Periwinkle backlighting, star shapes and swirls flashing throughout, (and the merciful absence of the continual strobe lights of opening act, Crystal Castles) made the visual impact of Metricâ€™s concert at Webster Hall just as rich as the music itself.
Having missed them in Montreal some time back, I was eager to finally see them live. Slinking onstage in a zebra striped t-shirt dress, lead singer Emily Haines opened the show with a tambourine and two new songs. Though fun – with amusing lyrics such as â€œMeet me at the gates of hell/Iâ€™m on the guest listâ€- they were an unusual and brave choice given that the crowd was evidently unfamiliar with the tracks. A lesser band might start with more popular numbers, but this gutsy beginning showcased the no apologies attitude that Metric casually displayed throughout their set.
Not to disappoint however, the band soon moved into well known tracks such as Empty and Dead Disco. Dead Disco got first pumping by the hundreds while Empty was accompanied by some collectively feisty head twists and double synth pounding. The crowd reacted in kind, dancing and singing along so fervently that the floor caused doubt as to its ability to withstand the sold-out crowdâ€™s unified bounce. Frequently reiterating that this was a reunion of sorts, Haines acknowledged the special bond Metric has with New York City (where the band started in 1998).
The set, evenly composed of old (Poster of a Girl) and new tracks, trailed off with an extended version of Rock Me Now as each member crept offstage. In response, the crowd (rather than the usual claps and whistles) called out their desire for an encore by continuing the refrain of the song; encouraged by Haines to sing it â€œnot because it matters, but because it doesnâ€™t.â€
Returning for their encore, Metric launched into one of their most popular tracks, Monster Hospital. Just as they began, the band ended the show with more new material; a song appropriately titled, Stadium Love, given both Webster Hallâ€™s 40,000 square foot size and the fact that the venue was packed to capacity. This was an utterly satisfying evening by one of Canadaâ€™s most underrated exports from the Toronto Indie-rock scene. Metric is not to be missed.
As I typically do before every assignment, I look up recent photos of the bands Iâ€™m to photograph. This tells me what to expect from the performance and often times what the lighting will be like. When I looked up the opening act, Crystal Castles, I wondered why I couldnâ€™t find any good photography… Now I know.
In hindsight, it follows that a band whose music sounds like an amphetamine induced mash-up between Atari Teenage Riot and the original Super Mario Brothers soundtrack would have nothing but a single 10â€ portable strobe for lighting. In truth I think there were three portable strobes that singer Alice used throughout the set.
For all of the non-photographer readers out there, this is basically a concert photographerâ€™s worst nightmare.
The Crystal Castles set produced only 4 usable images; all but one of which were the direct result setting a manual exposure of 1/30, f/2.8 at ISO6400 and spraying and praying at the exact moment I thought I could catch some light from a point and shoot flash from the audience or the strobe. (My normal yield for a first three, no flash set is at least 80 images.)
Luckily, the lighting for Metric was somewhat better and the band was set back enough to get rocked out shots like this from the wide end of the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8.
The normal benefit of shooting at larger venues is powerful direct lighting that allows for lower ISO settings and more color neutral images. For some reason, the lighting techs at Webster Hall continue to really like colored toplight/backlight.
edit — in fairness to the lighting designer, my quibbles with Webster Hall’s lights have more to do with the fact that they are usually shot from above the performers instead of from the front. As seen in the following shot, continuous top-lighting produces deep shadows on the face that can only be compensated for by overexposing the shot (see Jimmy Shaw below). As a photographer the lighting was difficult, but as soon as the first three songs were over, I loved it.
At this show, the barricades for the photo pit were less than two feet from the edge of the stage. This was only enough room for me and the four other photogs to fit shoulder to shoulder. Whatever place you started in was where you were going to stay. I hunkered down just off center making it impossible for a clear shot of Metricâ€™s drummer Joules Scott-Key. It did give me decent angles on Emily Haines (vox), Jimmy Shaw (guitar) and Josh Winstead (bass).
Leaving the pit after the first three, I traded the close versatility of the 24-70mm for the long reach and image stabilization of the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS. Moving further back allowed me to move around, simplify my compositions, and get an okay shot of the drummer.