Friday night saw a small pilgrimage of epic proportions up a North London hill with throngs totalling 10,000. The leg work was not only rewarded with stunning views across the city and the impressive Alexandra Palace at the top, but the ultimate prize, HAIM bringing their Sister Sister Sister tour to this iconic location.
HAIM hail from Los Angeles, California and are sisters (you already guessed, right?) Este, Danielle and Alana Haim. They formed the band in 2007 having worked with other recording artists in the studio and on tour separately, and they have not looked back since forming the group together. The women are from a musical family and all play at least two instruments, which in this digital age is rare and welcomed.
The stage was set with about eight drum sets of varying sizes, types and configurations, promising the room a heavy dose of the rhythmic action for which the band are known in their live shows. They are two albums deep. The latest release in 2017, Something To Tell You was a long time coming after their debut smash Days Are Gone from 2013. 2013, also the year of their first Glastonbury performance. While the first album is more pop rock, the second is firmly soft rock favouring a less produced sound resembling the Carpenters and Fleetwood Mac.
The live show was heavier than either studio albums would lead you to expect (that’ll be the drums and guitars then). The women mix the composition of the instruments they play with their vocals, their various talents showcased throughout the night. Many of the songs played featured at least three drum kits, the extended band picking up when required.
The show opened with a spotlight and drum solo on Danielle, she was joined on the left with another spotlight and another drum kit by Alana. Este joined on the right, same deal. Spotlight. Drumkit. This impressive intro led to a rousing rendition of Falling, the crowd were encouraged with a “come the f*ck on London” as drums were traded for guitars and Don’t Save Me was shared against a blue backdrop, a drumstick thrown into the crowd. Already? They do like to keep you guessing and they did just that with Little Of Your Love which had hints of ABBA.
My Song 5 is stripped back and dramatic anyway, but the stage was stripped to pure white on the screen. They used just two guitars, two drum kits and a keyboard but it sounded bigger than that somehow. Este taking the opportunity to give good guitar face, for which she is known and added flaying hair to complete the rock chick look.
One of the things you realise about these women is they know how to tell a story, are fans of a swear word or 20 and know about filler banter, whether that is about a Disney movie or arriving in London for a week and staying for three years (possibly explaining part of the reason why album number two took so long).
Sometimes these fillers took ages, the impromptu song about a snickers bar (necessary for Este‘s type 1 diabetes, the bar not the song) or the faux sibling spat. Alana “giving the good people what they wanted” by twirling in her black blazer with diamanté tassels, a peek of her butt cheek, she said she felt like Rihanna and asked if she was doing it right.
Unusually, Este took lead vocals on Ready For You, which has a break in it and a few pitch changes on the lyrics “for you” that reminds you of early of Prince. The stage was then turned a symbolic red befitting jealousy, revenge and anger for You Never Knew. There is so much emotion shared with the performance of this song, you almost feel sorry for the person its written about. Alana looking mildly amused as the house lights were brought up encouraging you to look up at the ornate roof as a disco ball threw beams of white across the faces of those watching, mesmerised.
The first song released from the second album, Want You Back makes you want to jump in a convertible with the roof down and drive the highway that was being shown on the screen. It warms you from the inside and makes you think of summer and Kate Bush. The album title track, Something To Tell You, was tailored for the setting with a crowd pleasing call and response encouraging those listening to exercise their vocal chords.
The use of lighting is also really important and the spotlight was shone on Danielle for a guitar solo. Nothing’s Wrong builds and the band chose to play with this out of the solo. More guitars were added, then drums. Lights were creatively played across the stage and smoke was added to the mix. Thanks to the support acts Grace Carter and Maggie Rodgers, you could feel the lady power, the girl power. Spice Girls fans perhaps?
Forever, was for the first time sung back to them at Dingwalls in Camden where Este cried. Not surprisingly it was then sung back to them again in Ally Pally, possibly to make Este cry again? With a good old-fashioned count in; ah 1, ah 2, ah 1-2-3-4, The Wire was played with vigour. Possibly to sustain the lull that followed as the stage was darkened and questioning whispers started. A cacophony of sound towards the back of the room announced the bands arrival by the sound desk. They played guitars with their backs to each other, facing outwards connecting with as many people as they could as the serenaded the room with Night So Long.
The night was rounded out with Found It In Silence and Right Now, which included an extended drum outro. A perfect circle to the introduction we were treated to at the very start. A surprise, but not really, the ladies wanted to leave us with no doubt as to their talent and ability, why they are here and why they draw the crowds they do. An evening of watching masters at work, pure delight.
Review of HAIM at Alexandra Palace on 15th June 2018 by Sharmayne Robinson. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.