Having garnered plenty of press – and a Juno Award – for their sublime sophomore effort, You Forgot It in People, ten-person Toronto collective Broken Social Scene are taking their crowded, manic live act on the road.
Not all the kinks have been worked out, however. Battles at the border, fatigue and other complications have made for an interesting summer.
“Half the time we’re just happy to be together. Another quarter of the time we’re just getting through it, and the other quarter we’re battling chords and wires and batteries and extension plugs and people turning shit off, small stages and opening bands that are bigger than us,” explains founding member Kevin Drew.
Drew and co-founder Brendan Canning released Feel Good Lost in 2001 to little fanfare, but they decided to take a different approach for their next record, gleaning members from Toronto’s vibrant underground music scene. “We knew we needed a band. We didn’t want to tell people who we’d played with over the years. We thought we’d sit around and jam.”
Seven months of collaboration left the band feeling optimistic, if not a little claustrophobic. “It was a small studio, so having ten people at once was truly a test of one’s patience, but we made it work. It just took time and patience and lots of exhilarating moments of fear and love.”
That fear and love is evident on You Forgot It in People. It is a pop record of truly disparate source, united by creativity and ambition. Melodic punk raves segue into down-tempo soul, orchestral pop music and moody instrumental passages.
Though collectives often seem to ultimately fall into the hands of one or two truly creative individuals, Broken Social Scene remain remarkably communal: the revolving cast of singers speaks volumes about the group’s talent, and the instrumentation remains as varied as the writing styles.
Onstage, however, the band is a different beast entirely. Marching no less than seven musicians onstage, the band is a pulsing, sweating orchestra of strings and chords. They play musical chairs with junk-shop duct-tape guitars, barely avoiding the rhythmic thrust of each other’s instruments.
For their Ann Arbor stop at the Blind Pig, the band brought along vocalist Amy Millan of Montreal’s Stars to further crowd an already teeming mass. The band hit the stage around midnight and launched into their album, instilling high-energy cuts like “Almost Crimes” with an intensity that cannot be put to tape. “Shampoo Suicide,” a languid, tuneful instrumental, was transformed into an orgy of voices and feedback. The band swayed and hovered around the microphones, often clamoring together and turning routine vocal takes into a euphoric rapture.
Though the middle of the set lacked energy – both from the band and the audience – the band kicked into high gear again, bleeding new life from the theatric pulse of “Lover’s Spit,” and closing with the guitar flare of “KC Accidental.”
The high-energy shows do take their toll, however. “It’s hard sometimes,” Drew admitted. “You have to be on all the time. Especially when you’re sitting in a band with eight people you love. You can’t be off. You can’t stop at a moment and give someone extra negative energy that they don’t deserve just because you’re tired and you don’t have any space to lie down.”
Despite the stress, Drew knows where the band’s salvation comes from. “You just want to be able to play – to have an audience. They help you get through it. And the audience did. There were people singing along; It was great.” The transfixed eyes and sore throats of the Pig seemed to agree wholeheartedly.