Broken Social Scene

Mike Mantin 19/02/2006

Broken Social Scene's recorded output is so beautifully dense and multi-layered that, even while staring at the vast array of guitars and effects pedals they have laid out on stage before the show, I begin to wonder if they can do justice to some of the tracks on their two full-band albums, 'You Forgot It In People' and this year's self-titled release. As they glide from new (well, at least I haven't heard it before) track 'Jimmy And The Photocall' into the classic guitar onslaught of 'KC Accidental', those doubts are immediately thrown into the whirpool of guitars, just as I'd hoped. Three songs in, they claim they're having 'feedback problems', but no one notices. I thought it was deliberate.

Tonight is true heaven for Broken Social Scene fans: they're onstage for over two hours with no support band, so they've got time to play significant portions of those two records, plus a couple of newies. All the classics are here, from the melodic noise-fests of 'Almost Crimes' and 'Ibi Dreams Of Pavement (A Better Day' to the indie-pop singalong of 'Cause=Time' to the, dare I say it, funky 'Hotel'. They've crafted the elements of the live show to perfection, even if regular contributors Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, Jason Collett or any of Stars can't be here - more recent songs famous for their generous production are draped in guitars, multiple drumkits, a violin and backing vocals, and they have a few supporting players to help them out every now and then, such as the brilliantly-coiffured Lisa Lobsinger, who proves a worthy replacement for Haines' haunting vocals on the hypnotic 'Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl'.

Even as we move past the ninety-minute mark, the quality remains astounding. 'Shoreline', 'Cause=Time' and 'Stars And Sons' will all build up into immense, swirling, noisy crescendos with the rhythm section sweating to keep up, finish and do it all over again: you've got admire their energy. There's a few surprises, too: 'Major Label Debut' is played twice, once as a chilled-out pop song and later as a shouty rock jam. Slightly smug, but it demonstrates the true versatility and strength of their songwriting. They end with a true finale, the astounding 'It's All Gonna Break', in which everybody (and it's quite a cast) thrashes their instruments like it's the last song of the last show of their lives, all the while keeping it a coherent whole. It's quite a sight.

If this is all sounding like a laborious exercise in musical mathematics, consider the fact that Broken Social Scene seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves, constantly throwing their heads back and improvising with intros and interludes to songs, and providing some fine banter, reeling off snappy comebacks if an audience member asks where “the rest of the band” are and even giving out a few hugs to their loving fans. It may be a freezing Sunday night in one of the most boring cities in England, but Broken Social Scene are more than capable of turning the cosy stage into a gigantic indie-rock circus: the greatest show on earth.