Broken Social Scene fans are patient people. The large, expansive, multifaceted collective of musicians that has amassed a loyal following since its 2001 debut album doesn’t exactly release records at a particularly rapid rate. Since its inception, the band’s recorded output totals five studio albums (although most of the participants keep themselves occupied with side projects and solo releases). But when the Canadian collective embarks on one of its sporadic concert tours, followers get a chance to see the band in its finest element.
On Saturday night, at downtown St. Petersburg’s Jannus Live, local fans got a chance to see the populous band for its first visit to the area since 2011 and quickly realized how much they’d missed Broken Social Scene. Weaving its potent concoction of indie rock, clever pop and experimental sounds, Broken Social Scene treated a loud and rapt crowd to a two-hour foray into a rich, varied catalog and pulled off plenty of “wow” moments along the way.
Members of the current touring version of the band — all eight of ‘em — made their way down the long spiral staircase at the rear of the stage and immediately took their places at the array of instruments and guitars that awaited. Kicking off with an explosive version of “KC Accidental” from its first album, Broken Social Scene wasted no time in diving into its musical palette. Lead singer Kevin Drew was in fine vocal form; his expressive, emotive delivery intertwined with the wall of sound his bandmates churned out and continued to shine throughout the impressive 20-song set list.
Keyboards, percussion, an occasional combo of sax and trumpet, four guitars and a bass helped create an exquisite mood and vibe for the eager crowd. “We’ve been away for awhile… but we’re back!” Drew enthusiastically announced a few songs into the set and, with each passing number, BSS more than proved the statement. A rousing, escalating version of rocker “Texico Bitches” kicked the set into a higher gear and the band never really let up from there. Touring singer Ariel Engle added depth and texture to the songs she sang on and expressed herself magnificently with versatile and unfailing vocals. Of her many shining moments throughout the performance, her captivating, slinky work on “Stay Happy,” a track from the band’s latest offering, 2017’s Hug of Thunder, was downright intoxicating.
Kevin Drew’s onstage persona and presence has grown more confident and commanding since the band’s start. Delivering heartfelt words of inspiration, Drew managed to express his solidarity with the U.S. by reminding us that, as a Canadian band, “we are your friends, we are your neighbors.” He dedicated the band’s tender ballad “Sweetest Kill” to “everyone who left and everyone we didn’t want to leave” and urged us, as a united group, to let out a collective scream to “let it all out” by assuring us it would be a therapeutic exercise. And, on command, the intrigued and captivated crowd belted a cacophonic, chaotic series of powerful screams that, true to Drew’s promise, allowed a sense of clarity and renewal to take over. It was powerful and exhilarating… but that was the common feeling for most of this stupendous performance that’s already occupying the slot of this young year’s best local concert performance to date.
“Protest Song,” “Cause=Time” and “7/4 (Shoreline)” — all selections from the band’s earlier works — blended seamlessly with the group’s more current material. Judging from the dancing, the singing along of lyrics and the general loss of inhibitions that were displayed, the set seemingly satisfied every single person who gathered for the pleasant, balmy night. As the evening came to a close, loud, booming dance music bellowed from a nearby club which inspired Drew to ask the crowd to help take this show to another level and rise above the intrusive music.
A smoking version of the fiery instrumental “Meet Me In the Basement” closed the night in grand style and drowned out the annoying club music spilling over into the outdoor courtyard where the band was performing.
Although this was a night of special moments and unforgettable performances, the most mesmerizing moment was undoubtedly the rendition of “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” that came near the tail end of the set. The lush, vocally layered track, albeit not one that’s easy to pull off in a live setting, absolutely soared thanks to the unified, harmonic vocal mastery that was delivered via Engle along with Andrea Lo and Katrina Jones (both fine singers themselves) who make up half of The Belle Game (the absolutely marvelous band who opened the show).
Editor’s Note: The folks at Open House Conspiracy have explained the situation. See below and watch video from this moment on Facebook.
We actually had a secretive after party planned where we handed out invitations during the party that had a photo of Mandarin Hide’s back entrance, which funny enough is an EXIT sign with a bar marquee so we called it the Exit Bar, put the address on it, and asked Luv*Jam, all the way from Onkfordshire, to play some more for us — some nonsense for April Fool’s. Unwittingly we also were blasting over Broken Social Scene’s set (a band we respect and admire so feel sort of bad about) and they called us out but with total humor and grace. A friend at the show who had been out our event prior sent us a video he captured of it during their set. Apparently then they checked us out and loved it from their Instagram post we’re seeing two days later.
Broken Social Scene label mates, The Belle Game, although virtually unfamiliar to many in attendance, carried themselves like seasoned pros and treated the crowd to a 30-minute set of itsown brand of ethereal, moody and intriguing performances on the way to winning over what seemed like each and every person in the house. Lead singer Lo showed off her uncanny ability to shift from soft, fragile vocals to commanding, passionate wails effortlessly. The band’s lead guitarist, Adam Nanji, led the way through the twists and turns the group’s music took thanks to his atmospheric and sometimes eerie playing which added depth and feeling to the music. Adding to the lush presentation was Jones’s impressive keyboard work which ranged from subtle atmospherics to quirky electronica as well as the steady, sturdy drum work of Alex Andrew who steadily pounded out fierce rhythms and added lots of bang to the music. An extremely engaging and exciting band, it seemed obvious that Belle Game made plenty of new fans on Saturday night before the highly anticipated headliners had made their appearance.
Have a look at more photos from the show below. Read our interview with Broken Social Scene here.