Haim, gig review
Brixton Academy, London
Nick Hasted has been a film journalist since 1986. He writes about film, music, books and comics for The Independent, Sight & Sound, Uncut and Little White Lies. He has published two books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), and You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), both from Omnibus Press.
Friday 07 March 2014
This century hasn’t specialised in gigs where thousands of young women scream for a band who play screaming guitars. Not even The Strokes, whose Julian Casablancas was one of Haim lead Danielle Haim’s first musical employers, enjoyed the roughly 80/20 gender split her band play to tonight.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that Haim are three Californian sisters in their twenties (with two blokes in the shadows), offering a rare female rock focus.
But the alchemy which took their debut album Days Are Gone to No. 1 last year is more specific. Each multi-instrumentalist sibling offers a distinct, enjoyable personality, and exuberant, unfussy musicianship. That has let them remind their generation that rock can be pop.
They’re not so much Trojan horses for the values of their parents’ AOR record collection, as its natural synthesis. They also beam the massive fun they’re having directly to the crowd. There’s angst in the lyrics, but none at their biggest gig to date.
Lead singer and guitarist Danielle is the most demure Haim, and it’s eldest sister Este, 27, who takes verbal charge. “We’re going to my house,” she invites us in her languid Valley Girl drawl, picturing us cross-legged on her Californian carpet to set the scene for a cover of “Oh Well” by their clearest vintage influence, Fleetwood Mac. Este’s cavewoman savagery on the drums reminds us this is the 1969, Peter Green-led incarnation. On “Honey & I”, Danielle shreds her guitar at hyper-speed for a few seconds, then makes a rip-chord cut to a rhythmic pulse. She’s sounding like Pete Townshend by the time Haim turn to head-bang at their male assistants for the big finish.
In one song, they’ve spliced Fleetwood Mac, The Who, and bratty female LA punks The Runaways. Proof that they’ve thoroughly rifled through their parent’s records and their own comes with the New Wave choppiness and 1980s boom of “Days Are Gone”, and the strobe-lit R&B of “My Song 5”. Este demands “throbbing asses” for this one, with its sometimes vocodered vocals over doomy synth squelches. Danielle’s guitar still howls and rasps through these semi-digital thickets, ending in a deafening death-rattle.
Este finds time to update us on a notorious and hilarious story involving an unfortunate, pre-fame texting incident to an ex-boyfriend (predictive text can do horrible things to “a nap”). Youngest sister Alana eggs her on. “That story’s basically why we became popular,” she laughs, before apologising to “Mama and Papa Haim”, over here especially for their daughters’ big night. They’ve doubtless heard it all before.
Haim can be seen adjusting their own instruments before the encore, as if they shot to stardom too suddenly to remember roadies. A cover of Beyonce’s “XO” affirms their R&B tastes. Then celebratory white streamers cannon over the crowd before a final rock freak-out. These supportive, ballsy sisters have treated musical excellence like it’s a lark, and rock like it’s fun. The party’s probably still going on.
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