Metric

At the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday, April 1

Vancouver loves Metric. The Toronto-based band's Saturday-night appearance was its third sold-out show, including an all-ages version that afternoon, in two days. It was hard to believe, standing amid the sea of excited fans, that this was the same group that played to an uncaring few during a New Music West appearance at the Penthouse strip club in 2003.

The reasons for the quartet's ever-increasing popularity are obvious. The rhythm section of bassist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key is as tight as a New Orleans funk band's (thanks partly to almost constant touring since the release of Metric's 2003 debut) and infuses an intense, danceable groove into every track, even when guitarist James Shaw's chords are at their most jagged. Metric's new-wave/pop-punk sound is rough enough around the edges to rock, the rebellious and questioning lyrics strike a chord with disgruntled youth, and singer Emily Haines is strong, sexy, and cool enough to appeal as a role model. However, the songs kind of, well, suck.

Metric's 90-minute Commodore set didn't even have the hooks to fill a Blondie B-side. The quartet had nearly three years to outdo its debut, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, and Live It Out, the follow-up, is certainly sonically improved, harder-rocking, and more confident. But only the droney, synth-driven "Poster of a Girl" and the handclappy "Monster Hospital" do anything to build on the promise of Old World's better moments. Two of those, "Combat Baby" and "Dead Disco", were among the most enthusiastically received songs of the evening, probably because they're among the few Metric tracks with choruses that might loosely be called memorable.

The band's main appeal is in its attitude, personified by the lanky Haines, who owns the stage whether she's plunking out synthesizer bleeps on her keyboard or haranguing the crowd on the hypocrisy and pointless consumerism of western society. The subjects of Haines's lyrical and vocal mockery are often soft targets, though. On the new album's "Handshakes", for instance, she chants, "Drive this car to go to work/Go to work to buy this car" as though she's just discovered the absurdity of capitalism. Gee, thanks for the news flash, Ms. Rock Singer. Call me when you get a day job.

Let it be said, however, that Metric gave fans their loonies' worth with an energetic, urgent set that delivered a visceral punch wrapped up in Haines's glamorous cynicism. I might have played Live It Out half a dozen times without being able to recall one song 30 seconds after hearing it, but the show proved that the band's ability to strike a balance between the accessible and the subversive can be attractive. And hey, Haines makes a better model of smart independence than Gwen Stefani any day.

With seven members (including a couple from psych-popsters the Unicorns) all dressed in white, opening act Islands looked like the latest addition to that most Canadian of musical trends, the "collective". Fluctuating between Arcade Fire-style epic pop anthems and sugary Paul Simon world music-influenced ditties, the septet was entertaining but also provided a reason why there should be at least a six-month moratorium on any more bands forming in Montreal.

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