During Lollapalooza 2006, Broken Social Scene played what was widely considered to be the best set of the festival. Meanwhile, I was across the field trying to stake out a good spot for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Needless to say, this is a decision I’ve intensely regretted ever since I first heard “You Forgot It In People,” Broken Social Scene’s second album, a few months later. To attempt to atone for this mistake, I jumped on the first chance I had to see them live — at the Metro in Chicago on November 3.This tour is in support of founding member Kevin Drew’s solo album, “Spirit If…,” and the show was billed as “Broken Social Scene performs Kevin Drew’s ‘Spirit If..'” This led to some uncertainty as to what I would be seeing exactly — was this a proper Broken Social Scene show, or basically a Kevin Drew solo show?
The correct answer lay somewhere in between. Broken Social Scene is an ever-evolving collective, and this tour can be seen as a new phase for them. However, about two-thirds of the show was material from “Spirit If.,” and Drew assumed frontman status more so than in the past. The lineup was also vastly stripped down compared to previous tours, with guitarist/bassist Brendan Canning (also a founding member) and drummer Justin Peroff the only other former members of the collective to be present for this show. Three touring musicians, including American Analog Set’s Andrew Kenny on keyboards, supplemented them. Missing were the strings, horn section, and female singers that have been Broken Social Scene staples in the past.
This smaller lineup was appropriate considering the somewhat sparse arrangements on the new album. “Farewell to the Pressure Kids” rocked louder and faster than it does on “Spirit If.,” and “Bodhi Sappy Weekend” sounded great despite the lack of strings that are integral to the studio version. Best of all from the new material was “Backed Out On The.,” which provoked a rapturous audience response and significantly raised the energy level of the show. However, I was disappointed that my two favorite songs from the new album, “Frightening Lives” and “Gang Bang Suicide,” sounded better in the studio.
The show had an incredibly loose and relaxed feel to it. This was often a good thing, as demonstrated by an impromptu cover of “The Wagon” by Dinosaur Jr. The band clearly had not rehearsed the song, but still executed it well. On the other hand, the relaxed nature of the show was occasionally problematic. The band took a long time to transition between songs, leisurely switching instruments and tuning guitars while Drew and Canning bantered with the crowd. Much of this banter was welcome, as Drew and Canning are very funny guys. But the two- or three-minute pauses between songs were a bit much at times.
Of course, the band also played older Broken Social Scene material — the “hits,” as Drew referred to them. Before performing an intense guitar-driven version of “Lover’s Spit,” Drew remarked that he would “probably be playing that song for the rest of my life.” Nonetheless, the performance convincingly showed that he has not yet lost passion for his older material. “Cause=Time” was every bit as intense live as I had hoped, while “It’s All Gonna Break” was performed solo by Drew and Canning before the rest of the band joined them midway through for an explosive finish.
As good as the classic material sounded, I still found myself wondering how much better it might have been if the full collective was present. Still, it is best to accept the show for what it was, rather than comparing it to previous Broken Social Scene tours. As Drew put it, “either we wouldn’t come at all, or we’d come like this.” I was glad they did.