Los Angeles is usually immune to the changing of seasons, but the first chill of fall descended upon the Sunset Strip as Emily Haines prepared to take the stage earlier this fall. The mass of anxious Angelenos crowding the dark hollow of the Viper Room challenged the two-degree-cooler weather with heated discussions about how many other good shows were going on that night and how frustrating it was to not be able to be in more than one place at the same time. If this were the case, then why had so many people opted out of the trendier gigs in Hollywood to catch a glimpse of Haines at her finest? Could there actually be enough audacity to break free of the jaws of skinny jeans and bias haircuts to partake in a more sophisticated musical setting?
The songstress couldn’t have been more en pointe as Haines assured her audience, “There’s a new crime. Let’s commit it.” The abandon of our usual haunts made this crowd more aware of what crafts lay beyond their customary indie pop, allowing for an indulgence only she can bestow.
Haines, who often plays blindfolded, appeared on stage unmasked, under a single pale pink spotlight that created an appropriately eerie glow around her and the piano. Our first taste of Knives Don’t Have Your Back, released in September, was “Dr. Blind,” a gentle ballad that flowed seamlessly from beginning to end. Leaving a more lasting impression was “The Lottery,” which she delivered with more passion than could be captured on disc. The recorded pause before uttering the words “sexual suicide” was lengthened just so, creating an orgasmic buildup. The verbal bomb dropped as her pale bony hands fondled the keys, and the song effortlessly continued to penetrate every member of the audience.
To maintain the intoxication of her loyal patrons, she snuck icy, deep stares into the crowd in between verses to somehow let us connect with her as she worked her magic. She commanded the stage with ethereal strength, but seemed to melt back into her piano when the exchange with her audience became too much to manage. During “Mostly Waving,” she retracted into said instrument only to deliver loud, thick piano chords, transforming the delicate singer into the Phantom of the Opera. The haunted mansion melody resonated throughout the room as we were given a glance at the artist in her creative reverie.
Haines is fierce in the most unadulterated sense of the word. Her character imparts extreme intensity of emotion and conviction that bleeds through her fingertips onto the black-and-white keys that yield at her mercy. The New Delhi-born Canadian has been brewing musical concoctions since the ’90s but has made a most recent impression fronting the synth-rock band Metric. Their elaborate melodies and thought provoking lyrics have garnered a cult following over the past few years that, coupled with her part-time efforts recording with Broken Social Scene, have given Haines the platform she needed to take her brief solo hiatus. Her entrancing stage presence and eerie command of a crowd confirm the blonde beauty’s staying power as a singer-songwriter but still uphold her refined rock-star persona.
Her angelic voice was chilling at the Viper Room on September 21, but she still managed to breathe warmth into our cores. Her words were light but still upheld severity in their translation of social commentary, and her patronizing piano played the perfect accompaniment. It became perfectly clear how each of us had ended up at the Viper Room that night and hadn’t regretted our choice of evening entertainment.