Canadian indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene opened their US tour, their first in six years, at the State Theater in Ithaca on Saturday, September 16. They’re touring behind Hug of Thunder, their first album in seven years. With the exception of some one-off festival shows here and there (mostly there), the band has essentially ceased to exist.
As soon as the lights went down, the much-less-than-sellout crowd left their assigned seats en masse, as if it were planned, tightly packing the theater halfway. What they lacked in size, they made up for in energy and excitement. Ring leader Kevin Drew took notice and set the tenor for the evening. He said the tour manager warned of a light crowd, but they didn’t care, they were going to throw a “private party” in Ithaca. And gracious hosts they were. Indeed they broke out quite a social scene. Drew, always a showman, was especially high-spirited and chatty on this evening.
They may not have played as a regular unit in a while, but this wasn’t a mere reunion show featuring just a couple of the original members. They brought the core band that has been together since the early days of the band, Drew, Brendan Canning, Charles Spearin, Justin Peroff, Andrew Whiteman, Amy Milan, Sam Goldberg along with some horns and percussion and Ariel Engle, the relative newcomer on vocals. Members came and went and switched instruments at will for a constantly fluctuating lineup that maxed out at 11 people. The guitarist became the bassist became the keyboardist became the trumpeter became the drummer, and so it went.
The band, or at least some of them, kicked into the opening notes of “7/4 Shoreline” shortly after arriving to the stage. Drew stopped them, saying they weren’t playing that yet. They recollected themselves and reached further back in their catalog for the opening “Cause=Time,” which was immediately followed by the aforementioned “7/4 Shoreline.” The band was loose in spirit and playing, but still incredibly tight, like they’d been playing hundreds of shows a year.
Drew’s strict adherence to their predetermined setlist was eventually abandoned. Midway through the set he started openly taking requests from the audience. It was a “private party” after all. “We’re for you, not us, don’t forget that,” explained Drew. “Almost Crimes” opened up the request faucet. “Texico Bitches” also came by request, though as the band started into it, Drew said, “Oh we’re really doing this?” The leader became the follower, reluctantly. They wouldn’t oblige all requests though, “Swimmers” was too deep to be dredged up. Nonetheless, that the somewhat out-of-practice band of 11 was willing and able to take random requests was most impressive. That’s not an easy ship to steer.
Someone, perhaps angry their request wasn’t granted, threw their cup on stage, nearly hitting Drew. Security quickly apprehended the guilty party and dragged them out of the venue. Drew, watching the action unfold, responded, “Aww, I liked that guy!” But he wouldn’t be invited back to the party.
Right before “Sweetest Kill,” Drew took a video of the crowd wishing his friends congratulations on their wedding, which he was sad to be missing due to this show. A message from one “private party” to another. “And now we’re going to sing a song about divorce,” he kidded.
“Ibi Dreams of Pavement” closed the set, but the word ‘closed’ is used loosely. It was announced as the closer, and the band started leaving as it finished up, but before the entire band left Drew managed to wrangle a few to stay as he said, “That was the last song, but I gotta do this for this guy.” Another request which, as the host of the party, he couldn’t let pass. So the crowd was treated to “Major Label Debut,” and as more and more band members got back on stage, it eventually finished with the full band. One more song with more from the ladies, so they played their early infectious hit, “Anthem for a Seventeen Year Old Girl,” which mirroring the start of the show, featured a false start and a do over. But they still weren’t finished, and would grant one last request, this one from the back of the stage, as drummer Justin Peroff asked to play another early one, “KC Accidental.” After a rocking romp through that classic, the band waved their goodbyes and stood together off to the side of the stage for one last look at their party guests. Egged on by a lingering guitar swirl from Whiteman, a few members grabbed an instrument and kept the jam going. A couple more minutes of incredible instrumental Broken Social Scene were squeezed into the end of the show, it was the kind of party no one wanted to leave.
One last pearl of wisdom from Drew as they finally left the stage, “We’re relying on you, so help someone out, it’s the best feeling in the world.” Earlier in the evening, he wondered aloud if he was talking too much. He was looking forward to reading the review of the show that complained about his excessive banter. This isn’t that review.
Setlist: Cause=Time, 7/4 Shoreline, Halfway Home, World Sick, Victim Lover, Protest Song, Superconnected, Fire Eye’d Boy, Almost Crimes, Gonna Get Better, Sweetest Kill, Stay Happy, Hug of Thunder, Texico Bitches, Stars and Sons, Ibi Dreams of Pavement, Major Label Debut, Anthem for a Seventeen Year Old Girl, KC Accidental