2023 marks 20 years of Metric music out in the world.  Although the act had existed for a half-decade beforehand, 2003’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? ended up being the debut LP by vocalist Emily Haines, guitarist Jimmy Shaw, bassist Joshua Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key; introducing themselves with a tight, mechanistic, politically-conscious sound which stood out from the rollicking garage throwbacks dominating the indie scene of the era.  Over time, the band, who’d initially gained online attention due to Haines and Shaw’s dalliances with Canadian super-collective Broken Social Scene, managed to break away from that association and carve their own path on the back of a lot of really bloody great songs, an earlier and stronger embrace of synthesisers than their contemporaries, and a canny knack for song licensing.  (That last one being how I first entered the fold; a 1-2-3 punch of Scott Pilgrim, Rock Band 3, and Test Drive Unlimited 2 in late-2010/early-2011 being all I needed to embark on a further dive.)

As such, Metric have amassed quite the cult following, enough to sell out Manchester Academy 2 tonight with plenty of time to spare, and a laundry list of hits across their career to fill out a 90-minute set with little stress.  But Metric like to look forward, so tonight’s show opens with “Doomscroller,” the 10-minute multipart epic which kicks off 2022’s Formentera.  A slow-burning, anxious synthetic thrum eventually exploding into a panicked siren charge before giving way to a lighters-in-the-air swaying coda, it’s a captivating musical encapsulation of that period during lockdown when everything was going to total shit yet it was nearly impossible to tear yourself away from the stream of misery.  Live, the song retains that power but gains an extra uplift during the switch from sharing a room with hundreds of other people arms aloft in communal catharsis, as well as the rougher edges of Haines’ voice with the intentional vocal processing on-record stripped away.

From there, it’s onto two of the most immediate and rock-y songs in their catalogue, “Gold Guns Girls” from 2009’s Fantasies and “Dark Saturday” off 2018’s Art of Doubt, which set off a few pogo groups and full-throated singalongs around the crowd.  Befitting the name, Metric are swiss-watch precise on-record, every instrument designed to click in perfect sync with everything else and polished to a new-wave shine.  On stage, the quartet are still locked-in as all hell but a slight affinity for classic rock also rears its head , primarily from the infrequent but welcome guitar heroics that Shaw can indulge in.  Substituting “Gold”’s outro repetition of the chorus with driving solo, or finger-picking over the post-chorus of “Formentera” in a way not too dissimilar to early-80s Robert Plant.  Mid-set, Haines and Shaw do acoustic renditions of fan-favourites “Twilight Galaxy” and “Combat Baby” which call-back to the project’s earliest days in the late-90s singer-songwriter boom; shorn of all the pristine to-the-bleachers production choices, the strong base songwriting and Haines’ poetic lyricism are put on fuller display.

Haines has been one of indie’s greatest frontpeople for a very long time.  Her voice is a strong, cool, arresting instrument which has not only managed to stay in pristine health over the years but also revealed new contours, as with the falsetto coos on “Black Sheep” and rock ballad weather to the chorus of “Enemies of the Ocean.”  She’s not much for stage banter, beyond noting that it’s been nearly five years since they last played Manchester – “too long,” as she states throughout the evening – but she’s able to control an audience from both presence, dressed in a sparkling jumpsuit and similarly-sparkling leather jacket, and energy, bouncing along like a boxer to almost every single song and never once hitting a bum note.  As magnetic as she and her lyrics can be on-record, that effect is amplified on-stage.  The short speech she gives at the gig’s climax about how much it means to her and the band that they get to keep touring for fans is arguably unnecessary, one can already tell that just from watching her perform.

Much like the record being toured, the show’s energy sags a bit in the middle.  “Formentera” and “Enemies of the Ocean” are good songs on their own but, as they also are on-record, pairing these lengthy low-tempo ballads back-to-back does neither track any favours, although the former does get to show off Winstead’s synthwave-reminiscent bass work better in a live context.  The acoustic interlude gets a strong crowd response only to have it immediately be neutered by the full band cueing up “Cascades,” from the one real blip in their discography Pagans in Vegas, which I’ve now seen live three times and has yet to really explode with a crowd like Metric clearly want it to.

After that, though, it’s bangers all the way to closing time.  “Now or Never Now” remains a gorgeous self-love number whose lengthy synth build gets a firework ending with Haines’ more intense delivery of the titular refrain at the climax.  “Synthetica,” “What Feels Like Eternity,” and “Monster Hospital” bring the tempo up considerably, the bass-heavy dynamics of the venue acting as a reminder that Metric are a rock band and can rock real hard when they desire.  The two big Fantasies hits “Sick Muse” and “Gimme Sympathy” round off the main set with a crowd singalong that finally punctures through the sometimes-overwhelming volume of the venue PA.  And then, to sign off, there’s “Black Sheep” and “Breathing Underwater;” the former a goth-glam stomper that will always be a potent nostalgia shot, the latter a sweetly optimistic hook machine which is 2012 in all the best ways.

As is customary at a Metric show, “Breathing Underwater” ends with Haines leading the audience in an acapella rendition of the chorus.  She hopes it’ll be less than four-and-a-half years before they return to Manchester again.  She’s not the only one.



Gold Guns Girls

Dark Saturday

False Dichotomy

Help I’m Alive


Enemies of the Ocean

Twilight Galaxy (acoustic)

Combat Baby (acoustic)


All Comes Crashing

Now or Never Now


Sick Muse

Gimme Sympathy


What Feels Like Eternity

Monster Hospital

Black Sheep

Breathing Underwater