June 8, 2004

The Stills: A killer opening band good for more than just killing time

I usually disdain watching no-name bands open for the band I show up to see. You can never tell who is going to rock your world, and who is going to bomb. When I went to see Interpol, I had the luck to be introduced to the Stills that night—but the band that started the show was so grating to the ears that I'm glad that their name is struck from my memory. And I tried to like Pinebender when they opened for Death Cab for Cutie, but...I just couldn't.

This time, however, the opening bands gave me a very welcome kick in the pants. So good, in fact, that either of them could have headlined the bloody tour. Metric and Sea Ray both put on a damn good show, and it was great to actually enjoy myself the second the bands started—instead of standing around, sucking down cigarettes to kill the pain of shitty songs, and wondering whether it was worth it to show up early for a decent spot.

Sea Ray started off the show powerfully, with deafening morose chords that brought a tear to my eyes (even as the corners of my mouth turned upwards with approval). The gusto with which they played—and the wonderful visualizations that someone painstakingly coordinated to the songs—made their show mean so much more than just another post-rock band's.

Metric just waltzed up to the stage and plucked the hearts of the audience, keeping it in their hands for the whole performance. Emily Haines, who is responsible for vocals, synth, and general promiscuity, worked up the audience with her killer dance moves (!) and warmly welcomed empathy with the crowd. Her sweet, almost childlike vocals didn't blend into the rest of the band, which tended to be darker and beat-driven. Still, the energy dripped from their performance, and they got the people to move their feet. Also, Emily Haines said she liked my hat!

And then, to everyone's delight, came the Stills. Last time I saw them, like I said, they were opening for Interpol, so I was halfway expecting them to pull the halfway-pretentious melodrama so commonly associated with their name. Damn! I am so glad they surprised me on that. Later that night I realized why I expected this: They sound like everybody else (but not always in a bad way).

The set list was nothing new, with everything coming off of Logic Will Break Your Heart, which I had already seen live. However, pairing them up with Interpol gave an emphasis on the colder side of their chops. Alongside Metric, they felt more alive and fluid (and more like they were enjoying themselves). It's as if they have too many connotations in their music to define where they are, instead of existing as a shadow of other's sounds. Even though their songs are aural candy, until they start playing something with a bit more of a distinct sound, they're still going to be relegated to backgound music—something nice, but not the main course.

However, this is not to say I didn't enjoy their set, or their music. The gracious bastards that they are, they took a request for the third-to-last song (I know it was honestly spontaneous; I have a set list here and it has a space for improvisation), and they did a pleasantly dischordant version of "Let's Roll." On an amusing note, the band swore the last time they played this song was when they were here last, so, needless to say, it was a definite crowd favorite. Of course, I was shouting for "Talk to Me," just so that I could see the audience wince at its awkward jangliness.

The grand finale of the night started with a toast to someone's new baby (whose, I can't remember) with"Yesterday Never Tomorrows," which Metric came back to play along with. After each band swore that Chicago was their favorite city and that they'd be back soon, they paraded off to the Smart Bar—which is the Metro's adjacent bar and often co-habited venue. They partied the rest of the night, which caused me to curse two things: The classes I had in the morning, and my lack of a frickin' fake.