If you build it, they will come
Hectorad: What Metric does with rock music is a little like what a molecular-gastronomy chef does with food: i.e., if the songs were mushrooms, Metric would give you fungi foam. The band’s set last Wednesday evening was an extraordinary machine—a complex system of backing tracks and vocal effects and looping stations, each song and the space between meticulously planned. It was anything but a simple display of straightforward musicianship, but set aside the electronica and singer Emily Haines, rocking hot pants and a heavily fringed jacket, is an old-school rock ’n’ roller, equal parts irreverent and gamine—like if Robert Plant and Stevie Nicks ever had a daughter (I know, I know, this is how completely unfounded rumors are born).
The band swallowed the first half of the set list like a handful of pills that were the prelude to the party; if the crowd was having fun, the band was having more of it. When it came time for the encore, they appeared to have had such a tremendous time amid the strobe lights and swelling synths that the acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy” hardly seemed like a valid request. But still, the chorus asked a salient question on behalf of the ambitious four-piece: “Who would you rather be? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?”
Before leaving stage, they shook hands with fans in the front row, beaming and waving like they were pretty glad to just be Metric.
But look: As good as the show was, there is one big detail that needs to be addressed. This show—this high-fi grime, life-as-a-video-game rock show—was at the Mondavi Center in Davis. Which is a beautiful venue, of course, and the acoustics are world class. But beautiful is for the symphony, and world class is for Barbara Streisand. They stopped selling booze (and by booze I mean Bud Light, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and wine) at the start of the headlining set, and no beverages were allowed inside. The mostly dry show, along with the expensive-looking fake orchids in the bathrooms, were a real buzzkill on a night where the first words out of the leading lady’s mouth were “I’m as fucked up as they say.” The crowd tried to make do and stood up from their assigned seats the entire night, but the stagnant arrangement really smothered the audience’s palpable desire to emulate Haines’ tambourine moves (they are that impressive).
With a capacity of 1,801, the Mondavi Center is one of the only venues big enough to house a band this size. This is lame, Sacramento. All this talk about a big new sports and entertainment arena, but our small and mid-level music-venue scene does nothing to attract touring bands. For a town so enthused about its local scene, we’ve got only a handful of decent clubs: There’s Ace of Spades, and Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub can pull in some good acts here and there. Every once in a while, the Crest Theatre, like your lovely once-a-spitfire old aunt, will do something unexpected, like host Ryan Adams. But when bigger acts come to town, there are precious few options; it appears that Memorial Auditorium is all but dedicated to cheerleading competitions, and then there’s the soulless echo chamber formerly known as Arco Arena. Davis is a band like Metric’s best bet. Last year, Bon Iver, fresh off a Grammy Award win, played a completely dry show at Freeborn Hall (also in Davis). It was what I imagine concerts at Capital Christian Center feel like. I’m not saying alcohol is requisite to rock ’n’ roll, but … oh, wait—it totally is.
What’s the deal, Sacramento?: Where are you, potential venue owners? LowBrau is a terrific addition to Midtown, but sticking a band in the corner of a concrete room does not a venue make. I haven’t been to the Assembly on 10th and K streets yet, but if it’s part of the Paragary Restaurant Group, how hip can it be?
In 2006, I saw My Morning Jacket at The Fillmore in San Francisco one of the nights the band was filming the Okonokos live album. The stage had been transformed into an eerie, swampy sanctuary for bearded men, and my friends and I watched the concert with our stomachs pressed against the stage, our faces thrust up toward the heat of the lights. It was, dare I say, a magical evening—despite the fact that about halfway through, I fainted on the floor of the ladies’ room (nothing but beer and doughnuts all day will do bad things to one’s blood sugar). I missed a handful of songs, sure, but it was a concert I’ll never forget. This is how things are supposed to be.
I’m not asking for the Fillmore, Sacramento. But I am hoping that the next time Metric comes to town, we all have enough room to do some Stevie Nicks-via-Emily Haines shoulder shakes while drinking a beer. Is that too much to ask?