Scene: Birds chirped, signifying the arrival of morning. Emily Haines stumbled into stage and put down a suitcase. She changed into a dressing gown and goes to sleep, only to be woken moments later by her alarm clock.
She began an internal monologue, which admonished her for not getting enough sleep. The monologue in her head continued for a spell as Emily got up to play some songs solo at a piano. She appeared to be struggling with some questions: Is this where she wants to be? Is there some place or time to which she would like to return? Or has she never truly moved forward?
The following thoughtful yet playful concert at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, on Saturday, didn’t answer these questions, but Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton, the name of Emily’s solo performance project, eased into exploring aspects of life, love, and loss in a serenely captivating and quietly powerful show. What resulted was a 17-song concert that captured the essence of an artist.
Emily started the show while still acting out the scene in her “hotel room” established on stage by a steamer trunk that served as her bed. After awakening to her alarm clock, she laid on her back to sing “Planets” from Choir of the Mind, the second full-length album released by Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton in September by Last Gang Records. “Planets” set a tone with its slowly soaring music and theme of “people drift away.” She arose and sat herself at her piano to tackle Choir’s “Wounded” and “Crowd Surfed Off a Cliff” from Knives Don’t Have Your Back, the debut 2006 album from The Soft Skeleton project.
At the piano, Emily’s soothing soprano was expressive and her gentle playing bolstered her pleasing voice. After the first three songs, she was joined by three supporting bandmates, including Jimmy Shaw, her songwriting partner in new wave quartet Metric. With the additional instruments, the songs of Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton expanded from introspective piano ballads to contemplative soft rock numbers.
Highlights in the middle of the show include an arresting rendition of “Sprig,” a song from Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton’s 2007 EP, What Is Free to a Good Home? At the start of the song, Emily unexpectedly left her piano and stood tall on her steamer trunk, which remained in place forgotten since the “awakening scene” at the start of the show. From there, the meditative song seemed more spare, more lonely, than it might have if she remained seated with her companions.
By contrast, Emily closed the set by rocking out with Choir’s “Fatal Gift,” the closest the set comes to offering a song that could have come from Metric. The song began as quietly as a typical Soft Skeleton selection, but it quickly escalated after the first 90 seconds into a full-blown rocker, albeit one that offers a cautionary statement on the emptiness of living our lives only to go to work, earn money, and buy more things.
After the main set, Emily returned to the stage alone for a two-song encore that included a pair of inventive songs from Choir of the Mind — “Strangle All Romance,” which she performed a Capella in a signature move (she does this during Metric concerts as well), and “Choir of the Mind,” a spoken word performance piece. Her encore was akin to sitting down in a circle with friends to dissect the experiences we shared in the previous 90 minutes, and it provided some closure to the proceedings, particularly with the closing declaration of “Choir” and its celebration of “her million-impulsed Force,” which left the audience with a swell of hope.
Tonight, Dec. 5, Emily continues touring in Toronto and on Dec. 7 in Vancouver, but then she returns to the United States for a handful of Pacific Northwest and West Coast dates. She wraps it all up at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles on Dec. 12. To catch Emily’s show is to witness fine art that will resonate with you, certainly, but the experience also will deepen your appreciation and understanding of a terrifically talented and extremely creative woman.
Here are some pictures of Emily Haines performing with The Soft Skeleton at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue on Dec. 2, 2017.