Haim’s homecoming show Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl felt a little bit like a block party first, and a big rock ‘n’ roll coronation secondarily. “We are Valley girls through and through!” declared Alana Haim, one of the three sisters who make up the core group, explaining why “there’s gonna be a lot of emotion tonight.” When they’d headlined the Greek Theatre across the hills in 2017, that might’ve seemed like the prime hail-the-conquering-heroes moment of their lives, but, of course, there were bigger nearby ravines to conquer.
Now that they were assuming the dominative position in the Bowl, with Danielle getting something in her eye as she announced they’d been told right before coming on stage that the group had sold it out, leading to quick discussions of whether there is crying in baseball. Yet somehow, it still felt like a neighborhood thing. Yes, someone had gone to war and come back with medals — OK, with red-carpet movie premiere shots and binders full of the biggest love any L.A.-generated band has gotten in a generation — but we were still going to just have a beer with them. And then just stand back in awe as they kick-started the party by recreating their “I Know Alone” choreography.
Haim is nothing if not a group that fosters a “one of us” quality of egalitarianism between the impudent, casually funny performers and their audience. Which is why there can be a danger of selling their chops a little bit short, if you think of them too much as still Those Canter’s Girls. After all, nobody wants to be the equivalent of the guitar-store guy in the lyrics of the song “Man From the Magazine” who hands Danielle a starter guitar and says, “Hey girl, why don’t you play a few bars?” (Her response to that at the Bowl was a little more profane than it was in the slightly more chaste recorded version.) They played a few bars, all right, as talented multi-instrumentalists, with Danielle being the most mobile member of the three, moving back and forth with regularity between lead guitar duties and a position at the drums, where she gave off some serious early-Karen-Carpenter vibes, doubling as primary lead singer. Alana and Este were a little more anchored to their guitar and bass spots, but everyone got a chance to prove they’d also been working out on kettle drums or the like. If they ever started their own Guitar Center for Women chain to inspire “women in music” more than they already have, they might just save the world.
They could show off more than they did, but of course the show was in service to one of the best song catalogs anybody in rock or pop has amassed in the last 15 years. What to call it, exactly, is always a little in question, even if Haim is unquestionably a rock ‘n’ roll band. They are rockers who don’t feel any particular fealty to any particular tropes of rock at any given time, which is why, with the electro-poppy “I Know Alone” coming as the third song in the set, they could set down strings and sticks altogether and do that video choreography. I don’t think Jim Morrison done it this way, to invoke another hometown hero who once had a big night or two at the Bowl. (Like Jim, they did wear leather to their triumphant Bowl show, albeit as part of specially designed Louis Vuitton outfits.) And although some of the material rocks pretty hard — take “Forever,” an early song they resurrected from their Valley garage days — Haim is unconcerned about re-proving any rawk bona fides when they could be experimenting with slightly left-of-center pop or R&B chord progressions.
As good as the hour-and-40-minute concert got, it never got any better than its sixth number, “Want You Back,” which obviously invokes the Jackson 5 with its title but really feels in spirit more like a great, lost Hall and Oates song. It’s got a little off-kilter soul to it that’s hard to define, but what is definable is the rush of emotions that are felt in the writing — the sense that screwups have happened, mistakes were made, and pride must be swallowed to reclaim a love that was taken for granted. No one these days is really doing a better job than Haim of writing about what it’s like to be 30-ish and navigating relationships that come apart and back together again, charting between love, lust, ambivalence and commitment. There’s an underlying seriousness there about how to get on with life that isn’t negated by how impudent and even silly they can allow themselves to be in the presentation of the stuff. “I Know Alone” couldn’t be more lyrically stark in getting across how it feels to deal with abject solitude… so of course that’s the one that earns the dance routine.
Very occasionally, amid all this slyness, they get a little more folky and wear their hearts right out on their sleeve, as in the highly personal sisterhood anthems “Leaning on You” and “Hallelujah,” which got a little campfire-hootenanny segment in the middle of the show. The heartfeltness inevitably continued with some of the commentary about what it was like to be playing the Bowl, with Este offering a long aside about how she and Danielle used to go past the Highland exit every day in their carpool on the way to their downtown arts high school and dream of just attending a show there. (She also revealed that a friend who worked there eventually taught her how to sneak in, which must have set off heart palpitations among the listening Bowl staff.) But tongue-in-cheekiness was never too far away, either — as in an extended sketch that Este did with a flirty, phone-calling dude she’d supposedly met at the Oakland show the night before that finally ended up setting up their great, straight-R&B booty-call anthem “3 a.m.” (i.e., the time it would take to drive from the Bay area to L.A. to hook up). Este proved in that skit she’s got her own pretty solid comedic acting chops — note to filmmakers.
The sister-trio lineup is augmented on tour by three players on keys, drums (when Danielle is not behind the kit) and sax… none doing the heavy lifting for the Haims but all help filling out a sound that has grown lusher on record. Henry Solomon on sax got the biggest non-sibling spotlight of the night, doing a lengthy outro solo that turned things into the Playboy Jazz Festival for a minute, and adding the critical sax part on “Summer Girl,” a love song that pays tribute to Lou Reed while managing to walk on the mild side, winningly enough that it still made a strong closer for the main set despite its relaxed, strolling quality.
Having established that the set never got any better than “Want You Back,” it did get as good, at least. Sitting down again at the drums, Danielle started in with a shuffle beat that the faithful audience immediately recognized as the loose, lazy, sexy opening of “Gasoline,” of which she said, “We’ve gotten to my favorite song on the album (“Women in Music Pt. 3,” that is). What can we say? Danielle Haim has pretty good taste in Haim songs. And in a just world, that would have been the slow-burning banger of 2020. For many of us, it was anyway.
It felt like a just world, anyhow, for 100 minutes at the Bowl Sunday, as the evening turned into a celebration of both Haim and Los Angeles. Angelenos don’t even mind just how ambivalent the seemingly celebratory song “Los Angeles” is; it got huge cheers, even if the tune openly deals with how problematic L.A. is. (It’d be interesting to hear how it goes over in a few weeks when Haim plays Madison Square Garden and calls New York “clearly the greatest city in the world” before concluding, “but it was not my home.”) It was another one of those shows — and belated album-release parties — that was worth waiting through a pandemic for, just to experience the irony of 17,000 people coming together as one for “I Know Alone.”
And to finally properly invoke “Licorice Pizza,” L.A. as a city knows what it’s like to have a kind of musical crush on the Haims. Having that come to fruition in an explosion of mutual affection that was more cathartic than anything P.T. Anderson could come up with for a last act, for one adventurous, cocky, sentimental night, at least, we were all Cooper Hoffman.