NEW YORK — “This is the best night of my life,” Alana Haim said on Tuesday night from the stage of Madison Square Garden. And she repeated it at least three times. It may have even been more, but it was sometimes hard to hear over all those cheers.
Alana Haim is the “baby sister” of HAIM, the first and best Israeli-American pop-folk-rock sister act to sell out Madison Square Garden. Indeed, it was Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim’s ability to pack “The World’s Most Famous Arena” that led her to make her declaration. It was just 11 years ago, she said, when the three of them (plus two others) packed into a single hotel room to play the CMJ Music Festival in the hopes of getting noticed by a record label and found themselves performing to “literally one person.”
While the story sounds like a smidge of an exaggeration (as was the “sold out” claim; the seats at the extreme sides and behind the stage were roped off) Alana, now a movie star after her outstanding debut in last year’s Oscar contender “Licorice Pizza,” certainly sold the moment. Later, when the three sisters got close to harmonize with just an acoustic guitar on their ode to family, “Hallelujah,” some people up close held up signs that must have said something touching, as Danielle had to restart the song after getting choked up. (A round of “I love you”s between the sisters and the fans and ensued.)
HAIM’s rise to stardom was certainly anything but a sure thing. For one, most Americans mispronounce the name at first. (It isn’t Hayme, it is Hyme, and feel free to add a little Hebrew spin on that H while you are at it.)
They were born in Southern California to former Israeli soccer player and musician, Moti, and art teacher mother, Donna. (The whole family shows up in a good Shabbat dinner scene in “Licorice Pizza.”)
In addition to three full albums, they’ve put out a slew of singles, performed with Taylor Swift and Lizzo, smashed the walls between genres, and are masters of making funny videos.
All three sing and co-write the songs, and are multi-instrumentalists. In concert, Este, the eldest and maybe the most traditional “rock ’n’ roll” in attitude, mostly sticks to her riding low, fuzz-forward bass. Danielle alternates between drums and a searing electric guitar. Alana plays rhythm guitar, occasionally plays the keyboards, and also gets behind the kit. She isn’t just the youngest, she is the smallest, and with her wide smile and natural ebullience she exudes a palpable joy when she is banging away at the drums.
And this, I think, is why the crowd stayed on their feet and cheered nonstop during the 100-minute set. HAIM is an extremely polished act, but you can’t fake the kind of exuberance they project. Even for a fairly straightforward pop song with a static shot video there’s choreography that walks the line between conceptual art and simply being goofballs.
At Madison Square Garden they wore matching costumes — black bikini tops and black leather pants — and there was no shortage of schtick between the three. (There are three additional musicians, alternating between percussion, keyboards, additional guitar, and occasional saxophone, but they literally stay in the shadows most of the time.) Some of the stage-patter was blue, some of it involved splitting the audience in sections to cheer for their favorite sister, and some of it involved Danielle getting serious to discuss the sexism they’ve faced during their earlier days. Indeed, the Joni Mitchell-inspired track “Man From The Magazine,” a rebuke of obnoxious questions from the press (not me! I swear, I’ve never got to interview them!) got some of the loudest applause.
While my count is far from scientific, I’d put the gender split in the audience at roughly 65 percent female. A lot of groups of three or so gals out for a night on the town. Their ages matched the band — early 30s — and, yes, a lot of Jewish faces. A common T-shirt read “Fourth Haim Sister” and some actually looked the part. Also, of the men there, I noticed a large gay fanbase. Standing beside me was a HAIM super-fan who brought his boyfriend, and was spewing facts and figures between each song about when they were written, and any changes to the lyrics.
One alteration I noticed myself was a tweak to the song “Los Angeles.” On the album there’s a bit of a diss toward New York (“New York is cold/I tried the weather there once/Nope!”) which was perhaps wisely changed to something on the order of, “This is the greatest city! Yeahhhh!” to laughter and cheers.
The current tour began in late April, already hitting hometown venue the Hollywood Bowl. They continue in North America (Toronto on May 24, Chicago on June 3, Seattle on June 13), then hit Europe (Dublin, Madrid, Stockholm, London, you name it) throughout late June and July before wrapping up in San Diego on July 27. There are fewer safer bets for a fun night than seeing this show.
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