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November 8, 2007

Pared-down band packs a spirited punch

Ever since I saw Broken Social Scene at Lollapalooza ’06, I have compared every concert to it. Nothing has been able to top the experience.

I wasn’t expecting anything as good from Broken Social Scene playing Kevin Drew’s Spirit If…, both because the album was not as strong as any of the band’s records and because only six people (as opposed to 14 or more) are currently on tour. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see founding members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning (and friends) take the stage and give an electrifying performance.

Many of the songs from Spirit If… feel a little limp on the album, but Drew and crew breathed fire into every song they could. “Fucked Up Kid” turned into a noisy, melodic jam, while the soft and subtle “Safety Bricks” packed an electric punch and more prominent drums. Raw, gritty distortion on “Backed Out on the…” got the entire crowd jumping while they rocked out, just like the fans in the music video.

After starting off with “Lucky Ones,” the audience was treated to Broken Social Scene’s “Cause=Time,” along with four more of the band’s songs, as well as a new song by Canning and covers of Dinosaur Jr. and American Analog Set. So far on the tour, Drew has been trying to avoid playing his band’s songs in an effort to establish his own, but he didn’t hold back this time, and thanked the crowd for letting him play the “new stuff” without yelling at him.

Although the band lost some momentum toward the end of the show, Drew did what I always appreciate bands doing (I know he’s not the first or anything). He skipped the usual encore routine and continued to play, half-unplugged, half–full band, with “It’s All Gonna Break” getting the treatment.

The only Broken Social Scene song that Drew and company could not salvage was the epic he wrote eight years ago with Canning, “Lover’s Spit.” Even with their 14-plus–member ensemble, the band has trouble rendering a live version of the song that is as entrancing as the original studio cut. Without any of the female singers, strings, or horns, Drew’s improvisations and drawn-out final jam were just not enough to create the mesmerizing aura of the band that fans love so much.

At the end of the night, it was apparent that Drew and Canning still considered this outing a Broken Social Scene show, and they performed with as much energy as they could without the others. Representing what is essentially the core of the band, the two exuded an obvious chemistry on stage that made them incredibly fun to watch.

For me, seeing Broken Social Scene was a very communal experience. Drew mentioned that Chicago always feels great and that he didn’t feel challenged by anyone’s face in the crowd that night; the band’s collective nature just breeds a sense of warmth and comfort with everyone in the room. The band always makes an extra effort to talk to the fans and to get them to sing. Canning even walked through the crowd after the show, hugging fans and just trying to make some kind of connection with people.

While it’s nothing too profound, Broken Social Scene’s motto is basically “love, don’t hate.” Seeing so many people happily interact on stage (and in the crowd) is a captivating experience that could only evoke compassion and positivity. Drew stood up there for over two hours and, in his own words, simply “sang his goddamn heart out.” What’s not to admire about that?

I still only know a little more than half the words to Broken Social Scene’s songs, but I have all the melodies memorized to the tiniest little inflection. Their music is a testament to the fact that a few notes or chords alone are enough to move and inspire people, and although their words have meaning, comprehension of those words isn’t always essential to enjoying the music.

After saying a bunch of semi-inspirational and confessional things to a half-listening crowd engrossed by Canning’s presence among them, Drew said, “We will always be your Broken Social Scene; we will always have this feel,” and grasped for something with his fist.

Like any favorite band, Broken Social Scene leaves me with that inexplicable feeling that I want to convey to everyone I meet. No matter how many members can make it one night, or even if the full band never gets together again, Broken Social Scene will keep on keeping on because they love the music. And we’ll come back, because seeing them in any capacity is rewarding, no matter what.