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Concert Review: Broken Social Scene/Helio Sequence

Concert Review: Broken Social Scene/Helio Sequence

If this is the last Broken Social Scene show we ever get to see, it will be worth it.

Oregon Zoo, Portland, OR
07/27/2019

Question: Do you have a limit on when you’ve seen a band enough times? I take a pornography-like “I’ll know it when I see it” approach to this, because though I’ve felt this way about a few bands, I’m proven wrong every time. I’ve now seen Broken Social Scene seven times, six of which have been since 2017’s post-hiatus Hug of Thunder, leading me to ask myself in the lead-up to their Oregon Zoo performance whether or not I should tap out after one last ride.

The Oregon Zoo’s summer concert series is one of the best bang-for-your-buck tickets around: not only do you get the show, but you get zoo admission in the process – a fact that likely lead to a severe increase in the amount of children you’d normally see at a Broken Social Scene show. On top of this, the Zoo’s amphitheater feels shockingly intimate, a feat for a show with a stage that came up to my eye line. Perhaps it’s the summer air, or the fact that it feels like a shrunken-down Edgefield, or the fact that it all takes place just outside the Zoo’s sprawling elephant exhibit, but despite its medium-to-big tent bookings, it never falls into the same atmospheric trappings as any other amphitheater.

It’s still a pretty big stage, though – and seeing the two-piece Helio Sequence drove this home. To their credit, they’re talented and magnetic enough that their presence is entirely justified: Brandon Summers still sounds great, and Benjamin Weikel’s drum face – imagine a man drumming while joyfully taking a bite of a giant invisible sandwich – can prove impossible to look away from at times. Seeing them was a reminder of how talented the duo is, able to command a large stage and get a day-buzzed crowd dancing.

As it turns out, there’s a possibility that Broken Social Scene may be done with us: the band have cancelled their upcoming UK/EU tour, citing Kevin Drew’s “health issues.” Though he hasn’t elaborated on what this means, he made good use of a brand new cane – “It still has the barcode on it!” he’d joke late in the show – helping him to maneuver from center stage to keyboards, leaning on it while stalking the front of the stage during “Sweetest Kill.” Broken Social Scene have already gone on one long hiatus, and a year after seeing him cane-less at Pickathon, it’s hard not to worry that this could have been one of their last shows.

I sure hope not, because as it turns out, I will never skip a Broken Social Scene show – I am sorry for having ever doubted them. Whatever energy they drew from their two stellar Pickathon sets was on full display at the zoo, and Drew made this clear by citing his time at that festival for the band assembling in Oregon again early on. All 9 (!) of them felt in total lockstep for the whole set, and up front their chemistry is palpable; this is a band that can’t hide the fact that they love playing together after all these years. The band’s four singers – Drew, recent addition Ariel Engle (who’s also the wife of guitarist Andrew Whiteman), bassist Brendan Canning (who looks more like National frontperson Matt Berninger every day), and Whiteman – were magnetic and sounded great even in the outdoor air. If this is the last Broken Social Scene show I ever get to see, it will be worth it.

And, sure, there are nitpicks to be had: the setlist reveals that “World Sick” was their intended opener but cut it, and they skipped songs like “KC Accidental,” “Anthems for a 17 Year-Old-Girl,” and “Almost Crimes,” as well as altering their typical end-of-the-show primal scream session to a silent scream (a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the protest for the zoo’s elephants that took place last month), leaving out the catharsis I’d been looking forward to. But they did close the set with the one-two punch of Forgiveness Rock Record’s “Meet Me in the Basement” and an off-setlist You Forgot It in People’s “Lover’s Spit,” the former of which saw the band bringing out Tortoise drummer/former Scenester John McEntire, leaving my head spiraling over which joke to make about a member of Tortoise playing in earshot of the zoo’s actual tortoises. The only thing that could have made it better would be for them to magically have Leslie Feist waiting in the wings, but considering she’ll be playing the same stage a couple weeks later, this was a long-shot. I have absolutely no idea what the future of this band looks like, but we can only hope that some rest will be enough for Drew to keep playing shows with this band.

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