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Broken Social Scene consistent after 18 years

Broken Social Scene with the Belle Game at the Commodore Ballroom, 10/20/17

Broken Social Scene @ Commodore
Photo by Jessica Vandergulik

Fans of early 2000s Canadian indie rock were blessed this month. Not only did Feist play two shows in a row, first at the Vogue Theatre, then at the Commodore Ballroom, but little less than three weeks later, her family in Broken Social Scene did too, both times at the Commodore.

Vancouver’s the Belle Game opened the show last night (October 20th), as they will tonight. With danceable, starry-eyed rock or “crush pop” as they call it, the Belle Game showed why it makes total sense that they’re label-mates with BSS on Arts & Crafts.

As delightful as the ethereal can be, the Belle Game were best when they dialed back the reverb and thereby allowed Andrea Lo to sing clearly like on “Yuh.” And songs like the pleading “Low” proved that underneath the sheen of electronic drum pads and reverb, they were R&B at their cores.

Lo thanked Vancouver for having supported the Belle Game since the band began in 2009. In return, she announced that the Belle Game were giving back to the city by donating their night’s merch sales to Megaphone Magazine.

Most press surrounding BSS’s latest fifth album, last summer’s Hug of Thunder, focused on the fact that all 15 members reunited after a nearly seven-year hiatus. No doubt, some fans had lofty expectations that every member, no matter how busy or high profile (see Feist and Emily Haines who are touring or about to tour behind new solo albums), would be present. Luckily, most fans were realistic and thus not disappointed.

After a strong start with the hydroplaning “KC Accidental”, windsurfing “7/4 Shoreline”, and the bari sax-powered “Halfway Home,” founding member and primary vocalist Kevin Drew had to get curt for a moment. “Don’t do that to me right now, man, ‘cause she’s not here,” he said responding to a fan calling for Haines. Drew then pointed out Ariel Engle who not only filled in for Feist, Haines, Amy Milan, and Lisa Lobsinger but played guitar and keys too. “We have a very lovely woman here. We wanted to make a record with her. We weren’t going to make a record without her.” Drew’s reaction made me anxious that someone would yell out, “Call Feist!” mirroring when Feist called Drew from the same stage nearly three weeks earlier. “Nevertheless,” Drew said proceeding into the next number, “the song Emily did sing on [on Thunder] is called ‘Protest Song.’”

Drew continued praising his bandmates all night. He introduced Andrew Whiteman on what is essentially Whiteman’s signature BSS song, one on which Whiteman not only shines on the six-string as usual but sings lead too: “Fire Eye’d Boy.” If you ask me, BSS is not BSS without Whiteman. His intricate, world-influenced, zippy guitar lines are distinct no matter whom he plays with be it alongside his wife Engle in AroarA, leading Apostle of Hustle, or backing Martha Wainwright.

Speaking of backing, BSS invited Lo to harmonize with Engle on “Stay Happy.” Then it was Belle Game keyboard player Katrina Jones’ turn to duet with Engle, on “Hug of Thunder.” And Drew made us all feel like we had each other’s backs. “It’s been a hard week. We lost a friend. You lost a friend.” Urging us to keep our memories of Gord Downie in our back pockets, Drew dedicated “Sweetest Kill” to the Canadian legend.

For the encore, Drew descended into the audience to sing “Lovers’ Spit” while hugging everyone. “Good to see ya,” he told us one by one. I may have even heard him tell someone, “You are loved.” Then both Lo and Jones rejoined Engle on the night’s finale, “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl.”

Some of the final words Kevin Drew left us with were, “Consistency in life is something that can never happen. But that’s what the journey is all about.” True enough. I’ve seen Broken Social Scene five times now, but last night was the first time I saw them play through every peak and valley of their 10-plus-minute opus “It’s All Gonna Break.” But it’s also true that regardless of who’s playing in the band, Broken Social Scene never fail to impress.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu