Metric / Death Cab For Cutie Rexall Place, Edmonton AB, March 29

Metric / Death Cab For Cutie Rexall Place, Edmonton AB, March 29
Photo: Dana Zuk
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Seeing Metric and Death Cab for Cutie on the same tour poster seems almost like a dream. At first glance, there's maybe not much overlap between the two bands' aesthetic, except maybe in the shared audience both bands have on alternative rock radio.
 
It was equally jarring to see a band as tenured in Canadian indie rock as Metric, the proverbial headliners, come off as meek in this setting, done in by an awful sound mix. It's a shame given how hard they seemed to be working — their ambition has never been more confidently displayed than on stage, the maximalist feel of their music serving as their biggest advantage. Yet they didn't come across as being capable of playing to the audience. Starting off with the left-turn "IOU" failed to give their set the surprising punch it needed, and thanks to the cavernous mix, turned it into a plod.
 
There were moments when they gallantly fought on and you'd see flashes of their brilliance rise to the surface. An extended coda of "Twilight Galaxy" had guitarist Jimmy Shaw leading the charge with a frenetic guitar solo as the rest of the band locked into a tight groove. This segued right into Pagans in Vegas cut "Cascades," which really took on some new life in a live setting, the Depeche Mode-like sonics properly coming through in the loud arena. Haines paraded about in a green cape while the rest of the band wore glasses that eerily glowed in the dark.
 
However, they were still plagued by missteps. Bringing out members of the Edmonton Youth Choir was not enough to save an acoustic rendition of "Dreams So Real," which sounded flattened and tepid, its chorus turning into an awful faux-inspirational mantra. "Sick Muse" didn't benefit in this setting either, nor did "Black Sheep." Metric's been steadily making gains during their career to get to the point where they could regularly play hockey arenas and theatres, so this stumble, not to mention the relatively small turnout there to see it, was unfortunate.
 
Meanwhile, Seattle indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie seemed more interested in being merely capable, playing a convincing and concise set even if it was a little too safe. They didn't suffer the same fate as Metric did sound-wise: Ben Gibbard's vocals were hard to pick out at times but the band sounded spry and effective, the addition of two touring members adding depth to the their stunning atmospherics.
 
Starting off with the moody "No Room in Frame" before going into "Crooked Teeth," with a large backdrop featuring the band's name behind them did the trick. Songs from recent album Kintsugi peppered the proceedings, but it was an airing of "Title and Registration" that reminded us exactly how far Death Cab for Cutie have gone since hitting their peak with Transatlanticism: they hadn't lost their gift for crafting atmospheric, emotive indie rock.
 
"I Will Possess Your Heart" was a stellar example of the darkness they seemed capable of drawing up, a cover of Harvey Danger's "Why I'm Lonely" served as a stirring tribute to their departed bassist Aaron Huffman. Their finale was a one-two punch of "Soul Meets Body" before capping it off with "Transatlanticism," the song ending on a coda revolving around Ben Gibbard trying to strum up a maelstrom of guitar noise as he enthusiastically thanked the audience for dutifully sticking along.