It’s been almost five years since I last saw the sister-act HAIM live; that was at the end of their breakthrough year of 2013. Although they’d played UK dates in 2012 as support to Florence + The Machine, they really came to the attention of the British public when they won the BBC’s ‘Sound Of…’ award at the beginning of that year. From there they were featured heavily on BBC music programmes including their coverage of Glastonbury, T in the Park and Reading/Leeds (the band appeared at all those festivals), and their UK tour that winter saw the ‘sold-out’ signs everywhere they went. Since then, they’ve replicated their UK success in their US homeland, off the back of a support tour opening for megastar Taylor Swift. This short run of UK and Ireland dates came a year after their second album ‘Something To Tell You’ was released, and also sold out rapidly proving their popularity hadn’t waned in the interim.
The Olympia in Dublin is a small but ornate theatre, I chose to sit in the circle rather than stand in the crowd in the stalls, a wise decision when I got there to find the queue reaching back halfway across Temple Bar! They played two nights here, and I was at the first of those. The opening act was US singer Maggie Rogers, somebody who (once again) I had no prior knowledge of. She turned out to be an expressive performer, clad in a blue jumpsuit and using all of the stage to dance across as she sang, she drew huge cheers from this (mostly) female audience every time she so much as let her hair down or took off her jacket! Her material wasn’t that far removed from HAIM’s own, at least in terms of how they sound on record, and her band gave her good backing, particularly the drummer. Not strictly my cup of tea, but a good live act and fine singer.
Following her set a huge army of techs were on to turn over the stage for the main act, and soon revealed were a bank of keyboards to one side, a set of drums to the other (for touring members Tommy King and Jody Giachello respectively), and in the middle, more drums! Three sets, for the sisters themselves to use, and not content with that, there were more set up at the front of the stage! These came into use right away as the girls came on, led by youngest sister Alana. Her drum pounding was soon joined by middle sister Danielle and finally, by eldest sister Este. The three of them gave a Sepultura-esque display before launching into opening number ‘Falling’, from their debut ‘Days Are Gone’ album. Following that up swiftly with ‘Don’t Save Me’, they already had this crowd in raptures.
Most of the set leant towards the current album, although other favourites from the debut such as ‘My Song 5’, ‘The Wire’ and of course ‘Forever’ were played. Whatever the song, once again this band showed themselves to be a vastly different experience live than they are on record. Meticulously-crafted, polished and slick on the CD you listen to in the car, live they are a much heavier, much harder-hitting band. Put simply, on record they’re Smooth Radio, live they’re Planet Rock! Touring drummer Jody Giachello has a lot to do with that, he is a thunderous player and drives the backline along superbly, but the other major difference is that Danielle Haim is unleashed onstage – she is a fine lead guitarist, throwing out solos that Gary Moore or Robin Trower would have enjoyed on songs like ‘Nothing’s Wrong’, which simply aren’t there on the records. In addition to that, Alana gets to add her own guitar parts as well as contribute keyboard touches and additional drums. She relishes the chance to get amongst the fans and did just that towards the end of the set, singing while posing with her adoring public on the front row. She even draped a tricolour around herself and returned to the stage to play, with it still on her back!
Eldest sister Este on the bass once again delighted her fans with her ‘bass face’ expressions, and surprised us all by ditching her top after three numbers, opting to play the rest of the set in her bra! Not that anybody minded (least of all this fan!) but it did encourage at least one audience member to follow suit! As usual, there was the humorous banter between songs, and as they were in Dublin they even indulged in a pint of Guinness each. At least two of them did, Danielle opted out, explaining that she’d been fighting off a bug and was still on antibiotics. Behind the antics, Este is a fantastic bass player, locking in with their touring drummer and providing many tasty little fills. Danielle took over the drums for ‘Something To Tell You’; she normally sings it too, but with her being ill Alana took the lead vocal on this occasion.
That was about the only indication Danielle was unwell, she still sounded in good voice and her guitar playing, as said before, was immense. For their rendition of ‘Right Now’, played in the encore, the delivery was with more ‘anger’, more ‘menace’ than was evident on the album, with a few choice F-bombs thrown in for good measure. Danielle closes this with another scorching lead solo before the three of them take to those drums at the back and give us one final blast. For this segment, they gave Giachello a (deserved) moment in the spotlight for a solo of his own. After that they took their bows to tumultuous cheers and made their exits.
The band I saw in 2013 were great, but still raw. It was their harder live sound which hooked me, and they still have that now but with more experience and more craft, after some solid touring in huge arenas over the past couple of years. They’re now the finished article, and it’s to be hoped that their short run of shows on these shores this time will be followed up by a more comprehensive tour at a later date. That will likely be in arenas though, they now have the audience to fill bigger places and if I may drop a hint to the girls, it’s time you came back to headline Liverpool’s Echo Arena!