Tonight's wood-paneled shack in Hollywood is also where the sisters were discovered. The bar walls are decorated with acoustic guitars signed by musical greats as diverse as Carole King, Herbie Hancock, Deftones, Guns N' Roses and Miles Davis. At the window is where Donna sold merchandise on another pre-success night when Haim opened for Grouplove in 2010. A man came over looking to buy their CD after that set. Donna didn't have any. She offered him a T-shirt. "That's okay. I'll find you," he said. He did, and he became their manager.
Fast-forward five years and here we are at a stellar homecoming show. It's more than just a homecoming show, though. The girls have broken out of precious studio time to put on a benefit concert on the would-be birthday of someone cherished by all of them, especially youngest sister Alana. That someone is Sammi Kane Kraft. "Sammi and I got into so much trouble," says Alana onstage. "She had such a bright vibe, you'd have dark spots in your eye when she left the room. Losing her was the hardest thing but I'm lucky I had her in my life for a decade."
See Taylor Swift's Birthday Message For Este Haim
Study any footage of Haim's life on the road since Oct. 2012 and you'll see that Alana's guitar has black tape on it marked with the letters "S K K." Alana's parents would "kill her" if she got a tattoo. Tattooing her instrument with black duct tape was the next best thing. Tonight's "Sam Jam" is a similar dedication in honor of Sammi's life. Jenny Lewis was Sammi's number one hero, and the Troubadour her favorite venue, one she and Alana frequented. One night the pair sat outside on the steps after Haim opened for cult local band Phantom Planet, a group Sammi and Alana once dreamt of just saying '"Hello" to. Alana's happiest memory is recalling how excited Sammi was when her friends got to open for them.
"When Sammi passed I had this idea to have a show with us and Jenny; that's all I wanted," she says after. "We weren't big enough to do it because The Troubadour hadn't heard of us. I called them two months ago and asked if there was a spot open on her birthday and there was. It was meant to be."
Sammi was a passenger in a drunk driving accident two and a half years ago, aged 21. It occurred just before Alana left L.A. for over two years to conquer the world with first record Days Are Gone. The three Haim siblings and the three Kraft siblings grew up together. Sammi had been to every Haim show. Her sudden passing wasn't going to prevent Alana from keeping her with her at every future Haim show. Frankie Kane Kraft tells me, "When I see my sister's initials on Alana's guitar, it's a transcendence for me, a spiritual experience like going to church." Tonight's charity of choice, Our House, is the counseling center that helped Frankie and brother Bobby through their grieving, pairing them with people who suffered similar losses. "Our family now look forward to my sister's birthday," he says as the venue starts filling up.
The extended family affair gets underway with Lewis performing "Just One Of The Guys." With Danielle on drums and Este and Alana as her back-up, Lewis then launches into a brand new cut, "Girl On Girl." Kesha squeezes in a swift-but-electrifying one-song appearance before having to dart to another gig elsewhere. Droste and Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij together with British singer-songwriter Laura Marling join Jenny and the Haims onstage for a heart-rendering performance of acoustic number "Acid Tongue." Looking on from the VIP section are Florence Welch (whom the trio supported on an early U.K. tour), Mad Men actress Kiernan Shipka, Girls star Allison Williams, collaborator Calvin Harris and future touring partner, Taylor Swift.
Watch Haim Tame Lions & Bears in Wild Video for Calvin Harris' 'Pray to God'
Then it's time for Haim's own set complete with a never-tired cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," a roof-lifting "Forever" together with handclap-led breakdown, and a floor-shuddering "Don't Save Me." "It's been a second since we last played," says Alana to an audience who hang onto her every word. The aptly-named "Sam Jam" climaxes with the most special guests of all: Donna and Moti Haim. "Mom, you're spicy right now," says Este, after a barnstorming, feel-good version of "Johnny B. Goode." "Oh, you ain't seen nothing yet," retorts the matriarch of the rock n' roll Von Trapps before giving that "Mustang Sally" another ride for the evening. Ending on "Let Me Go," the three sisters finish on their signature drum-off, ensuring not an ounce of their effort has been spared.
"Y'all. That was unreal," says Swift, bounding into the upstairs backstage area. I recognize that awe-inspired look in her eyes as the same one worn by every Haim first-timer, and certainly every Rockinhaim first timer. Tonight the Haims commemorated their guardian angel the only way they knew how. By making everyone feel alive.
Here's the set list from the show:
Kesha – Your Love Is My Drug
Jenny Lewis – Just One Of The Guys
Jenny Lewis – Girl On Girl
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Ed Droste – Surfer Girl
Haim – Falling
Haim – Oh Well
Haim – Honey & I
Haim – Don't Save Me
Haim – The Wire
Haim – Forever
Rockinhaim – Johnny B Goode
Rockinhaim – Mustang Sally
Haim – Let Me Go
Additional reporting by Jeff Miller