live review

Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene

August 07 2010
The San Francisco Bath House, Wellington

Reviewed by Ryan Eyers
9th August 2010

Broken Social Scene
San Francisco Bath House, Wellington
Saturday 7th August, 2010.

I know it’s easy, when you’re still sticky with sweat and glowing with euphoria, to speak in hyperboles about the gig you’ve just attended. But I can say unequivocally and without hestitation that this was one of the best gigs I’ve been to in my life. It’s a feeling that still sticks the morning after, as I write this, and while there is so much awesomeness to cover I’ll do my best not to drool.

Arriving on stage with a relatively stripped-back line-up of eight (they’ve regularly had up to 18 members on stage at one point), you knew Toronto’s Broken Social Scene were going to provide something special when frontman Kevin Drew prefaced the gig by saying that it was going to be a “loosey goosey drunken punk rock gig”, in celebration of the fact that it was their last gig of a long tour before heading home.

Despite this, the band showed no signs of fatigue, but every ounce of the well-oiledness that comes with a long stretch on the road, launching straight into a synchronised groove that didn’t let up for the entire set. These guys were here to play, and they wanted you to know about it.

Mixing songs from their latest album, Forgiveness Rock Record, with substantial smatterings of their back catalogue, BSS showed that their newest material stands up to live treatment, with songs like ‘Texico Bitches’ and instant classic ‘Forced to Love’ easily rubbing shoulders with older fan favourites such as ‘Almost Crimes’, ‘Superconnected’ and ‘Cause=Time’. In terms of tempo, the set was pitch perfect, with the band tactfully slotting in more downtempo moments with tracks like ‘Sweetest Kill’ and ‘Lover’s Spit’ to give the audience (and probably themselves) a break from the frenetic energy that permeated the SFBH, before rapidly tapping back into it with the next song to retain the show’s impetus.

Speaking of the audience, from the outset they were basically in raptures, blessing the gig with a feelgood atmosphere that came from the feeling that everyone seemed genuinely psyched to be there. This reflected onto the band, who lapped up the adoration and used it to ramp up their intensity to another notch, which in turn only made the audience happier, and Drew repeatedly thanked them for their enthusiasm, grinning like a madman as he chatted between songs.

Even though they refute any claims of supergroup status, it’s hard not to ascribe that qualification to BSS, such is each members’ obvious ability and the turns they take to showcase it. Looking at them basically running out of room on stage, you could easily think that their sound could become somewhat clogged, but it’s a testament to their egalitarian arrangement that they make no attempt to compete with each other. Instead, we see a group of extremely talented musicians actually sharing the stage and spotlight harmoniously, which is maybe why they don’t want to be called a supergroup: they simply don’t behave in the disjointed, prima donna fashion that such arrangements are known for. It probably helps that they seem to be enjoying every minute of what they do.

As you’d expect when there’s up to five people playing guitar at any one time as well as others operating numerous other instruments, their sound was immense, and would have easily filled an area ten times the size of the packed Bath House.

Underneath the guitarwork, drummer Justin Peroff did a phenomenal job of maintaining a rhythmic backbone, while the horn section led by mulit-intstrumentalist Charles Spearin added the rich, tasty cream on top. Watching them at work was to see a true act of craftmanship, as layer upon layer of sound was developed, accented and combined into a beautifully-constructed mix that washed over the audience and inspired compulsive bodily movement. In saying this, it never became too jumbled and chaotic, and it’s a credit to the excellent sound mixing that each members’ instrument could be clearly identified and their part individually appreciated.

Vocally, it was also a shared effort, and even though Drew is a born frontman with effortless showmanship, he was only too happy to step aside for the likes of Andrew Whiteman with ‘Art House Director’ (which Drew dedicated to ‘all the renderers in the audience’ before singing the praises of Wellington’s film industry, to appreciative cheers) or Brendan Canning, who brought the funk with a rendition of ‘Love Is New’, a song from his solo efforts. Dream-like Lisa Lobsinger, who floated on and off the stage almost at random, also made her presence felt on ‘All to All’ and especially during the encore with ‘Anthems for a Seventeen-Year Old Girl’.

Overall, the gig was pretty much perfect, and a great example of a show that really was a performance. While as the last show of a long tour it could have easily been tired and paint-by-numbers, Broken Social Scene instead used it as an opportunity for celebration, spurred on by a loving audience that played an equal part in the revelry. As the last bars of encore finale ‘Ibi Dreams of Pavement’ faded out, the band seemed reluctant to leave the stage, seemingly not wanting the gig to end as much as the audience, protesting that it was only because ‘some other people need to come in here and party’. Expertly-delivered, euphoric and transformative, the show served as a great example of the power of live music and made for nourishing soul food. I’m still smiling.

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