Metric Meld Rock and Synths for Standout Set at Thrival Festival

The band gives Carrie Furnaces a send-off worthy of its grandeur.

Metric jamming at center stage, l. to r., James Shaw, Joules Scott-Key (background), Emily Haines, and Joshua Winstead.

Metric jamming at center stage, l. to r., James Shaw, Joules Scott-Key (background), Emily Haines, and Joshua Winstead.

Day two of the Thrival Music Festival saw cooler temperatures, even bluer skies, and an audience who certainly got their fill of electronic music courtesy yesterday’s headliners: CHVRCHES and The Chainsmokers. Metric would also bring some electronics, thanks to the synthesizers that resound throughout their music. But they would also bring plenty of rock ‘n’ roll too.

Night fell. The Carrie Furnaces in Rankin shone red, yellow, and purple. A slight sulfurous smell hung in the air as Rivers of Steel Arts (RoSA) casted iron molds on the opposite side of the festival grounds. And things were about to get loud.

First, though, a couple of musical acts before Metric got people in a good mood. Hudson Mohawke, a Scottish DJ, paired mashups of popular songs with psychedelic images on a giant video screen. At one point, he even sampled fellow Thrival performers CHVRCHES, who are also from Scotland.

Rubblebucket's lead singer and saxophonist Annakalmia Traver performing near the front of the stage.

Rubblebucket’s lead singer, Annakalmia Traver, performing at the front of the stage.

Rubblebucket, meanwhile, started a dance party, which culminated with the band parading through the audience. Trumpeter Alex Toth sat on one concert-goer’s shoulders while still playing. Singer and saxophonist Annakalmia Traver announced it was his birthday. He and the audience couldn’t have looked happier. When their set ended, people began to sprint toward the neighboring stage, determined to keep the party going.

Just the Hits

Metric looking mystical in the fog and stage lights.

Metric looking mystical in the fog and stage lights.

Their stage permeated by blue fog, Metric soon took their places. They opened with “Speed the Collapse.” Hudson Mohawke and Rubblebucket may have loosened everyone’s feet, but “Speed the Collapse” upped the energy exponentially.

Frontwoman Emily Haines thanked the crowd and then the band wasted no time playing the hits, beginning with “Help, I’m Alive.” Haines, who was dressed to rock in a leather jacket, white T-shirt, and jeans, came out from behind her two synthesizers fist pumping as the stage lights bathed the group in red. Another hit followed, “Youth Without Youth,” which saw Haines returning to her synths to add a little fuzz to the instrumentation.

Emily Haines, bathed in red light, does a dance moving while singing and playing the tambourine.

Emily Haines, bathed in red light, does a dance move while singing and playing the tambourine.

Career-Spanning Set

Metric began in 1998 in Toronto, Canada, and, like any enduring musical act, they face the difficulty of compressing a long, accomplished discography into a single setlist. Perhaps taking a cue from Bono, who will often sing snippets of lesser-known U2 songs during better-known ones, Haines sprinkled some snippets of Metric’s own, mid-set, during “Dead Disco.” The song, extended for the live show, saw Haines adding the choruses to “Handshakes” and “Succexy”—respectively, “Buy this car to drive to work! / Drive to work to pay for this car!” and “So suc-sexy. / So suc-sexy.”—as the rest of the band careened in punk-rock overdrive.

Haines forcefully singing over the loud, hard rock of her bandmates.

Haines fuses her strong vocals with the loud, hard rock of her bandmates.

The former snippet stands well alone, an epigram for modern times. The latter requires some context and would have benefited from a full performance. (“Succexy,” a portmanteau of “success” and “sexy,” satirizes our culture’s fetishization of technology, among other themes. “All we do is talk, sit, switch screens” goes another lyric from the song.)

Better were the a cappella versions of “Raw Sugar” and “Combat Baby,” which preceded, respectively, “Sick Muse” and “Gold Guns Girls.” Both a cappella versions gave Haines a chance to show off her vocal range, particularly on “Combat Baby.” The audience waited with bated breath for the sonic explosion that seemed imminent.

Haines didn’t disappoint. Now armed with a guitar, she and the band tore through “Gold Guns Girls.” A giant letter “M,” which stood behind the group, glittered and searchlights projected around it, enhancing the crowd’s excitement.

Haines commanded the stage so well that it was easy to overlook the rest of the quartet. However, guitarist James Shaw, bassist Joshua Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key played all songs loud, fast, but in control.

Am I Breathing Underwater?

Breathing Underwater,” a song about facing obstacles and the uncertainty of overcoming them, concluded Metric’s set. At the end of the song, the band members put down their instruments and lined side-by-side for an audience singalong: “Is this my life, or am I breathing underwater?”

The Thrival Festival continues into night two at Carrie Furnaces in Rankin.

The Thrival Festival continues into night two at Carrie Furnaces in Rankin.

It’s a sentiment that everyone has felt. The organizers of Thrival may have experienced it while transforming an old blast furnace site into a gorgeous music venue. The many entrepreneurs, whose startups were highlighted this week, probably felt this way on their respective journeys toward success.

Kayla Kklcik displays her hula hoop talents while her friend Gabby McRoberts dances nearby.

Kayla Kklcik displays her hula hoop talents while her friend Gabby McRoberts dances nearby.

Yet the organizers overcame logistics. The entrepreneurs succeeded. As for Metric, they played an excellent set that kept up the audience’s energy for the final act: the genre-bending Thievery Corporation. Breathing underwater? Nah. Metric made the crowd feel like life was anything but.

See Entertainment Central’s opening day coverage of the Thrival Music Festival.

photos: Rick Handler

Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor and can’t wait for next year’s Thrival.