Concert review: HAIM at First Ave

by Grant Tillery

The Haim sisters are forces of nature, the “Witchy Wom[e]n” Don Henley sang about years before their birth, and are highly in tune with the fiendish aspect of hard rock, which they masterfully entwine with poppy accessibility.  They brought their devil-may-care to Minneapolis for the first time last night, playing to a rollicking, sold-out First Avenue.  The crowd was dotted with 20-somethings and 55-year-old couples alike; the house was full 20 minutes before the opener, Tennis, took the stage.

Led by husband-and-wife team Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, the Denver, Colo., based Tennis churned out poppers simpatico with the cheesy glory of ‘60s and ‘70s FM gold.  Despite the catchy hooks, Moore’s vocals were overpowered by the band’s bottom-heavy tendencies — it was nearly impossible to hear her, even in the first row.  Nevertheless, their groove was tight, and Riley’s slick guitar was a dead ringer for early Steely Dan.

With only one album under their belt, HAIM covered nearly their full repertoire during the raucous, hour-and-a-half long set, which began surreptitiously with “Falling.”  The bass drum intro was prolonged until its riff built up to arena rock volume levels.  Lead vocalist Danielle Haim captivated listeners immediately with her breathy vocals that could easily be mistaken for Christine McVie.  “If I Could Change Your Mind” came next, and recovered from a slightly murky start.  This tune is HAIM’s take on the disco revival that’s sweeping the nation, and bassist Este Haim’s riffs paid homage to Chic’s Nile Rodgers. 

The night’s stage banter began with Este — who swears like a sailor and has mastered the art of repartee — delivering requisite lines about how happy HAIM was to finally play Minneapolis, though sincerity shone through her cliché phrases.  The band then broke into an impromptu jam session — something Este said they do regularly with friends when they’re at home in Los Angeles — and for a second I was confused if I was listening to HAIM or “Houses of the Holy.”  At one point, Este borrowed a snapback from an audience member, positioned it trucker-style on her head, and whipped her hair back and forth like an adrenaline-fueled heavy metal guitarist.

“Honey & I” sounded like the love child between Fleetwood Mac’s “I Don’t Want To Know” and Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door,” employing the same two-chord riff those songs do.  It was bolstered by a cathartic drum solo that built into double-time feel.  “Days Are Gone” allowed Este a chance on lead vocals, and her voice is the golden mean between Stevie Nicks’ and Madonna’s. 

Upon introducing “My Song 5,” Este declared it her favorite song of the set, because “people shake their [expletive] ass to this song.”  True to her words, the whole club was getting up for the downstroke as the sexy, languorous lyrics swirled around the room and hypnotized the crowd. “Running If You Call My Name” followed the down-tempo trend, amping up into a hard rock ballad after beginning as a folky love song (the sisters encouraged the audience to “snuggle” each other during the tune).

After taking things down a few notches, the Haim sisters were eager to rage.  So eager, in fact, that Danielle forgot the lyrics to “Don’t Save Me.” 

“I was so excited to [expletive] rage that I went straight into the second verse,” she said. 

Her banter appeased the goof, and the audience sang along for the song’s entirety.  After nailing the eminently catchy “Forever” — including a brief, slowed-down jam at the song’s finale, which strangely worked without breaking cohesion — the Haim sisters sauntered off stage, only to return thanks to the crowd’s revelry.

HAIM began their encore with a cover of Beyonce’’s “XO,” with Danielle sitting in on drum kit (all the Haim sisters are multi-instrumentalists).  The cover was unspeakably sensual and glorious, topped off with ethereal synthesizer.  Alana Haim finally got her turn on vocals for a verse on “The Wire.”  It’s a shame she doesn’t get to sing more, because she can belt as well as her sisters can.  The chord structure and bass/guitar interplay evoked the Eagles’ 1972 hit “Heartache Tonight.” 

The finale, “Let Me Go,” began with Alana hitting her guitar with a drumstick to create a wall of sound.  The number morphed from the most poppy song in HAIM’s repertoire into an unashamed tribute to ‘80s rock, culminating with all three sisters banging intricate rhythms on tom-toms.  This moment was emblematic of what HAIM is — a trio of virtuosic sisters with an ear toward the past, appropriating classic influences that let their fans know the heart of rock ‘n’ roll is still beating.