What a fitting setting in Église Sainte-Thérèse-d’Avila to host Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton, considering the latest release is titled: Choir of the Mind
I was surprised at how empty the venue seemed but it quickly filled at the last minute. I guess it’s customary to arrive late to church! I sat next to the proud mother of Sam Goldberg who would play Bass tonight. She was sweet and filled me in that next to us was Kandle who just opened for Jake Bugg with an acoustic set last night at the Corona.
The lights dimmed and the sounds of nature and chirping is heard. Emily comes to the front of the stage, in her own world. She slams her suitcase on the table and rummages through it, looking for something. She pulls out a night gown and gets ready for bed with her sleep mask. All the while, her inner monologue is heard tormenting her. She lays down for her slumber, but the sounds in her head continue.
The giant alarm rings, she wakes and rummages in the suitcase to finally find her toothbrush. She stands valiantly upon her former bed and brushes her teeth as the monologue continues. Her inner voice reminds her that she created this tour and must hit the road again to be the rock star performer. She swaps the robe for her rock-n-roll outfit and makes her way to the piano to start us off with “Planets”. The church is filled with Emily’s voice, a choir of one that resonates in a room that is silent.
I admire Emily’s vulnerability. I don’t read many newsletters, but I always enjoy news from Emily. She bares her soul in these letters that seem to be written to a friend. She is honest with her correspondence, and the opening tonight also shows a vulnerability and dark feelings of self-doubt. There is a contrast in the life of a rock star of constant attention from friends and strangers, yet a loneliness when the door closes and you are left alone. Like any addiction, the buzz of a room, theatre or stadium of people chanting your name can be something you come to crave. There is also a feeling of “impostor’s syndrome” where you ask yourself…what if they find out I’m just an ordinary person? Having met Emily on her last tour with Metric, and spending some time with the band after the show, it’s clear that they are very approachable and genuinely nice. I might have been an outsider, but felt welcome, especially by Joules the drummer. But the friendships they have are strong, especially with kindred bands. Tonight, it would half Metric, half Broken Social Scene for our quartet of musicians. Amy Milan of Stars and Leisure Cruise all have intersecting members, and they all seem to dip into Broken Social Scene at some point.
Emily continues with “Wounded”, still behind the piano, singing “the only way to land is to crash and burn.” It reminds me of all the rock stars we have lost to suicide recently, who also crashed and burned. Maybe they didn’t have the group of friends that Emily has to support and build each other up. It goes to show that behind all the glamour and stardom are real people that sometimes hurt, with outlets for their pain that involve self-wounding behavior and substance abuse.
As I write this, it might seem that this show was a downer, but even if the next song was equally dark, “Crowd Surf Off a Cliff” felt beautiful with Emily and her piano resonating throughout the venue, her words crossing the confessional as they say: “I wake up lonely.”
Emily’s voice is distinct, soft and gentle, yet has a strength behind it. As she begs “Set me free, let me never feel…let me never fear anything”, we know that she is confronting the darkness and putting up a fight. From the darkness, a light shines brightly to show the way for all those behind her on this journey.
Justin Peroff (Broken Social Scene) adds a layer to Emily with his drums. Next Sam Goldberg Jr. (Broken Social Scene) layers in some bass to finally have them joined by James (Jimmy) Shaw (Metric).
The band got heavier with “Detective Daughter” from Knives Don’t Have Your Back (2006), alternating between this release and the newest record throughout the show.
“Sprig” is a special song, originally a poem by Emily’s late poet dad, Paul Haines. The emotion as she sang her dad’s words, altered slightly, was felt by all. How proud he would have been to see and hear his daughter bring these words to life. With this song, Emily finally stepped out of her role and stepped away from the piano. As it ended, she thanked the crowd for sharing with them in this special evening. She introduced the band and spoke about the long history we all share with her music, calling the songs “sonic fossils” that live forever.
I really loved hearing “The Legend of the Wild Horse” which, like many of the songs tonight, would highlight this angelic voice that simply didn’t waver throughout the night.
The set ended with the powerhouse of “Fatal Gift” which spiraled with intensity finally having Emily chant over and over again “The things you own, they own you.”
Throughout the evening, the only sound heard was of the band and Emily’s sweet voice, everyone seated in their painful pews. At the finale of “Fatal Gift”, we all rose for a standing ovation. I felt we had an intimate evening that was such a special gift to those who made the effort to get here tonight.
Emily returned for an encore performing what I consider the bravest of styles: Acapella. A voice with nowhere to hide, “Strangle All Romance” once again fill the curved ceiling and returned with a shiver down my spine.
The last song tonight was equally special, “Choir of the Mind”, a fitting end with “her million impulse force.”
Emily exposed her inner voice, which renders it powerless when it knows it is being recognized. The somber lyrics was not about darkness, but about unleashing the negative thoughts into the light. You need darkness to see the light, and the light shone brightly tonight. Emily bared her insecurities, used self reflection to break herself apart into a million little pieces. She then rebuilt herself and transformed into the powerful woman she is. Surrounded by her close friends and collaborators, we all felt a little closer to her tonight as we shared this special moment with her and the band.
Crowd Surf Off a Cliff
The Maid Needs a Maid
Minefield of Memory
Legend of the Wild Horse
Reading in Bed
Strangle All Romance
Choir of the Mind