HAIM at House of Blues, 4/22/2014
Photos by Nicholas Zalud
HAIM House of Blues April 22, 2014
Aspiring bands wondering how to go from obscurity to selling out House of Blues in barely two years could do worse than studying HAIM's example. In this case, the L.A. act fronted by the three Haim sisters fills a niche that hardly even existed previously: girls next door who happen to be badass musicians. Both categories are abundant within the past 50 years of pop history, true, but not together in the kind of proportions that HAIM brings to the table.
There is a little more to it than that, yes. Originally from the San Fernando Valley, Este, Danielle and Alana Haim (pronounced HEYE-m) have already had their share of lucky breaks. Their arrival/discovery at SXSW 2012 looks destined to be a story HAIM tells at many a Texas show to come. Onstage, they come across as genial, wisecracking young ladies who are unafraid to be cheesy and will let an f-bomb fly at the drop of a hat. They're easy to root for.
All of which is fine, but what sets HAIM apart is how they combine what can safely be called a unique take on pop music with the serious chops to back it up. The legend is that the sisters effectively melted down their parents' '70s-heavy record collection to arrive at their sound, but even that doesn't quite describe what they did to Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" early in Wednesday's set. Picking a tasty psych-blues nugget from well before that band's Lindsey/Stevie heyday is more evidence that HAIM knows their stuff, but turning it into a full-on hair-swinging Led Zeppelin-style breakdown is proof of how well they can execute it.
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Their other great talent is extracting lethal hooks from songs with quite a few individual moving parts; that's also how you build an 80-minute set (including encore) out of just 12 tunes. Lurking among the stuttery electronic rhythms, copious synths Danielle's fearsome electric-guitar licks, Este's rubbery reggae-derived bass lines and various '80s cheese-pop allusions (was that Expose I heard?) were these lethal hooks like on "Change Your Mind" or "Days Are Gone" that eventually came to dominate the entire song.
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HAIM also gives great crescendo. Danielle's showpiece "Running When You Call My Name" and "Honey & I" began almost as sketches, loose outlines of songs -- those days of living-room jamming Este mentioned early were close at hand during those moments -- until they suddenly started tightening the screws and driving hard to the hoop. (A keyboard player and drummer, introduced as "Dash and Tommy," abetted the sisters Tuesday.) They even did a sexy cover of Beyonce's "XO," calling the Houston-born 21st-century icon "our angel."
Certainly, the band is lucky enough to have an entire pop/rock library at its disposal, and astute to know just which plug goes into what socket; the wubby EDM effects crossbred into the stadium-rock stomp of "My Song 5" was especially striking. But HAIM are no scavengers. Watching the way songs like "The Wire," "Forever" "Don't Save Me" -- all completely original and tailor-made for some forward-thinking Top 40 programmer -- were already etched into the crowd's faces, it was clear that these three sisters do not need to fill any niche other than their own.
Personal Bias: The old guy in the club.
The Crowd: Yuppies. She-yuppies. Students. Very few people over 30 years old or egregiously out of shape. Stupid packed.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Back there is Plan B."
Also Overheard: "I feel like you should sleep with her."
And This: "Are you going to Foster the People? Do you know who Foster the People is?"
Random Notebook Dump: Just for fun, a quick search of "three sisters" turned up the Chekhov play supposedly based on the Bronte sisters, the three principal crops of many Native American cultures (squash, corn, climbing beans); a 2001 sitcom that lasted one season; a popular motorcycle trail that starts in the Hill Country town of Medina; and a chain of Houston-area nurseries.
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