Broken Social Scene

[24 March 2008]

By Dan Raper

Broken Social Scene brings out an enthusiastic crowd. In the relatively small but packed venue at Sydney University, pre-show excitement quickly turned into surging expectation. “I used to drink with Feist in Calgary,” said one bystander, “back in her little punk band days.” “Lisa Lobsinger works with my little sister,” said another. And a common refrain was, “Last time Broken Social Scene was here was like, the best show I’ve ever been to in my life.”

You never know who’ll show up to play a Broken Social Scene gig. The six-member group (Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Andrew Whiteman, Charles Spearin, Justin Peroff, and new member Sam Goldberg) who greeted tonight’s crowd was a bit of a surprise. This was, like, “old-school Broken Social Scene,” explained de facto leader Drew when introducing the band. A classic showman, Drew drunkenly railed against local conservative figure Fred Nile and antagonized the audience, the sound guy, and the venue people when they told him time was up. It didn’t affect the performance, though. As he said at the end: “I sang my fucking heart out for you, Sydney.”

The result of this stripped-back lineup was a guitar-heavy show absent the ecstatic brass that pervades much of BSS’s more triumphant musical moments. Rumor has it that the real BSS performance went down Sunday evening at the Laneway Festival; in comparison, this show, which albeit definitely had its highlights, was a little staid. These are all relative terms, of course—you hardly expect any BSS show to be without its rough edges. Messiness has always been part of the group’s charm, and is one of the reasons they have such a loyal live following.

Sound issues don’t help, though, and the band was annoyed early on for reasons that weren’t completely discernible to the crowd. After four or five songs, Drew abruptly announced they were taking a break while the sound guys fixed the problem, and the group traipsed off stage. The abandonment was so nonchalant, it started to feel as if the band weren’t really into it—but they returned more quickly than expected, to hurtle straight into “Fire Eye’d Boy” and “7/4 (Shoreline)”. Soon, nobody was complaining.

The concert showcased not only the full range of BSS’s catalogue, but also a few songs off Drew’s 2007 solo release Spirit If, which were among the night’s highlights. As well, guitarist Brendan Canning provided a song from his upcoming album, released in the same Broken Social Scene Presents… series. That song, “Water in Hell”, was the most straightforward of the set: a pleasant, jangling country-rock number that hinted at Canning’s material being, in comparison, a bit neater, lighter, and more conventional.

Oh, did I mention that Feist made an appearance as well? Must’ve been saving the best for last. With Feist on lead vocals (she also did an acoustic version at her solo show the following night), “Fucked Up Kid” blossomed into one of those ecstatic BSS moments: a fragment of melody was coaxed out of the noise and allowed to exist, poignantly, for a second. “Farewell to the Pressure Kids” layered long and fuzzy guitar lines over each other to a glorious, Sonic Youth-style peak. Things ramped up towards the end of the show, which ran significantly past the allotted time, as the songs coalesced and the energy of the whole room lifted. With Feist again on lead vocals, “Almost Crimes” was absolutely thrilling, and right at the end, with stage managers signaling for them to stop, the band closed with “It’s All Gonna Break” off their 2005 self-titled album.

You know you’ve been at a good concert when you leave with your ears ringing and that elated, burnt-out feeling in your head and gut. Whenever you go to see Broken Social Scene, in any of the band’s various forms, it’s a feeling you’re likely to leave with.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/broken-social-scene/