Haim at First Avenue, 5/19/14

Haim at First Avenue, 5/19/14
Photo by Tony Nelson

With Tennis
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Monday, May 19, 2014

At long last, Minneapolis got Haim, live and direct. The three sisters' blend of synthesizer pop, '80s smooth grooves, funk, and R&B had already brought critical praise, festival notoriety, late-night TV glory, and a sub-cult following that's overly fixated on bassist Este Haim's exuberant and malleable stage face. Still, with all their plaudits and rapper pals, Danielle, Este, and Alana asserted multiple times that their eventual stop at First Avenue couldn't escape their minds.

See also:
Slideshow: Haim rock out at First Avenue

Blowing off a full head of steam was equally important to the overly prepared Haim -- they've been playing variations of basically the same set for years now -- and an impatient, sold-out audience. Denver dream-pop act Tennis proved a temporary satiation in the opening slot. Frontwoman Alaina Moore shimmied her shoulders behind her keyboard and charmed through her group's doo-wop-inflected Young and Old material. When they were finished, and the A$AP Rocky and Kanye West came back on, the disgruntled hubbub of a crowd baited by a year of heavy radio reminders of Haim's hooky gifts quickly resumed. After all, it was a Monday night, and a rainy one at that.

Haim at First Avenue, 5/19/14
Top: Tennis's Alaina Moore; Bottom: Este Haim
Top: Tennis's Alaina Moore; Bottom: Este Haim
Photos by Tony Nelson

"I'm a slave to the sound," Danielle aptly sang as they unpacked a tight "Falling" to open the set. Center stage between Este and Alana, the group's middle sister and lead guitarist asserted herself immediately. She didn't smile much, but threw hair, hot licks, and attitude every which way to show she was ready to put on the show. Este proved she was equally game as she intricately slapped her bass -- Larry Graham would be proud -- for "If I Could Change Your Mind." With Alana adding mostly percussion and backing vocals on the other side of the stage, she often took a backseat to the duel of over-committed artistry coming from her older sisters. She also frequently looked like she was enjoying herself.

The fuzzy freakout cover of Fleetwood Mac's swampy "Oh Well" -- a tune created before the group's pop innovations that are often attributed to influence Haim -- took a lot out of the band, and the next few songs felt uneven. A few road-weary cracks appeared in "Honey & I" and "Days Are Gone" as tempos felt less sure-footed, and the lead-up to each song's dramatic moments felt like "Will they make it?" moments. Of course, these glitches were always eventually ratcheted up, especially by Danielle's ferocious guitar, which reached Bryan Adams', Joan Jett's, and Journey's climactic elevation on multiple occasions. Whatever compensation would've been enough, they did triple.

Haim at First Avenue, 5/19/14
Haim at First Avenue, 5/19/14
Photos by Tony Nelson

"My Song 5" brought out the rhythm in everyone's waistbands, and "Running If You Call My Name" was catnip for the couples who just wanted to sway. At every turn, the marching orders, instructions to clap, and general orchestration came from three sisters who have played to audiences 50 times as large as the packed Mainroom. The "C'mon!" they've mastered borders upon Pavlovian.


The band's excitement eventually turned to stage jitters. After dismissing "Don't Save Me" as "commercial shit," Danielle couldn't quite lock in to its quick-flowing opening lines. After two botched attempts, Este played it off as her being "intimidated by this city." Even when things were falling apart, Haim could still entertain. Third time was a charm, and the audience was ready with their pent-up pumping fists to get looser than ever. "Forever" kept it going, and they exited to an uproar.

Haim at First Avenue, 5/19/14
Haim at First Avenue, 5/19/14
Photos by Tony Nelson

Not to say that "The Wire" wasn't a thrill, but the true turning point of the evening proved to be the encore cover of Beyoncé's "XO," which is by default the newest song in their live arsenal. With Este leading on vocals and Danielle sliding over to drums, Haim brought reverence, shading, and the stuff similar to what they described feeling when seeing Purple Rain for the first time. "XO" is not as technically difficult as much of their own material, but it requires an emotional presence. Even if nothing leading up to that point had been wrong, this song seemed to unlock the true center of Haim. If they get to finally change up their set sometime soon, this less-rehearsed approach can bleed back into their treatment of their own material. Much of Haim's 75-minute performance zipped past, but this song lingered into the night.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Days Are Gone was my favorite album of 2013. This show occasionally had me just as enraptured as the recording, but I'm betting they can do even better when they come back.

The Crowd: Loved Haim!

Overheard: "They're sisters!"

If I Could Change Your Mind
Oh Well (Fleetwood Mac)
Honey & I
Days Are Gone
My Song 5
Running If You Call My Name
Don't Save Me

XO (Beyoncé)
The Wire
Let Me Go

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