News Column

St. Joseph News-Press, Mo., Shea Conner column

October 25, 2013


Oct. 25--Two weeks ago, I left cool, brisk St. Joseph for a 12-day vacation in warm, sunny Austin with a three-day wristband for the Austin City Limits Music Festival in my possession. The only problem: It was warm and sunny at all the wrong times.

In case you didn't see it spring up in national news, the third day of the festival was closed due to flooding at Austin's Zilker Park. After seeing the puddles form all over the park on the festival's second night, it didn't surprise me in the slightest. Still, I felt pretty bummed that I missed out on sets by Phoenix, Atoms For Peace, Tame Impala, The National, MS MR, Franz Ferdinand and Austin upstart White Denim, who I wanted to see the most (and was actually featured on the cover of the Austin Chronicle that week).

But maybe I shouldn't be moping. One the two days I actually did get to go, I enjoyed some great experiences. I watched a set by Fun (I really hate using "fun." in type) stageside and snapped a photo of the band getting together for its pre-show huddle -- the kind of cool moment you usually only get to see in behind-the-scenes documentaries.

Later that night, after witnessing Vampire Weekend and Jimmy Eat World, I saw Queens of the Stone Age for the very first time. When Josh Homme and Co. kicked into "My God is the Sun," it started pouring rain and the crowd collectively lost its mind. The mosh pit virus spread quickly until it swallowed about three-fourths of the crowd. Admittedly, I cradled my camera like Johnny Heisman and joined in the frenzy.

Surprisingly, day two was even crazier. I camped out in front of the Lady Bird stage all day so I could be standing front and center for headliners The Cure that night. I learned three things that day watching the bands that led up to The Cure. 1) Despite radical covers of The Beatles' "Helter Skelter" and "Dayman" from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," Portugal. the Man put on the most boring show of the weekend -- and, in a weird twist, the band opened and closed with the same song. 2) High schoolers scream for Passion Pit like they screamed for The Monkees back in the '60s. 3) Fans of The Cure will try to fight you for a front-row spot, which makes sense considering the band performs live about as often as I support the New England Patriots. (I promise I'm done with the football references now.)

But even after taking in excellent concerts by The Cure and Queens of the Stone Age, the band I left Austin most impressed with was Haim. And apparently I'm not the only one who has caught the bug. This trio of sisters from Los Angeles recently released its debut album, and in a shocking upset across the pond, it soared to No. 1 in the U.K., beating Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience -- 2 of 2" (also in its first week of release).

Maybe that overseas success shouldn't come as such a surprise. Haim (rhymes with "rhyme") was lavished with praise by the British music press pretty much immediately after posting a free EP on its website in the spring of 2012. The buzz has swelled a little slower in the States. Some early adopters came around to Haim largely because of prevalent coverage in Spin, but Haim didn't really become a band on anyone's "radar" until a few performances at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin in March -- most notably, an opening gig for Vampire Weekend. Just being in Austin for SXSW, I can tell you firsthand that Haim was the toast of the town that week.

Six months later, The New Yorker is claiming that Haim became "everyone's favorite band in America within roughly two weeks." I think that's a ridiculous statement, but I'll admit that nearly every music fan can come to appreciate Haim in some sense.

Steven Hyden, who currently writes for Grantland and Pitchfork and formerly held positions at Rolling Stone and The A.V. Club, has written that "at heart, the Haim sisters are a folk-rock outfit in the mold of Fleetwood Mac." I couldn't think of a more accurate comparison. And much like Fleetwood Mac and so many other breakthrough alternative artists, Haim plays just enough catchy, happy pop to appeal to one fanbase and just enough meaningful, authentic rock to appeal to another. Modern music acts very rarely achieve that balance anymore.

Seeing Haim at Austin City Limits only made me like the sisters more. Frontwoman Danielle boasts the voice of a '90s R&B songstress, but she rocks a guitar like vintage grunge heroes. Alana, the percussionist and keyboard player, brings spunk and even a little sex appeal to the group, pressing the keys with pelvic thrusts and pounding on the drums like Animal from The Muppets. But Este, the bassist, was everyone's favorite. Man, does she get into it. She makes crazy faces like John Mayer and she even dove into the crowd -- in a dress, mind you -- after the show.

They were totally cool and the exact opposite of pretentious. The Haim sisters were everything I had hoped they would be.

Trust me, this band won't become just another indie flavor of the month. With its unique stage presence, more national publicity to come and an album that many -- including myself -- are considering as one of the best of the year, Haim is just too damn good.

Shea Conner can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.


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