As six of the eight members of Broken Social Scene cleared the stage, guitarist/coronet player (and Do Make Say Think member) Charles Spearin warned the audience, "We're going to try a little science experiment." Accompanied by touring saxophonist Leon Kingstone, Spearin smiled and explained that he had recorded interviews with his neighbors and became fascinated with the cadences of their voices. "This is Mrs. Morris," he said as he pressed play on an iPod, pumping a minute-long interview with a thick-accented, Eastern European-sounding woman over the Gargoyle's PA. "Now here's Mrs. Morris and Leon," Spearin said. As he replayed the interview, Leon Kingstone played along, simulating the melody of her voice with his saxophone and transforming Mrs. Morris' earnest declarations about life and love into jazz.
The crowd burst into cheers at the conclusion of the experiment. It was a stunning moment that had nothing to do with any of the group's albums, EPs or recent name-brand-endorsed albums -- but it was entirely Broken Social Scene.
With the release of Broken Social Scene presents Brendan Canning: Something For All Of Us... earlier this year, it became official that the Canadian collective is way more than just a simple rock band. As a result, many audience members -- myself included -- were concerned about the group's Gargoyle performance. Would they play enough old, familiar songs and not lean too heavily on Canning's relatively underwhelming solo effort? Would there be enough band members to fill out the band's massive sound? Would Land of Talk frontwoman Liz Powell be able to fill the shoes of former BSS sirens Amy Millan, Emily Haines and Leslie Feist? Is Broken Social Scene capable of, if need be, just rocking? Luckily, the answers to these questions were yes, yes, yes and yes.
The eight touring members of Broken Social Scene came to stage calmly. Kevin Drew, red party cup of beer in hand, talked casually about coming to town early and seeing Obama speak under the Arch. The show started with a whisper as Charles Spearin strummed the quick, noisy chords that underline "Late Nineties Bedroom Rock For The Missionaries," which lead into the similarly orchestrated "Shampoo Suicide." Both songs displayed the live band's ability to recreate the subtle, complex arrangements that make repeated listens of Broken Social Scene's recorded output so rewarding. Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman proved himself as first chair among the four or five guitarists early on with his tasteful use of effects and proficient leads, only stepping into the Canadian province of Wankery two or three times in the set.
After the pair of sleepy quasi-instrumentals, Whiteman confidently strummed the opening chords of "KC Accidental." The eager crowd barely had time to cheer before the song exploded, its brick wall of guitars and horns moved along speedily by Justin Peroff's limber dance beat.
I had seen Broken Social Scene once before as it was touring in advance of its self-titled 2005 album. The band's set then focused on new, unreleased songs, some of which it abandoned in favor of old songs that the group trudged through out of obligation to the crowd. "KC Accidental" proved that the band's attitude toward its classic material has changed; the road-worn looking band members bounced around the stage and cracked jokes to each other in between and during songs.
After the band's first full rock song, the show turned into a party as the collective played hit after hit off You Forgot It In People and the highly underrated self-titled album. "Cause = Time" was a guitar-heavy dance party that inspired many high fives as Andrew Whiteman bent the notes of its hooky lead lines. The horn-heavy ending "7/4 Shoreline" felt more like a gospel song than an odd time-signature summer jam.
Naturally, the band's weakest moments were its most indulgent. Brendan Canning's Something For All Of Us tunes felt a little too funky to fit the mood. Touring guitarist/bassist Sam Goldberg took the spotlight for a moment as Drew explained that the band would play a song by Goldberg's band Hawaii. A crawling, moody slow jam occupied the next 6 minutes. Goldberg's lazy vocal delivery amongst the sparse beat inappropriately brought to mind the verses of "My Own Summer (Shove It)" by the Deftones. The song title was not announced, but a large percentage of the crowd likely referred to it as "cigarette break.”
Land of Talk singer/guitarist Liz Powell became a reluctant star of the show several times. The Montreal band's stunning opening set showcased her serpentine vocal melodies, but her guitar gymnastics impressed the most. She consistently milked chords of their inherent dissonance, combining the sharp edges of Saddle Creek labelmates Cursive with the playfulness of Doug Marsch's elastic Built To Spill lead lines.
Powell harmonized beautifully with Drew on numbers like "7/4 Shoreline" and "Fire Eye’d Boy," but her vulnerable vocals took the forefront on an impressive rendition of "Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl". Accompanied by Drew's fragile falsetto, Powell propelled the song into a dramatic climax, milking every ounce of tension out of the repetition of "Park that car, drop that phone."
Drew announced their last song and humbly thanked the crowd: "This is like a punk rock basement show, we haven't done this in years. Thank you for being here." The band then closed with the multi-faceted "It's All Gonna Break." The Gargoyle's crowd danced and sang along, but the real party was on stage. The song may have dragged on had it been played earlier in the set, but seeing how much fun the band had on stage, it was apparent that they simply didn't want to let go.
Late Nineties Bedroom Rock For The Missionaries Shampoo Suicide KC Accidental Cause = Time 7/4 Shorelines Fire Eyed Boy Hit The Wall Churches Under The Stairs Farewell To The Pressure Kids (Hawaii cover) Looks Just Like the Sun Do Make Say Think "science experiment" Love Is New Stars and Sons Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl It's All Gonna Break
-- Ryan Wasoba