The Stills, Metric and Sea Ray at the Metro on May 28 had been marked in my iCal as a "must see" for months - partly because I knew that there was no way anything better could be happening on a Friday night in Chicago, but mostly because I've missed the last four of Sea Ray's gigs in this great city and I was not about to make it five. Having seen Metric and The Stills a number of times before, I knew (or at least thought I knew) what was in store from them, but Sea Ray was a different story. The band's Stars At Noon (Self-Starter) is a gorgeous, dreamy indie rock escape. It's everything you could ever want in a CD for Sunday mornings - a recovery from the beer and cigarettes, loud noise and mindless jabber of the weekend - a CD to sit on your couch, drink tea and ponder the meaning of life to. A variety of obstacles had kept me away from seeing the band on previous occasions, including horrid food poisoning, Grandma's birthday, etc., but each only added to my growing need to see this band. Each time I missed a gig, I'd pull up the CD on my iPod and fall in love with it all over again, saying to myself, "I'm definitely going to catch them next time." After Friday, I can safely say it would take a hell of a lot to keep me away from Sea Ray's next Chicago gig.
The NYC-based band took the stage like a Benetton add - black drummer, asian guitar player, female cello player, skinny white singer, etc. - amongst a backdrop of striking visual images provided by a digital projector. The lush sound obtained on Stars At Noon is captured to perfection by the band in a live setting. Songs like "Sister Gone" and "Revelry" sounded better than even my own high expectations were hoping for. The visuals seemed to be mostly random camera footage, but (as I learned later) it was being mixed live from offstage to interact perfectly with the music, creating an added dimension to the band's multi-layered sound. Sea Ray's set was limited to about a half hour, but all the while, fans slowly trickled into the Metro and were almost immediately sucked into the music. This was a perfect example of why arriving a little early to catch some of the opening band is of the utmost importance. I'm convinced Sea Ray expanded their mailing list substantially on Friday. They were simply great.
Metric was alloted a bit more time to do their thing and damn did they take advantage. I first saw this band at the Bottle Top, an apartment-like place to throw parties above the Empty Bottle on Chicago's West Side. Metric played as part of the industry/hipster monthly shin dig known as "the New New" with no stage and for a crowd of about 50 people. This was about a year and a half ago and everyone in the room was blown away. It was like having the best band no one had ever heard of (they'd never played Chicago before) play a private show for you in your buddies apartment. It was incredible and I had no doubt that I'd be hearing more from them.
Since then, frontwoman Emily Haines has made it her mission to take over the world, at least it seems that way. Emily has become a more aggressive and commanding performer with each show, pushing herself, her band, and the fans to the limits. Part Karen O, part Jim Morrison, Emily struts around the stage gyrating like a robotic Elvis, shaking her hips and kicking her legs - falling on the floor and confronting the crowd at every opportunity. "You're all WHITE!," she yelled at the Metro crowd, and she was right. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Chicago the most segregated city in America and I wouldn't argue that for a second, sadly. Regardless of the ethnic diversity at the Metro that night, Haines continued to chat it up. She told us all that in her perfect world, Metric would be the popiest band on the planet, but not the way that you think. She doesn't want to be Britney. Metric wouldn't change a thing, the world around her would change so that underground music would exist, but a bar would be set so that nothing could be more pop than Metric. The radio would be filled with great music from Metric and other like-minded bands all day and night instead of once a week for an hour on Sunday nights. I've got to say, I don't think that world would be so bad.
The number one priority on her list however, was politics and the future of the world as we know it. During one of Emily's discussions on the importance of voting (against Bush), bassist Josh Winstead held up a sign warning that imperialistic ideas conquer empires - a historically-proven fact. Whether or not anyone was paying attention doesn't really matter, though I hope they were. Talking with Emily after the show, she said that passing up the opportunity to talk about important issues with such a large audience would be irresponsible.
The band itself was as tight as ever. "Succexy," "Combat Baby," "and "Dead Disco" from the band's debut Old World Underground, Where Are You Now, were among the highlights, but it was Emily that had everyone talking after the show. She is taking over the band - stepping out to the front and challenging the audience not only with her music, but with her ideas. She demanded a response from the crowd and was met with both good and bad (one guy yelled to "stop talking"), but I guarantee everyone at the show knows who Metric are, now.
It seems that touring the with the political-minded Metric and hanging out with the equally-as-politically minded Broken Social Scene at SXSW has worn off on fellow Canadians The Stills. Opening earlier this year and last for the likes of Interpol, Ryan Adams and Echo And The Bunnymen, the band, while always musically outstanding, never really took much time to chat with the crowd. Maybe it was because they didn't want to waste any of their abbreviated set with gibber jabber, or because they didn't feel comfortable sharing their views in an opening slot, or maybe it's because things just weren't as fucked up in the world as they are now, but regardless of the reason, the band rarely went beyond saying "thank you" and "we're the Stills." However, the timid, quiet Stills of days past are no longer. The Stills are from Canada, but they realize that it's the US that controls the world and they pleaded with us to get George Bush out of office. In between songs like "Still In Love Song," "Lola Stars And Stripes," and "Love & Death," the band talked about our foreign policy and the dangers of having a madman in the White House. It was definitely a politically-charged evening, but the guys lightened it up a bit when, as they left the stage, they invited the entire crowd to the bar downstairs for drinks.
Some fans and music industry types I'm sure get a little squirmy when bands start to debate politics, but with the country as equally divided as it is, something has to be done. I applaud bands who take it upon themselves to share their ideas with their fans. It's a risk, but one well worth taking. Remember when music became the most common denominator for an entire generation fed up with our misguided involvement in the Vietnam War? Remember how it united the youth of America against a common cause and was responsible, at least in part, for bringing about an end to the conflict? Who's to say we can't do it again? Fuck Britney. Fuck Clay Aiken. Change the world!