There are some acts that you wish would never take time off, even if it would be good for them, both career-wise and personally. Artists that you can’t get enough of, such as Broken Social Scene. The Canadian collective closed out their second tour off of last year’s Hug of Thunder (QRO review) in the New York City area – but not the Big Apple itself, ending at New Jersey’s Wellmont Theater, and playing Long Island’s Paramount (QRO venue review) the night before on Saturday, April 7th.
It was only last fall that BSS played within the five boroughs, at Brooklyn Steel (QRO review), yet the Toronto group was on the road again. For the NYC area, at least, they played new spaces, further out. The recent return and distance from downtown did seem to depress ticket sales (the New Jersey show, in particular, seemed easy to win tickets). But that did not dampen the group’s enthusiasm on stage at The Paramount. The band has been around long enough to have a natural rapport, both between each other and with their fans. “There’s no division between us” main man Kevin Drew remarked at one point (though The Paramount did have a large photo pit between the crowd & the stage).
Drew & co. would easily joke with one another, as well as with the audience – yet their set didn’t require him to be frontman, 24/7. Indeed, the show began with him in the back on keys for opener “K.C. Accidental”, whose epic beginning is instrumental. Other Drew-less pieces included guitarist/bassist Brendan Canning (QRO interview) singing “Stars and Sons” (like “Accidental”, a classic from their amazing 2003 breakthrough, You Forgot It In People), side player as guitarist Andrew Whiteman (QRO interview) doing “Fire Eye’d Boy” from 2005’s self-titled follow-up, and numerous pieces where singer/guitarist Ariel Engle took the lead.
BSS have long had a rotating spot for the female vocalist, which has featured the likes of Metric’s Emily Haines (QRO photos with Haines), Stars’ Amy Millan (QRO live review with Millan), and Leslie Feist (QRO photos with Feist), to name a few. So great have been prior leading ladies that more current ones can get caught in their shadow, but Engle really shined at The Paramount. That included “Sweetest Kill” from 2010’s Forgiveness Rock Record (QRO review), which can very easily get stuck in your head, and playing the new “Force”, a sexy, rhythmic piece from her band with Whiteman, AroarA – Drew remarked that this was how the band did it back in the day, debuting each other’s material on the road (like when Whiteman would do his Apostle of Hustle – QRO spotlight on – work, or multi-instrumentalist Charles Spearin – QRO interview – doing his Happiness Project material – QRO album review).
But this was a tour off of Hug of Thunder, so it was heavily featured. Of particular note was “Protest Song”, the band’s song about America, “We love America. You will get through this trying time, because you have to.” Rather than be another protest song in a time and genre that has so many of them, it’s a song about protest songs. “Skyline” reached for the heavens, even in lower-slung Huntington, NY, while “Stay Happy” & “Gonna Get Better” got more atmospheric.
Like most musical acts, Broken Social Scene has had to deal with the shadow of their earlier, most beloved work, with fans wanting to hear the old songs, but the band wanting to play the new songs. But, by this point, BSS have become comfortable with it all, excited to play whatever – Drew even joked that he tries to live in the moment, and only accidentally looked at the set list. So there were also late greats like “7/4 (Shoreline)”, “Almost Crimes” (which the female fans particularly loved), and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Half)”, where Drew got The Paramount to shout out their frustrations.
Indeed, Broken Social Scene were having so much fun that they just straight up skipped their encore break, so they could play more songs, going direct into “Anthems For a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” with opener The Belle Game. Canning & Drew heaped praise upon The Paramount for treating them so well – and having a downstairs like something out of David Lynch-ian suburbia. And one has to appreciate a band that aren’t young anymore, but still drink beer from plastic cups on stage.
Broken Social Scene has had the skill to appear and to disappear, going on side-projects and generally making the heart grow fonder with absence. But they always return, ready for another ride on the road.