Yes, I know, setlist counting may not seem the most compelling of critical observations, but I do think you learn something about how a band sees itself in a moment in time from what they choose to play — especially at a festival gig where there's typically the need to shave off a small number of songs from the standard headlining set.
In the case of their Halifax Jazz Festival show, that meant last year's Pagans in Vegas was stripped back to merely its advance singles: a blisteringly electronic-sounding "Cascades" and "The Shade," which received one of the strongest crowd reactions of the night. (Between local radio and CTV fall lineup ads, the song admittedly felt near inescapable in Halifax last August.) And alongside album-opener "Artificial Nocturne," Synthetica too was represented only by its best-known singles, "Youth Without Youth" and "Breathing Underwater," the latter closing the main set with an acoustic sing-along outro.
Throw in a few nods to the band's earlier years like "Empty" and set-opener "IOU," and you're left with Fantasies making up the bulk of the show. The band played five songs from the record — more than a third of the 14-song set — plus a sixth if you count "Black Sheep," originally written for the album and eventually featured on the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World soundtrack.
So be it: Fantasies is not only Metric's best-selling album, it's the one that saw them make the leap to arena/festival mainstay ("Stadium Love," if you will — not played last night, though). What was clear above all else, watching the band perform, was that Metric have every intention of maintaining that status. There were outfit changes to allow vocalist Emily Haines a flowing, neon green cape during "Cascades"; the encore opened with a guitar-only "Gimme Sympathy" perfectly designed for audience participation; Haines put every ounce of energy she had in the "count of three, jump for me" call-to-action in "Youth Without Youth."
Metric have taken to the "rock" gestures of large-scale touring with greater confidence and comfort than any of their peers in the mid-00s Canadian indie rock breakthrough. (Arcade Fire, as one example, are obviously a larger band but with live performances that have tended to dabble more in art-rock playfulness in recent years.) And Fantasies remains arguably the band's best showcase for that, with big hooks and big choruses. Even the lengthy outros the band added Wednesday night to songs like "Twilight Galaxy" — a few too many outros, for my preference — were performed with professional precision, custom-built for maximum crowd impact.
That description sounds about as un-jazzy as it gets for a show at the Halifax Jazz Festival, which is worth noting: though the Jazz Fest has been expanding its genre scope in recent years, booking Metric is probably the farthest it's gone into a more traditional rock festival format. I'm of the mind that growing the festival's audience is great, provided the lineup still supports its traditional focus on jazz, blues, soul, R&B and (increasingly) hip-hop. And while Metric's rock professionalism may come off as a bit clinical at times, it was hard to deny its effectiveness with Wednesday night's crowd.