Saturday, October 19, 2013

HAIM - The Casbah, October 15, 2013

Haim - Casbah

HAIM played at the Casbah in San Diego last Tuesday. It was possibly the hottest ticket I've ever attended. I mean, the Casbah is a small venue with crap acoustics; everything just sounds like noise, and visibility is poor past the first two standing rows. But the show sold out within a week of the tickets going on sale. I got mine the first day they were available online, about two months before the show and before the release of HAIM's debut album, Days Are Gone. Then I checked the site about a week later, and they were all gone. For all I know, the tickets might have sold out even earlier than that. The point is, I don't see a lot of shows selling out that quickly. On the day of, as I got in line for doors opening, there were also about a half dozen people bumming around, hoping to buy tickets off any attendees who might have had extras. Clearly, a lot of people wanted in to this show. I too got caught up in the hype, hence why I pulled the trigger on that $18 ticket purchase so quickly, although, funnily enough, even all the way up until the release of Days Are Gone, I wouldn't really have called myself a fan.

Sometimes, as a way of discovering new music, I'll go on Twitter, look up artists I'm into, and then check what artists they follow. I figure those with talent should also have taste, which is probably a false assumption, as rarely ever has this yielded positive results. Many months ago, when I tried this, one act that stuck out was HAIM, whose following on Twitter seemed to include just about every artist I liked (along with a whole bunch of other young LA-area celebs). I looked them up, and I found that all they had put out up to that point was a 3-track EP.

I wasn't immediately impressed by any of the songs, and I wondered what the big deal was. I guessed that these three sisters—Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim—must have been industry nobility of some sort. Their Wikipedia entry is a little hazy as to where they came from. They grew up in Los Angeles, and, when they were still children, their parents did form a family band called Rockinhaim with them, so it's clear that they were immersed in music from an early age—one could say, bred for it. But Rockinhaim wasn't exactly the Jackson 5, and I haven't dug up much else that would lead me to attribute HAIM's rapid ascent to nepotism.

Letting the music speak for itself, their songs did grow on me, and I found the much-anticipated Days Are Gone to be a pleasingly rich and full offering, blending layered three-part harmonies, polished verse-chorus structure, and dashes of folk and R&B in a pop rock album that feels both retro and current. In those two weeks between the album's release and HAIM's show at the Casbah, my anticipation to see them live built quite high.

The actual show left me with mixed feelings. After all the anticipation, it felt like a really short show, and they didn't even play all their singles. The venue, as I said, is not really conducive to a great listening experience. The poor acoustics mean that the songs will obviously not sound anywhere near as good as on the album. Plus, it was a really packed crowd, and fools were drunk and yelling loudly over when the performers speaking. The charm of the Casbah, I suppose, is that it is so intimate. If you were standing at the front of the crowd, you would have been close enough to get a high-five from Alana Haim herself. Seeing them live didn't enhance my appreciation for any of their songs, but it probably made me better appreciate HAIM as performers and as artists. In today's scene so full of manufactured pop stars, these girls are determined to show that they are nobody's tools.

The three sisters write their own songs, and all three also sing and play multiple instruments, which is something you maybe don't fully appreciate until seeing them do so live. And all three girls speak and engage with the audience, albeit to varying degrees, and have distinct and likable personalities. Alana, the youngest, would play to the crowd, expressing her affection for the fans, and gesturing to her ear to call for applause in return. Este, the oldest, would share anecdotes between songs, such as the story of how the last time they visited San Diego was over ten years ago, when they were attending an Eagles concert here.

Danielle was the quiet one, which was odd, because she was also the clear leader musically, standing front and center, playing lead guitar and singing lead vocal, and leading the rest of the band on timing. At first, I thought she was the cool one. She is, but she also gets pretty freaking intense while singing, eyeing the audience directly with steely glances, and jabbing herself in the heart any time a lyric contained a first-person pronoun. Where her sisters were playful, Danielle was all business, although, as the night wore on, and she would curiously recede into the background during all of Este's anecdotes, it also became apparent that she was simply an introvert.

So many of the songs that are now my favorites of theirs became so as Danielle's husky voice and staccato singing grew on me. I feel like they would come off much more generic with any other vocalist in her place. She's the most musically indispensable of the group. If the sisters were ever to split up and pursue separate paths, she's also the one I think could have the best chance of success as a member of a different band, though more likely as a guitarist than as a frontwoman. But I hope that doesn't happen any time soon, because I really like the sisters harmonizing together as HAIM.

Opening for HAIM at the Casbah was rock band Io Echo, fronted by Ioanna Gika, who kind of reminded me of Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, both vocally and in terms of her presence. Wraith-like in appearance, she left me questioning her health, both physically and mentally. During songs, she would perform Keanu-style martial arts moves, or sometimes dance erratically and seemingly unknowingly encroach upon the guitarist's area to her right, whereupon he would always, at the last second, awkwardly step back and yield the space without missing a note. For all her outlandish behavior, she would also come across incredibly nervous and uncomfortable whenever speaking to the crowd, which she attributed to drunkenness. Still, she seemed down-to-earth and not without talent.

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