It was only when I noticed that I’d stumbled into the wrong line — I was waiting to get into Bleachers’ show at Power Plant Live! rather than Rams Head Live! — that I realized that the vibe at the show I was headed to, Broken Social Scene, might be a little different than I had anticipated.
Nonetheless, I was excited to see Broken Social Scene perform as I’d heard from friends and family who had previously attended their shows that they put on a great live performance.
It was admittedly through my parents, whose solid music taste has played a significant role in the cultivation of my own, that I discovered Broken Social Scene — whose members (and, apparently, their primary audience) also happen to be around my parents’ age.
As I confirmed after entering the venue, the crowd at Rams Head probably hadn’t spent the previous weekend at Love, Simon (which Jack Antonoff of Bleachers wrote the majority of the soundtrack for), but that’s okay.
Broken Social Scene are a collective of Toronto-based musicians brought together to collaborate by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning in 1999.
Given the bevy of instruments used in their arrangements (the guy standing next to me counted at least 11 mics set up on stage) they are typically labeled as a “baroque pop” group.
Personally, I’d argue that their sound is more heavily influenced by rock than by what we consider “classical” music.
In the early years, the band found success via placements in a variety of popular shows and films including Nip/Tuck, The L Word and the indie drama featuring Ryan Gosling (swoon) Half Nelson.
But they really struck gold with their third self-titled LP, Broken Social Scene, featuring the track “7/4 (Shoreline),” which remains an easy sing-along staple at their shows to this day.
Since the release of their first album Feel Good Lost in 2001, the group has gone through several iterations with multi-talented members coming and going yearly. Besides Drew and Canning, the group’s most notable contributors have been Leslie Feist (her song “1234” is of Apple commercial fame) and Emily Haines, the lead singer of Metric.
Their most recent album, Hug of Thunder, was released on July 7, 2017. The release came after a roughly seven year hiatus, during which the members channeled their creativity into a variety of other artistic projects, sometimes involving other members of the band and sometimes striking out on their own.
Based on the quality material that their reunion (yes, all 15 original members helped create the new record) produced, one has to imagine that the time helped reinvigorate their creative process and lent them an even stronger, more cohesive voice and sound than they previously had.
The band’s current line-up includes Drew and Canning, Justin Peroff, Andrew Whiteman, Charles Spearin, Sam Goldberg, Ariel Engle, and David French. Engle, who is married to Whiteman, is the band’s newest addition.
As a huge fan of Metric (listen to “Help I’m Alive” or “Breathing Underwater” and tell me they’re not brilliant — I dare you), I had been hoping that Emily Haines would be on tour.
Thus, when it came to taking on the female vocals, my bar was set pretty high for Engle, yet she carried herself with poise onstage (without appearing to take herself too seriously) and seemed to genuinely enjoy the opportunity to be up there.
Watching her navigate the stage, I realized the extent to which her vocal part is simply a piece of the larger arrangement, something that I imagine you must be able to come to terms with if you’re going to be a member of Broken Social Scene. Yes, your part is important but, at the end of the day, it’s only one aspect of a larger whole.
When he spoke to the audience, Drew demonstrated stereotypical Canadian niceness. Before singing “Protest Song,” which is just what it sounds like, an anthem dedicated to the virtue of protest in our current age, he emphasized the importance of resisting various factions’ desires to pit us against one another.
According to him, our Canadian pals are here for us and have faith that America is going to get through the Trump administration, with music being one force capable of helping serve as an escape and a unifying force in the meantime.
Part of me wanted to simply roll my eyes and say, “Easy for you to say when you have Trudeau crashing everything from people’s hikes to their weddings,” but he seemed so genuine that I didn’t dare dampen his message with pessimism.
Overall, the show was an admirable demonstration of the members’ musical skills, with each person taking up various vocal parts and instruments throughout.
If you played me the studio versions of the several songs I know alongside a live recording, I doubt I could have told you the difference, such is their precision.
One of the most fun moments of the evening came when Drew went to dance with the crowd during “Texico Bitches” and encouraged us to sing the “whooo” that follows each chorus. This was perhaps when the crowd was at its most engaged, a testament to the staying power of the older music.
While the energy waxed and waned over the course of the show, watching Broken Social Scene live was a unique experience that definitely beat my typical Friday night.
With studies continuing to provide evidence that attending live shows can add years to your life (yes, really), I strongly suggest that you check out the schedules of some of B’more’s best local venues, including Power Plant Live!, Ram’s Head Live!, Metro Gallery and Ottobar to see if any of your favorite artists are stopping by sometime soon.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the positive impact a night of listening to music can have on your mental health.