Metric performs at PGHPOP

On Sunday at Mr. Small’s, Canadian indie rockers Metric delivered a riotous, fever-pitched performance in the first installment of PGHPOP Festival, a quarterly series aimed at advancing Pittsburgh’s music scene.

Opening with two new songs, “Freddy Mercury” and “Twilight,” Metric was immediately vibrant and vocal from the start. Most notable was the incredibly powerful stage presence of lead singer Emily Haines. There was a dark, ragged energy to her that, combined with her liquid voice and the expressive movements of her bandmates, cast a resounding spell over the audience. Haines was never without action: She leapt and danced, pounding at the keyboards, shaking a crescent-shaped tambourine amid rip-roaring guitars and frenetic strobe lights. By the time “Dead Disco,” the third song, blared its screaming intro, the audience was moving and dancing on the floor. Other highlights included “Rock Me Now,” “Hustle Rose,” and “Combat Baby.”

Haines’s charisma stemmed not only from her voice and movement, but also from her interaction with the audience. Between songs she related an anecdote about falling off her bicycle her first time in Pittsburgh, blood gushing out of her elbows — rousing the crowd as they shouted in approval. During “Rock Me Now,” she beckoned the audience to sing with her, saying, “You know why you have to sing? Because actions have no impact whatsoever. Do whatever you want; it doesn’t fucking matter!”

In 2001, Haines and guitarist James Shaw, both from Broken Social Scene, joined bassist Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key to form Metric. The band’s most recent release, Grow Up and Blow Away, came out June 26 under the label Last Gang Records. The album was recorded in 2001 and originally set to be Metric’s maiden effort, but it was eventually superseded by a new album — Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? — which debuted in 2003 to much acclaim. The band’s sophomore disc, Live It Out, came out in 2005 and was the last “new” release before Haines went to record a solo project, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton. Currently, the Metric bandmates are together again to work on a new album, untitled as of yet.

The festival wasn’t without other lively, interesting performances. It kicked off early in the evening (but late for its set start time, 5 p.m.) around 7 p.m. with local band Shade, whose solid rock songs swayed the small, largely unexpressive crowd. Following Shade was a charming set by Robbers on High Street, a quirky indie rock band from New York that combined catchy, vivacious vocals with interesting instrumentation. It wasn’t until Longwave, a band from Brooklyn whose booming, sprawling melodies took the stage, that the crowd really started heating up.

Of the opening performances, however, Crystal Castles was the most memorable. Crystal Castles is a new rave/electronica duo — the only set that didn’t conform to the general theme of the rock band. Instrumentalist Ethan Fawn was busy mixing the staccato drumbeats while performer/vocalist Alice jumped, danced, and played with the lights on stage, at one point wrapping an extension cord around her neck while handling a strobelight. Many audience members saw her as a forceful presence and responded readily to her dancing and stage acts.

What was bewildering, however, was Alice’s lack of actual vocalization or contribution to the music. To those who were unfamiliar with Crystal Castles, her presence seemed baffling. Some audience members thought that she was just some girl who got on the stage and started dancing. At one point in the performance, Alice jumped over to the right side of the stage, where she danced very close to the audience, kicking one concertgoer’s arm and spitting on another. “The girl [Alice] spat into my hair because I did not acknowledge her dancing,” concertgoer Emma Hooper claimed. “I would not have minded her performance so much if she wasn’t so self-absorbed.” Though Alice’s presence was met with mixed reactions, Crystal Castles succeeded in making the crowd come alive with dancing. The erratic, sometimes blinding strobelights, combined with Alice’s weird, angular dance moves, gave the atmosphere a surreal quality.

Without doubt, the first installment of the PGHPOP Festival was a successful event that started thinly but ended with an uproarious bang. Feverish and elated, the audience members screamed their throats hoarse long after Metric left the stage.