Broken Social Scene didn’t need to come back, but it’s clear why they did: they do what they do too well to stop for good.
Broken Social Scene didn’t need to come back, and they didn’t come back for us. After announcing an indefinite hiatus following a world tour promoting 2010’s Forgiveness Rock Record, it seemed fitting that the band was calling it quits. After a decade of making first-rate albums—if not near-perfect, in the case of You Forgot It in People—there were small notes of finality to be heard in Forgiveness. The band didn’t stay gone long, of course; they only took a few years off, deciding to play occasional festivals. The band returned to the touring circuit this year to celebrate the fact that they’d also returned to the studio with the above-average-but-not-revelatory Hug of Thunder—and speaking as someone who got the chance to see the band before it all did break, we should all be grateful for any opportunity to see the band play.
Broken Social Scene is currently touring as an eight-piece band, and on paper that sounds excessive. Looking back on the richly layered chaos of You Forgot It in People and their 2005 self-titled album, the fact that they have so many players complementing each other is one of their greatest strengths. In Portland, the band opened with perhaps their finest example of this multi-faceted approach, “KC Accidental.” They used every inch of the space provided for them on the Crystal Ballroom’s stage, dropping out just long enough for Kevin Drew’s single verse, before blasting off again. On record that’s an impressive song, but it’s an entirely different beast when you’re actually watching four guitarists perform. Later on, the band did the similarly massive “Almost Crimes,” which the band dedicated to the recently-passed Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie. That song, with its dueling vocals, brought a manic energy to the stage at the Crystal, the guitar ruckus perfectly washing over—but not drowning out—the singers howling onstage.
Unfortunately, the crowd lacked enthusiasm and engagement when it came to the new batch of songs. This is the unsurprising liability of songs that fans have had only four months to digest when everything else the band played is at least seven years old. Despite the lukewarm response from the crowd, songs like “Skyline” and “Halfway Home” sounded great mixed in with “Sweetest Kill” or “7/4 (Shoreline),” so it’s easy to imagine an audience bringing the same level of energy to “Protest Song” that they do when Brendan Canning takes vocal duties for the always-fantastic “Stars and Sons.”
Some of the best moments of the show were in between songs, when Drew, permanently affable and charming, got the chance to get chatty—and these were the moments the crowd ate up the most. “I have never watched a single episode, sketch, credit from the show ‘Portlandia,’” he said as the crowd roared in approval. After the cheering turned to boos when he asked if anyone else watched it, he added: “If they made a show called ‘Torontia’ I wouldn’t want to watch that either.” This energy, tailored to a specific audience, was infectious and poured out onto every other member of the band, who couldn’t seem to go a single song without striking histrionic guitar poses and goofing off just enough to make you remember that, to these people, this is easy. They may not be the world’s best rock band, but they act like they are, and they’re all the better for it. Broken Social Scene didn’t need to come back, but it’s clear why they did: they do what they do too well to stop for good.