Destined for the higher reaches
Haim - Live At The Shacklewell Arms, London

Tonight The Shackwell Arms makes a rush hour tube journey look comfortable. As one of the Haim sisters turns around to face the drummer three people in the front row do a reverse Mexican wave, ducking one-by-one to avoid being hit by the neck of her guitar. These three Los Angeles girls became the talk of SXSW by fusing R&B vocal harmonies with indie-folk melodies. At the last of two London showcases everyone’s eager to see how such a contradictory mix can work live.

The girls look grungier than their R&B production values would have you believe – baggy t-shirts, ripped shorts, long unkempt hair – it’s clear from the outset they’re here to rock, not play cute pop songs. ‘Better Off’s three-part vocal harmony silences everyone. Singing prowess proven, they tear around the stage as though playing Nirvana covers. On-stage banter is equally out of keeping with any girl-band image. “The ratio of dudes to girls is way in our favour,” laughs bass player Este, who ends the set by asking guys to see her later for “a good snogging”.

Having previously been in a covers band named Rockinhaim with their parents, it’s clear that the cat is away, and these sisters can play. ‘Forever’, the title-track of an online EP, is next up. Lead guitarist Danielle Haim ferociously pounds a bass drum centre stage and sings through gritted teeth. Everything’s more raw, direct, and compelling than on CD, and it’s not long until the crowd turns from onlookers of a genre experiment to participants in a frenetic reaction.

The catalyst is a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’, which takes R&B touches back to their rhythm and blues roots. It’s played with bags of attitude and self-assurance. Alanah, on rhythm guitar, darts around the stage, thrashing the instrument to every syllable. This one is probably straight out of the Rockinhaim days.

Being brought up with parental retro Americana influences while secretly loving the likes of Aaliyah, they’ve managed to incorporate both into something new and exciting. It’s truly is impressive to see how many “dudes” are drawn to this gig considering the well-polished sounding EP. They’ve certainly got a sound destined for the higher reaches of the charts and won’t be found playing in too many pubs if this performance is anything to go by.

It’s a short set, only six tracks in total. New material includes ‘The Wire’, a jaunty, almost rockabilly number with some big solos and daedal drumming. Another addition outside the EP, ‘Honey and I’, is a delicate slow-paced moment with a country-rock feel. Intricate harmonies appear more frequently than in the EP’s three tracks too. It’s clear there’s a lot more still to come from the Haim sound.

“This is our last song in England,” Este announces before each member picks up a drum and belts it ferociously in a four-way beat orchestra. It’s not just harmonies they can do in sync, this carnival style highlight is a climactic ending sure to stay in the memories of everyone who managed to squeeze in the door. Gigs as good as this are a rarity, lets just hope the live intensity isn’t lost as the venues increase in size.

Words by Simon Butcher
Photo by Elinor Jones

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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