On the cold, damp evening of Saturday January 13th, Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton, along with openers Tall Firs, wooed the likes of a near capacity crowd at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis.  Haines, best known for her work in the Canadian group Metric, is touring behind her lyrically stunning 2006 release, Knives Don’t Have Your Back, while the Brooklyn trio Tall Firs, which features Sonic Youth soundman Aaron Mullan on guitar, now relies heavily on its 2006 drony self-titled debut. 

The dark ambience inside the theater was perfect for the melancholy rock that Tall Firs disperse, as the seated audience slowly bobbed their heads to the two guitar, three-part harmony that is this band. The songs played on this night did not really seem to get a chance to breathe, as their intriguing guitar work seemed to be quelled by the short opening set and the lack of enthusiasm shown by affection-deprived 20-something’s that make up Minnesota’s indie rock scene.  After a short 45-minute set, the Firs faded into the night and the lights came up, allowing the 18+ crowd time to freshen their drinks before the main attraction. 

Having been to concerts in both the Sunshine State and in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I can safely say that you crazy West Coasters like to get down more than us Midwesterners, but on this Saturday evening, I am also happy to proclaim that a rousing majority in attendance that night chose to rise up from their seats when Emily Haines took the stage. 

Without uttering a word to the audience, Haines and her three-piece backing unit tore right into the opening track from Knives’ “Our Hell.”  As with the album, her live show is based around the piano, with bass, drums, and melodica, along with some voice effects.  However, it is Emily’s own vocals that steal the show.  Her sound mixes the scarcity of Cat Power’s Chan Marshall with the intensity that Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond brings to the stage.


Emily enunciates each word clearly, giving her lyrically ambitious songs the spotlight that each depressing tale deserves.  In contrast to Marshall’s awkward stage banter, Emily’s can only be described as absolutely adorable, as she sung on that particular night, the chanteuse made comparisons to both her and us Minnesota kids’ icy homelands, which should be pretty safe against the oncoming global warming, unlike you Californians who are obviously screwed. 

Haines performed her debut album in its entirety, but not chronologically, however the crowd and myself yearned for more after the band left the stage after its 65-minute set.  Haines graciously returned sans band, and paid homage to one of Canada’s most famous exports, Neil Young, by performing “Expecting to Fly” from Buffalo Springfield’s Buffalo Springfield Again

This cover was a perfect fitting for the rest of my night, as I quickly flew off across town to the legendary First Avenue to catch the end of Beres Hammond’s set, but that we’ll save for another review.