Surprising Haim: Three sister ensemble performs at DC’s 9:30 Club

Surprising Haim: Three sister ensemble performs at DC’s 9:30 Club

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The sisters Haim, courtesy of Haim.
The sisters Haim, courtesy of Haim.

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2014 – Anything anyone thinks they know about California band Haim before seeing them live can easily be tossed out the window. Haim demonstrated they’re one of the most surprising bands to garner the high level of popularity they’ve achieved in quite some time, as they performed the first of two sold out shows at DC’s 9:30 Club recently.

Haim consists of sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim, with drummer Dash Hutton filling out their primary line-up. The sisters’ ages range from 22 to 28, but their musical interests, at least those appearing on their first album, “Days Are Gone,” don’t seem to fit in with the kind pop music that would attract their ideal audience.

Haim in L.A., via Jared Eberhardt/Flickr. (CC share and share alike license)
Haim in L.A., via Jared Eberhardt/Flickr. (CC share and share alike license)

The sisters have been somewhat contentious – albeit politely – about what their influences really are. Most critics have favorably likened them to ‘70s soft rock acts, the kind of music that would easily have been popular during their parents’ teenage years, when bands like Fleetwood Mac were all the rage.

Despite what Haim may claim, critical comparisons of their work to bands like that are mostly accurate. But their first album also plays up the vocal harmony among the sisters as well, showing a pronounced tilt toward some of the popular all-girl pop acts from the ‘90s. Resemblances aside, though, most of this feels like it gets summarily ejected the second the sisters step on stage.

Haim primarily performs the songs that everyone in the audience is familiar from encounters with their album and their EPs. But instead of performing these tracks in a similar style, their entire set has a distinctly different edge when it’s presented live. Paradoxically, however, this still plays into the vibe the band gives off that makes you think they’re from a different era.

In reality, instead of playing a modernized version of ‘70s soft rock they are often associated with, the sisters pull out all the stops and play like a straight up ‘70s hard rock band for the hour they’re up on stage.

This shift is unexpected and jarring to a certain extent, but it’s welcome all the same. In every meticulously blistering song, they seemed to be giving vent to the intense emotions that might be expressed by someone who had been antagonized for a great many years, which is unusual for a band that’s only been in the musical consciousness for a little over two years.

During their performance, they’re clearly raging against someone or something, but it’s never quite clear who or what that is. Maybe at the end of the day, they’re simply tired of being pigeonholed by know-it-alls and have decided that at the end of the day, they just want to rock out.

That seemed to be okay with everyone watching them at the 9:30 Club, most of whom were more than willing to indulge Haim in their AC/DC-like riffing. It would have been interesting to see the Haim that adhered to their album sound a little more closely during this live performance. But that would probably mean sacrificing all the alternative reality rock energy they blasted out during their set.

Haim may have been making a statement to whomever that they could rock out by creating such a contrast. But by the end of night, too much intellectualizing felt irrelevant because the sisters of Haim proved what kind of rock stars they could be whenever they wanted to.

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