The first thing one noticed was the chairs. In preparation for Emily Haines's performance on Monday, the usually clear floor of the Paradise had been filled with rows of folding chairs. It was a subtle nudge, transforming the club setting into a theater atmosphere, but it worked. The audience sat silently rapt as the Metric singer proved that being "uplifting" (her stated intent) need not be accompanied by being cheery.
It could easily have gone badly, as Haines and her three-piece backing band, the Soft Skeleton, played all the songs from the downcast, fragile "Knives Don't Have Your Back," mostly in order, then took their bows and left for good. There was no encore of Metric favorites. There was no encore at all, in fact. Haines simply reached the end of the album, thanked the crowd, and vacated.
But even with a shortish performance -- just under an hour -- and a set list that could be gleaned by checking out the CDs at the merchandise table, it still felt like Haines (whose speech patterns and engagingly distracted demeanor made her seem like Drew Barrymore's sardonic sister) delivered a full show.
Haines's vocals were half-whispered but still clear as a bell, and the gentle tremolo effect applied to her voice on "Crowd Surf Off a Cliff" added to the song's dreamlike feel.
On its piano setting, her keyboard sounded as though it was being played in a large, dusty room with light barely creeping through shuttered windows.
It was a good fit with the songs themselves, which followed their own structural logic. "The Lottery" and "Nothing & Nowhere" both wandered down small cul-de-sacs, held there for a moment, and then returned to the main road.
"Winning" provided a fitting conclusion; it featured Haines alone at her piano for the first half, then bloomed into a grand, full-blooded band number as bass and drums fell into place behind her. Why should she return for more? She'd said her piece.
Openers Tall Firs conjured up the warm numbness of 3 a.m. with murmured vocals over simple and precise guitar arpeggios and gentle drums that maintained a hushed tone even when the songs' volume swelled.