Concert Review: Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton @ Sixth & I (12/2/17)

Emily Haines
Emily Haines (Photo from FB @EmilyHaines)

Emily Haines’ performance for the DC denizens proved to be a captivating, yet subdued and introspective affair.

With frogs croaking and birds twittering over the sound system, Emily strolled on to the stage with a green suitcase, as if arriving to a hotel from an arduous trip. Donning a bathrobe, she laid down on a chest to sleep, with the insistent ticking of a large white alarm clock.

The alarm blared and she woke to hit it, and with a bang the music kicked off. She laid before us on her back, contemplating life, and began to sing the refrain of “Planets”. She pretended to start her day as she sang, brushing her teeth, getting dressed and moving about the stage, preparing for her upcoming show.

The staged playacting was clever and a unique approach to the first four songs of the show. In between each lyrical entry, her recorded voice (styled as her inner monologue) would read poems or ask weighty life questions. The inquiry, ‘What are you chasing?’ proved to be the theme, and writing songs was one way to preserve her life’s story, yet is that good enough by itself? She likened her songs to ‘living sonic fossils of another time’, and wondered if they will still have value in the future?

Now ready for the show, she sat at the piano and crooned “Wounded”, vocally and hauntingly breaking our hearts with lyrics like ‘the only way to land is to crash and burn’. “Nihilist Abyss” ended the quartet of songs that comprised the opening playacting drama. Each song was about pain and discovery, and the lyric, ‘How can you resent love? Can you prevent any love at all?’, was a fitting coda to that theme.

The inner monologues were no more, and three backing band members entered solemnly, and seated themselves in a semi-circle next to the drums. Emily, who is well-known as the lead singer of Metric and a supporting member of the huge Canadian assemble, Broken Social Scene, styles this solo effort as Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton.

Three of those opening four songs came from her new album, Choir of the Mind. This album is her second under The Soft Skeleton moniker, and third solo effort. DC had the pleasure of witnessing nine (of 13) songs from Choir of the Mind, and although my real enjoyment of her music has typically been the work with Metric, I appreciated this chance to hear a live version of her album, and the carefully crafted performance designed to elicit melancholy and hope at the same time.

They also played seven songs from the first album, Knives Don’t Have Your Back (my new favorite album title). Once the band and Emily were in place, they played four consecutive songs from Knives, including “Our Hell” and “Detective Daughter”, both more rocking and upbeat. Over the course of the evening, they played 17 songs total. The last song of the main set was “Fatal Gift”, where Emily decided to bust out some dance moves as if she was playing a Metric concert, maybe needing to break free, if for a moment, from the subdued elements of contemplative poetry and pensive ballads.

Backing up a bit, I did enjoy the imagery of earlier songs “Doctor Blind”, about self-prescribing drugs, and the syncopation of “Statuette”, with the backing percussion of a maraca and a güira.

Emily ended with a two-song encore, again by herself, putting on the orange sweater seen on the Choir of the Mind album cover (see photo above). With no instruments, and pretending to read a book, she finished up the lovely evening with the title track from Choir of the Mind, wondering ‘If I could go back, if I could reach that feeling again, I would not have let shit-talkers stop me’.

This is a short tour, ending on December 12th in LA, but I hope she returns to DC soon (maybe with Metric?), but she is certainly welcome to explore whichever creative avenue of expression she wants to regal us with!

Crowd Surf Off a Cliff
Nihilist Abyss
Our Hell
Detective Daughter
Mostly Waving
The Maid Needs a Maid
Minefield of Memory
Legend of the Wild Horse
Doctor Blind
Fatal Gift

Strangle All Romance
Choir of the Mind

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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