concert reviews

Emily Haines at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, Wednesday 10 January 2007

Emily Haines certainly benefited from the 9:30 club's rare configuration as a seated venue on Wednesday night. The Toronto singer's hushed, pensive songs -- a far cry from her energetic indie-rock band Metric -- required the silent focus forced by such an arrangement.

Throughout Haines's hour-long set, her brooding delivery made her sound constantly lost in thought, and songs such as the slow, reflective "Nothing & Nowhere" would have been disrupted by the slightest chatter. Her raspy voice only added to that effect, with the smoky, just-woke-up feel on the show-opening "Our Hell" and "Doctor Blind." On the trancelike "Crowd Surf Off a Cliff," her hoarseness turned her measured statement of "I wake up lonely" into a devastating confession.

The sparse instrumentation of Haines's piano lines and three-piece backing band the Soft Skeleton added to her songs' contemplative feel, as with the simple, rolling piano melody of "The Maid Needs a Maid." Rarely, the group slipped into a denser instrumentation that detracted from Haines's voice; the lush ending of "The Last Page" seemed incongruous to its mellower opening. But her solo encore, a cover of the Neil Young-penned Buffalo Springfield song "Expecting to Fly," was a return to her most striking qualities: a simple arrangement, soft vocals and a heartfelt performance.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 13 January 2007; Page C05
.: Selected discography: Knives Don't Have Your Back (Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton, 2006); Live It Out (Metric, 2005); Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? (Metric, 2003).