Live Review: Broken Social Scene – 9/13/2011


Whether a punk rock slamdance or a folksy sing-along, any concert worth its weight in ticket sales will always elicit some powerful emotional response. But for all the shows I’ve seen, and all of the joy, catharsis, and booze-fueled ecstasy I’ve experienced, I’ve never once felt legitimately sad at a concert. That is, not until Broken Social Scene launched into their first song at the Tabernacle in Atlanta on Tuesday night, a knockout rendition of the You Forgot It in People cut Cause=Time.

As it turned out, the night was full of surprises. Due to my last concert experience there – a Decemberists show, admittedly in mid-July – I believed the Tabernacle to be a functional heat trap, where a trip up its multiple levels felt more like a stroll through the circles of Dante’s Inferno. This time around, though, I was happy in my jeans when I walked through the venue’s doors, perhaps due in part to the shocking lack of warm bodies present when Kevin Drew and company took stage. Despite the billing, this was not your average opening act; this is a band that’s made the rounds and paid its dues, that plays with a whole lotta love and deserves at least a little in return. Generally, I’m not one to “whoo” in between songs, but when a seemingly disheartened Drew opened the set with a quip about this being their “living room” tour, I felt a need, nay a compassionate desire, to compensate for my lack of fellow concert-goers by loudly yelling the band’s praises at any quiet moment. But equally as surprising as the lack of people in attendance, I soon realized, was the relatively few number of performers on stage with BSS.

Tuesday night marked my second time seeing Broken Social Scene live, and at least in terms of sheer manpower, The band that showed up to play the Tabernacle was noticeably smaller than the one from Variety Playhouse two years prior. The Broken Social Scene that I’d seen before boasted upwards of twelve different members on stage at any given time, featuring at one point four brass players, all building towards an impossibly beautiful climax with the sprawling, ten-minute jam It’s All Gonna Break.

This time around, with being billed as the opening act, however, I can only assume that financial prudence is to blame the lack of a full-fledged touring collective. And even with eight people, the absence was noticeable, not so much in the quality of the music as in the set list. Unfortunately, some of their most memorable tunes are simply too dense to be performed by the band’s pared down core alone, limiting their ability to explore the full extent of the Broken Social Scene catalog.

But to Broken Social Scene’s credit, despite it all, they still played one hell of a show, if only for their allotted hour. Adopting a “c’est la vie” attitude to the less-than ideal conditions, the members were still shaking hips, rattling bones, trading smiles, and delivering chin music-style high kicks in the manner of seasoned professionals who haven’t forgotten how to have a good time and please a crowd to boot. And even though their set wasn’t as loud, or as epic or expansive as I’d remembered, it also never seemed sparse or underdeveloped. Fan-favorites like Fire-Eye’d Boy and Stars & Sons still sounded as tight and achingly gorgeous as their studio counterparts; Texico Bitches still had the panache to get the crowd bouncing up and down the dance floor; and the opening bass line of Shampoo Suicide still had enough slink to make my skin crawl with excitement. Truthfully, the biggest letdown to speak of was that the band decided not to play Meet Me in the Basement, one of the standout numbers from 2009’s Forgiveness Rock Record, despite that they’d featured it at shows earlier in the tour. Broken Social Scene’s set at the Tabernacle was certainly different than I had expected – as I said, it was in a word, surprising. But as with parties and Paul Simon albums, surprises aren’t always bad, and all in all, Broken Social Scene made for one tough act to follow.

– Andy Stewart