you, everything rolls in with trucks, there’s so many more people that are active in just setting up the show and then tearing down the show, because it’s not what the room is generally used for. So it’s just a very different energy playing hockey rinks. I really like it. I like that it’s sort of a blank canvas and you bring in the entire thing, and then roll out with the entire thing.
OSBX: With your style of music, with the big anthemic songs, having that extra space seems well suited for that type of stage.
JS: It does, and it feels like there’s more space to fill with energy as well. It requires a different thing. So you end up performing in a different way. At least that’s what we do. It’s really rewarding. For us, we only get to tour Canada once every album cycle, so every three years or so. I think a lot of that is because we’re doing arenas, and you can’t really come through and do that every year. You have to let it build. So for us, it’s a really short, very intense payoff, for all the other stuff that we do.
OSBX: Looking back, the last time you came through Ottawa, other than the one-off celebration event, the last time was in 2013, since the last cross Canada tour went through Kingston and not Ottawa.
JS: Yup. The thing with arenas is you can’t always get the ones you want. There’s sports teams to contend with since they own the building, so it’s much more difficult to route. I remember that being issues with Ottawa in the past. Also, up until around 2013, we played Bluesfest every single year. I think we played it ten years in a row [editor’s note: Metric did in fact play every year from 2005 to 2012, setting the record for consecutive appearances at eight]. It was almost like an error in booking. I’m not sure anybody was supposed to play the same festival ever ten years in a row. But it was just such a thing for us, and we just loved playing it so much. In 2005, we were on a small stage at two in the afternoon, and by the end, we headlined. To have that rise be documented, it’s like having a mark on the wall for your kid as they grow up, marking their height. Actually seeing your growth every single year in a clear mirror like that was such a cool thing. But that also had an effect on how we would play Ottawa outside the festival, because the festival would want us just to do that.
We’re really happy to be doing it this time, and when we’re booking this tour, because of the nature of it being Metric and July Talk, and it being a very Canadian thing, and having lots of Canadian pride in it, we really went the whole distance in trying to make sure we covered as much of the country as possible. It was very important to me too, to try and play everywhere. There were extensive conversations about how to get to Yellowknife. Of course, that got shut down, but I tried! I think everyone on the business side was indulging me a little by not telling me that it’s not going to happen on the first phone call, but they probably got off the phone and all called each other and went “it’s not going to happen, but let’s just let him believe for a minute”.
OSBX: You’ve been around for a little over fifteen years now, same lineup, and you’ve seen the shift in the Canadian music industry, from when you broke through on MuchMusic when they still played music videos. We’re starting to see a rebirth of Canadian rock after bands like yours carried the flag over the last decade. From your perspective, what’s it like seeing that fresh blood coming into the music scene?
JS: I think it’s great, and it’s something that we were waiting for, frankly. There was a generation that happened for all of us in the early 2000s. Ironically, it was kind of lead by Murray Lightburn with the Dears. I knew about the Dears when it was still the 90s. And then all of a sudden it was 2002 and they were killing it, and it was the beginning of Metric and Stars and Broken Social Scene, and out of that Feist and Death From Above and all those people, and then Arcade Fire and all of that. And then, it felt like a long period of time went by and we were wondering who’s coming up next? Now it does feel like some people have emerged from that time. One of the reasons why we wanted July Talk on the bill was that they are of that generation.
As good as the show was, fans will be hoping for a much shorter wait for a return date this time around.