All photos: Nick Balleza
All Words: William Alberque
Metronomy played a pleasing if unmemorable set to an enthusiastic, sold-out Rock and Roll Hotel Tuesday night, but the real story is Friends, who are set to ride the next tidal wave of hype once their full album drops and they return to the States from their upcoming European tour.
Metronomy first rose to prominence during the heady days of the “new rave” scene of the previous decade. They were never terribly memorable to me – certainly not as infectious as Hot Chip; nor as talented wordsmiths as LCD Soundsystem; nor as danceable as Friendly Fires; nor as idiosyncratic as OK GO. It’s all the more surprising, then, that their latest album, The English Riviera, left the Klaxxons’ last effort in the dust in the English press. Reviewers hailed the newly mature, more relaxed tone of Riviera, and, reading all the praise, I wanted to experience Metronomy for myself. Off to the Rock and Roll Hotel, then.
A couple things conspired against Metronomy at the Hotel. First, the Joy Formidable show at the 930 Club raised the bar for excellence the night before. Second, the opening act, Friends, was truly phenomenal. Out of nowhere – two 7” singles into their career – Friends are a joy to behold, with an incredibly tight rhythm section and a mesmerizing lead singer who knows how to own the stage. Sadly, Metronomy felt quaintly underwhelming in comparison.
I got to the show on time to see Friends specifically because I love the Friend Crush/Feelin’ Dank 7” (kicking myself for not bringing it to be signed). They only play seven songs, which seems criminarily short. Lead singer Samanthi Urbani is resplendent in a shiny jacket with her hair up – she traipses on stage to the 80’s inflected electro-funk backing of her band: Lesley Hann on bass, Nikki Shapiro on guitar/keys/vox, Matthew Molnar on guitar/keys, and Oliver Duncan on stand-up drums. By the second tune, I’m busily scribbling “ESG” with underlines in my notebook, bouncing to the incredibly tight rhythm section.
The mesmerizing stage presence of Urbani is increasingly irresistible – I have to watch her – and she rewards the attention by jumping into the crowd to sing “Friends Crush” into the faces of those standing up front. Urbani bounds back on stage and borrows the sunglasses from an audience member before looking back at the band in surprise at the opening riff from the next song. She asks for loads of delay on the vocals and explains, “we’ve never played this song live” before cooing her way through the track. I find out later that the title is “Imagine Sleeping with This Turgid Thought,” though I’m guessing it might be renamed by the time the album drops.
Three more songs follow, each showing a slightly different facet – Urbani alternately sounding like Santigold, Dale Bozzio, or Tiffany, depending on the tune – while bassist Lesley Hann grows in stature with each song, wowing (me, anyway), by sounding a lot like Sons and Fascination-era Derek Forbes during their penultimate song. They end with a cover that I feel like I should recognize, but don’t, while Urbani channels her inner Tiffany, simply owning the stage. What a joy!
And, see, here come Metronomy. Such a shame; it’s not that Metronomy are a bad band. Sure, they come off worse after the unmitigated fun of an opener like that (as well as in each of the comparisons I listed above), but they seem well-intentioned. Joseph Mount looks and acts like a perfectly affable lead man, engaging the crowd and leading his well-drilled backing band (Oscar Cash on guitars/keys/backing vocals; the strikingly-coiffed Gbenga Adelkan on bass and vocals; and the lovely Anna Prior on drums) in some diverting tunes and synchronized (flash) dances (each band member is wearing a push light strapped to their chest which they turn on and off in unison though the set).
The opening track, “Some Written,” eases into the evening, spurning the pent-up energy of the packed, sold-out club, with a synth-sax neatly thrown in by Cash (I think he plays a clarinet later in the set, but I could have been seeing things). “The Bay” is much better, with a more insistent beat and some New Order-esque guitar. “Love Underlined” gets me slightly queasy, though. Here, the Friendly Fires comparison is the most obvious, and through the next song (“Heartbreaker”), I find myself wishing they had the talent of FF, and that Mount had the sheer energy and irresistible joy of Ed Mcfarlane. I couldn’t help thinking how much I would rather hear “Hawaiian Air” right now.
Ah well. The audience seemed well pleased, and “She Wants” got a good reception, reminding me a bit of a post-Hannett A Certain Ratio, with a solid bassline and engaging falsetto. But then the set slows down a bit, and I’m getting a bit annoyed. The drummer gets to sing, and I get another beer. “On Dancefloors” picks up the energy again, but now I’m reminded of recent Rapture (that’s not a compliment). “Holiday” has some DFA-esque dancability to it, but dammit, each song seems like one idea, one moment of inspiration, of genius, away from something worthy.
I slowly start to put my notebook away – they’ve got another hour or so to go, but I’m just bloody bored – so I go look for the opening act. Fortunately, I run into Lesley Hann, the stunningly beautiful and damn talented bassist for Friends on the stairs. We talked about Friends’ sound (she rolls her eyes when I mention ESG and the Tom Tom Club – they get that a lot), and her personal influences (she’s a krautrock fan) and those rest of the band (Samanthi Urbani’s 80s influences, Nikki Shapiro’s love for Robert Fripp, Matthew Molnar’s New Jersey
punk roots, Oliver Duncan’s early days opening for Minor Threat). But I’m surprised how cagey Hann is about the upcoming album. I can’t get a record label, name, or release date out of her, but she did say that it is self-produced, having recorded it over the past year; and they’re about to embark on a 30-date European tour including a load of great festivals. I can’t wait for them to come back as big stars.