Broken Social Scene

[25 August 2008]

By Drew Fortune

I knew that I was in for a long weekend when Broken Social Scene scheduled their Lollapalooza after-party show at Chicago’s Metro Theatre for 11:00 pm. With constant media saturation and traffic jams consuming Chicagoans, Lollapalooza is exhausting even for those not attending. The intrepid collective of Broken Social Scene had just completed their late Lolla set when they marched directly to the Metro for the after-party. When I arrived at the venue just after the doors were supposed to open, the line had already stretched around the block. I didn’t attend the first two days of Lolla, and everyone in line regaled me with stories of Radiohead, The Raconteurs, and (although the present crowd was obviously biased) Broken Social Scene’s killer set. Their performance at Lollapalooza two years ago has become the stuff of legend, with the uninitiated converted and the dedicated further convinced of the genius of Kevin Drew and Co. As I stood in line, surrounded by drunken fans giddy on anticipation and dehydration, bearded and bespectacled guitarist Brendan Canning approached us and said, “You guys are in for a treat.”

Inside, the venue was stuffed and sweaty, and I was surprised to see how Broken Social Scene’s fan base has grown. No longer the band for discerning hipsters, I was now surrounded by frat boys with cocked visors and teeny bopper girls who wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Miley Cirus show. With opener Yeasayer delivering a solid performance, Broken Social Scene emerged just a shade past 12:30 a.m., and the stage could barely contain the 10-plus band members.

Broken Social Scene has a constantly shifting roster, with nineteen active and inactive players, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Amy Millan of Stars make an appearance. Core members Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, and guitarists Sam Goldberg and Andrew Whiteman were front and center, with a horn section and percussionists rounding out the cast. Drew, sporting a white fedora, quickly cued the band into the low-key instrumental “Pacific Theme”. One of the pleasures of Broken Social Scene in the live environment is the loose, shambling quality of the event. Chaos is always a welcome guest in the BSS world, and the tightrope the band walks is the ability to find gorgeous melodies amidst their swirling soundscapes. It’s forgivable, given the after-party circumstances, but tonight’s show was the sloppiest, albeit the most endearing, of their performances I’ve seen.

The band was eager to show off new material from Brendan Canning’s Something for All of Us, the latest in the Broken Social Scene Presents series. Rousing versions of “Hit the Wall” and “Churches Under the Stairs” found the band focusing their energies, while looser versions of standards “Superconnected” and “Almost Crimes” sent the crowd into a frenzy. Particularly enjoyable was the material off Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew’s Spirit If, and I was pleased to see how the quietly moving “Fucked Up Kid” has grown into a new classic, while the skuzzy rave-up “Backed out on the…” seems to be the new fist-pumping anthem.

Sound problems dogged the band all night, and everyone seemed to be feeling the ravages of the long day. As Millan belted out her parts during “7/4 Shoreline”, her vocals were nearly inaudible. With the levels finally raised, Millan soldiered through “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl”. With her voice ravaged and completely hoarse, the lyrical repetition of the chorus (“Park that car / Drop that phone / Sleep on the floor / Dream about me”) took on a beautiful immediacy as a hunched over Millan pounded her fist for emphasis, and seemed lost in her own world of melancholy memory and ultimate triumph.

Drew was surprisingly quiet during the band’s set, frequently turning the spotlight over to Canning while retreating behind the drum kit for a little percussive duty. As the show drew to a close around 2:30 am a lone spotlight shone on Drew for a haunting version of “Lover’s Spit” and for once the drunken rabble shut up. The venue was pin-drop quiet, and the crazy, ramshackle nature of the night was summed up in a moment of quiet unity, as band mates and crowd watched Drew strip himself emotionally bare, the enigmatic regret and beauty of the song sweeping everyone off their tired feet.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/broken-social-scene1/