Haim in Whelan’s, Dublin on 25th May 2013
“I don’t know if you know this,” Este of the band Haim announces just after they play their first song, “but this is the first gig of our tour.” Not a particularly noteworthy bit of banter, but the deafening and seemingly endless cheer that the crowd in Whelan’s makes in response is an indication of the expectation surrounding these three sisters from California, who most people here are already aware have some of the most impressive songs of any album-less band currently working.
Two of their less familiar songs open the gig, with Better Off kind of sussing out the room while giving a fine example of the complex layers that permeate their music. It looks chaotic onstage as hair and arms flail against drums and up to and away from microphones, but the overlapping vocals and rhythms sound brilliantly harmonious. It is during a simple but effective guitar solo from Danielle during Wire however that they instantly and effortlessly transcend the high expectations they have set for themselves, and suddenly the stage looks so small like it can barely support their massive sound.
The four opening songs show what they can do live but when they sing Falling they show what they have already done, first in writing an amazing song, then in enchanting their audience – they start to hold back and just play the songs while the room shakes of its own accord. Go Slow is even more restrained and when the song is in full instrumentation, everything pulsing and booming, suddenly the sound floats off. The quiet chorus comes in and the crowd cheers to fill the silence like a dam bursting, relieving all that pent up tension. They are teasing after that initial outflow of energy and you aren’t sure if they’ll take it there again.
But of course when Don’t Save Me starts to flow out of the speakers it feels like a perfect storm of incredible song writing and an immense live presence. It is like the room is trapped in a whirlpool, everyone being dragged under but instead of fighting you’re happy to just stare up at the refracted sunlight and be carried away, admiring the beauty of it in some inexplicable way. It is the most complete expression of everything they can do musically.
Forever returns to that restrained sound with a verse that feels like it is just about to lift, but instead the chorus crashes like a wave and the music recedes instantly. It is just more tension building – part of the ebb and flow of their set – and even halfway through the encore you start to think they won’t relieve it, but then they do the only logical thing and ditch all pretences of melody. Everyone drops their guitars and all four band-members take up drumsticks, beating out this wonderfully layered primal rhythm; all that energy that they have pumped into the room starts to erupt out like a geyser and vaporises into the warm night, and it’s obvious to everyone that this sound of theirs won’t be boxed into such an intimate setting again.
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Photos: Kieran Frost