Traditionally “standing room only” refers to the audience and not the performers. But on its current tour, Toronto collective Broken Social Scene and its 13 (or so) members must find having enough room to even play the least of their problems.
While the entire ensemble never flooded the stage all at once, it wasn’t at all uncommon during the band’s 15-song set for four guitarists, a four-piece horn section, two drummers, a violinist and singer all to squeeze onto the Boulder Theater’s modest-sized performing area at once.
Despite the spectacle of musicians regularly dashing out from the wings to perform their parts then scurrying back offstage, Broken Social Scene is far from scattershot in a live setting. A tight inner core consisting of guitarist/keyboardist/singer Kevin Drew, bassist Brendan Canning and drummer Justin Peroff stays out and keeps things running smoothly while the various other contributors emerge when necessary.
The ever-shifting nature of the show can mean the band is at turns bombastic (the huge, multi-guitar crescendos of “KC Accidental”) and then surprisingly intimate (the appropriately titled “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl”). The set balanced equally between material from the brand new “Broken Social Scene” and the band’s 2002 breakthrough “You Forgot It in People,” with an unreleased song added in towards the end.
When the band is in the proper mode, it can be quite engaging, as when Drew enticed the entire crowd to join in for the syncopated handclaps of “Stars and Sons.” Other moments, despite the sheer volume of performers onstage, lacked energy. A number of BSS’s slower compositions can test a listener’s patience, and Drew as a vocalist isn’t equipped to take charge. “Major Label Debut” and “Bandwitch,” from the newer record, particularly dragged.
The band did not come without a secret weapon prepared, however, and the emergence of singer Leslie Feist to perform on “7/4 (Shoreline)” and “Almost Crimes” energized audience and band alike. Bounding about the stage playing air guitar alongside Drew and joining in enthusiastically if inexpertly on second drums, the white-clad Feist gave the show an injection of stage presence the rest of Broken Social Scene’s members rather lacked.
“Lover’s Spit,” performed as the last song of the regular set, and “I’m Still Your Fag,” the final encore, proved the band could play more slowly while still maintaining the fine command of dynamics its expanded size allows. The extended horn outro on the latter, in particular, best demonstrated the beautiful possibilities of Broken Social Scene’s large-scale reinvention of the indie rock wheel.
Here is Broken Social Scene’s set list:
“Handjobs for the Holidays”
“Fire Eye’d Boy”
“Major Label Debut”
“Stars and Sons”
“Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)”
“Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl”
“Where’s Your Heart, Where’s Your Mind”
“I’m Still Your Fag”