Broken Social Scene live at the Bronson Centre
Since the Island festival concert of 2006 in Toronto, I hadn't seen
BSS play a live show. Up until that point, in fact, my life had been
completely BSS-less. (Many people think I have been possessed or
drugged by the members of the band to write gold about them.)
On October 25th, I had the chance to see Broken Social Scene for
a second time in a live setting. For all of their grandeur and
media-projected hype, one thing is certain; any band who can
keep an audience entranced for nearly three hours can project
any kind of hype they want.
The night started with a long line as my wife and I met a few
of our concert-going amigos (Dan and Emily) who had already been
standing for a few hours in the cold October night. With two other
random people appearances (one I won't mention and the other was
Marc-Andre and his wacky caffeine-guzzling school friends) while the
four of us tried to stay warm, Brendan Canning walked by us and
high-fived a few cheering line-standers. A few minutes after,
Kevin Drew, Andrew Whiteman and a few others walked by going
the other direction as Canning. After a few false alarms, the line
started to seep in. We found some sweet seats and were pleased to
see that the Bronson centre was an all-sitting venue.
Land Of Talk opened. Chick rock mediocrity. And then it happened.
BSS took over the stage in full throttle. Ripping into '7/4 Shoreline'
only 3 songs in seemed to be somewhat of an early trap door that left
me wondering 'Where are they gonna go from here?' What was
ultra-cool about the communal aspect of Broken Social that night,
though, was that each member with a solo record got to showcase a
bit of their own material with the band backing them.
Andrew 'Apostle Of Hustle' Whiteman seemed a little surprised
when Kevin Drew motioned for Andrew, Brendan and the drummer
(Justin) to stay on stage and everyone else to leave. The song, however,
came to life with only three musicians playing ('National Anthem Of
Nowhere') and helped re-ignite my love for The Apostle's straight-ahead,
guitar-driven, drum-thumping style (and of course swelled when the horn
section re-appeared for the climactic ending along with Kevin adding
in another layer of guitar).
Brendan Canning (the unsung leader of the band and bassist) also
stepped up to bat for a few of his solo album tracks such as 'Hit The
Wall' and 'Churches Under The Stairs'. Though he didn't seem as
confident as the others, his songs carried and filled up sonic space
with their builds and bass-driven tempos. Canning was one of the most
interesting players to watch for the duration of the evening.
Another ingredient to the batch was Sammy Goldberg who performed
one of his songs (which Drew called 'a real bump-and-grinder') titled
'A Hundred Thousand Miles'. It was apparently the extra guitarist
and bassist's first time playing the song for his wife (who was in the
audience that night). This was one of the most awkwardly un-fitting
moments of the night...but somehow, it still worked.
One of the highlights of the evening (and 'weird-lights' if I can coin a
phrase) was Charles Spearin's science project. He had taped his
neighbour (who had a seriously thick Jamaican accent) talking about
'happiness'. He played the tape once so the audience could hear the
interesting inflections in the lady's voice. On the second play-through,
Charles called the main sax player back to the stage who then replicated
the exact sounds of the lady's speech (note for note) alongside of the
Stepping into some rather big shoes that night was Elizabeth Powell
from the opening band 'Land Of Talk'. Powell not only put on a decent
set with her two bandmates for the opener but then proceeded to sing
all of the female vocal parts for every BSS song that night (obviously,
with the fame of Millan, Haines and Lady Feist, they can't all make it
to every BSS show).
Overall, the band seemed a bit tired (as the usually disheveled looking
Kevin Drew belted out his vocals and pelvic-ized against the mic stand) but
they pulled it together when it counted. For big finishes on big songs (like
'It's All Gonna Break' which was the first of 2 options given to the crowd
for a choice of encore), they ramped it up, brought out the horns, Charles
Spearin switched from guitar to brass, Sammy Goldberg would point
his instrument into the crowd like a gun, Whiteman would jump around
and kick a lot, Peroff would beat the hell out of the skins, Canning would
just jump in place and flop his hair about and Drew would turn red from
wailing. I think the magic of this band is that they each bring something
to the table of the feast of a live performance and cause the crowd to
want to see what each member is doing at any given moment.
Almost three hours after starting, Drew claimed 'This is the last of these
shows we'll be doing, where we play our old stuff, for a while...so thank
you for coming. It means a lot'. Obviously, every band has to navigate
through new terrain but that statement left me thinking that move was
perhaps a little premature and pretentious on the band's part. I mean,
really - if Radiohead can still play live songs from 'The Bends' twelve
years after the fact, I think that BSS can manage a few 6 year old songs.
Time and time again, though, Broken Social has proven that despite
the hype, they can deliver when it comes to live performances.
Who knows what the future will hold for BSS - but October 25th was a
night I won't soon forget.