The sixties gave rise to the commune, where hippies not only shared space but lived together as an extended family. Communes were not exclusive, welcoming anyone wishing to join in the collective effort for the time that they are able to contribute. Broken Social Scene embodies the spirit of the hippie commune, channeling all their musical resources into a common effort and allowing friends and family to join the band, if even for just one night.
The Canadian collective primarily revolves around its founding members, singer and guitarist Kevin Drew, guitarist and bassist Brendan Canning, bassist Charles Spearin, guitarist Andrew Whiteman and drummer Justin Peroff. Drawing in musicians from fellow Canadian bands like Stars and Metric, Broken Social Scene can differ greatly from one performance to the next. For their New York run, the band adopted an all hands on deck philosophy and were quite fortunate that Webster Hall has a stage large enough to hold them all.
In their effort to replicate the layers of sound found on their most recent self-titled release, Broken Social Scene brings a staggering number of musicians to the stage. At first blush, this seems like anarchy. There are too many guitars on stage, too many drummers and the full horn section on stage left that seems out of place with the violin player on stage right. Once the band gets going, singers come on stage from all directions and none of the seventeen musicians ever stand still for long. In theory, such chaos should not work. However, the kinetic energy created by Broken Social Scene doesn't just work, it works brilliantly.
Songs like "Fire-Eyed Boy," "Superconnected" and "Bandwitch" encapsulated the band's frenetic, breakneck pace. When they get their momentum going, Broken Social Scene sounds like a wonderful amalgam of the Talking Heads and Sonic Youth. Each song contains a riff or a chorus that will burrow into your subconscious, take root and slowly unfold. Ostensible frontman and ringleader Kevin Drew kept the show moving, pausing occasionally to amiably banter with the audience or point out sister Ibi in the balcony before launching into "Ibi Dreams Of Pavement."
Taking note of the strange bass beat pounding through the floor, Drew abruptly cut off one of the band's trademark intros, bringing the show to a standstill. Hearing and feeling the thumping beat from Webster Hall's dance floor two stories below, a curious smile came across the bearded singer's face. "Do you hear that?" he wryly asked the band before turning to the audience. "What, is there something else going on here tonight?" Drew queried. While the current "it-band" of the Canadian musical scene might have been humbled by not being the sole musical event in its own venue, Broken Social Scene remained unfazed, if not bemused, by the discothèque pulsing below.
Further keeping with the values of the commune, the women pull their weight. For the songs requiring the hoodie-wearing Drew to abdicate center stage, Metric's Emily Haines, looking especially punk with her short blond locks and simple white T-shirt, bounced up front, handling the lead vocalist role with energetic verve. Contrasting Haines' ebullience, Julie Penner calmly played violin, unemotionally giving a homespun quality to the Canadian wall of sound. Even though she primarily provided back-up vocals, former Reverie Sound Revue singer Lisa Lobsinger's strong voice demanded notice.
On their first night in New York, Drew and the rest of the band truly enjoyed themselves, seemingly not wanting to leave the stage. Diving into their final numbers, the band just kept playing, building the songs to epic crescendos. By the time the horns, guitars and Penner's violin hit their final surging notes at the end of "It's All Gonna Break," the crowd didn't care that the band had played through the encore break. Unfortunately for American audiences, Broken Social Scene's three night sold-out run at Webster Hall marks their only stateside appearances before embarking on a month long tour of Europe and Australia. Pitchfork's David Nadelle best expressed the palpable excitement over the band's mounting popularity. "Isn't it great," Nadelle quipped, "that Broken Social Scene are finally headlining venues where there are more people in the audience then on stage."
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