When Haim released their 2013 album “Days Are Gone,” the songs seemed to be a direct product of consuming music in the Internet age, where everything is available and genre is meaningless. At first glance, listeners could be forgiven for thinking that the band was going through some kind of identity crisis. Are they a pop band that knows their way around a good electric guitar solo? Are they rock stars that happen to hang out with Taylor Swift? Are they comparable to Stevie Knicks? Wilson Phillips? Janet Jackson? The Strokes?
During their performance at Red Butte Garden on Sept. 12, Haim’s music recalled all of these influences, but never sounding confused or convoluted. In fact, the concert revealed a band with a clear vision and the songwriting chops to match. It helps that all three sisters are talented vocalists and multi-instrumentalists; in particular Alana Haim, who seemed to use a new percussion instrument every song. At the Red Butte concert, a diverse audience came to see the trio, college students mingled with young families and sixty-year-old college students. And for this group, Haim did not disappoint, giving a confident, consistently entertaining show.
The group’s relatively short set was an even mix of songs from their debut album and their recently released record “Something to Tell You” (with a soft rock cover of Shania Twain thrown in for good measure.) The show ran with few interruptions or frills, the low-concept performance was designed to put the band’s music front and center. In between songs, the sisters occasionally shared a short anecdote or indulged in a quick inside joke, and their natural friendship was obvious. Their personas strived more for relatability than aloofness, giving the image of cool best friends who just happen to be in a kick-ass band.
Haim’s songs, as a general rule, are impeccably arranged with tight harmonies, catchy melodies and seemingly limitless hooks. In live performances, Haim rarely deviates from the recorded arrangements, but that does not make the performance any less thrilling. In fact, the carefulness of Haim’s presentation (handclaps and bursts of percussion, each little gasp and breath in the vocals, a guitar riff entering at the perfect moment) is essential to the band’s appeal. Haim’s songs are pop alchemy, perfectly calibrated, distilled to only the most pleasurable and emotional moments.
These small moments were at the core of Haim’s Red Butte performance. To close the show, the band played their excellent break up jam “Right Now.” As a final coda, they finished the song sharing a single drum set, each sister hammering out individual rhythms before returning to unison. Like the concert in general, this moment was charming, fresh, and effortlessly cool. But, unlike the rest of the concert, it was also truly unexpected. In fact, the only substantive problem I had with the show is that for all of Haim’s professionalism, there were no glimpses of anything dangerous or unhinged. At times, I wondered what would happen to Haim if they allowed the audience to see them create something brand new for the first time.
But, then again, how can I complain when playing it safe resulted in such an enjoyable, satisfying night? Este Haim, Danielle Haim, and Alana accomplished exactly what they set out to do, and surely both casual and die hard fans left satisfied. I left convinced that Haim is one of the most talented groups in pop music today and I would certainly not miss another opportunity to see these sisters in action.