I do not remember the first time I encountered the music of Broken Social Scene. (BSS is a somewhat amorphous collection of fifteen or so friends that play together, comprising members of other acts from Toronto and vicinity, including but not limited to Metric, Stars, Feist, and Do Make Say Think.) It feels like I’ve always loved them, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t know about them until after I moved to Toronto in 2003. (EDIT: An inspection of old MSN chat logs reveals Kim told me about them in September 2006 when I was in grade 11. Thanks, Kim!) I didn’t go to any of their shows, because I didn’t use to go to music shows at all. This was a shame, because I really liked them. I left Toronto in 2011 and they went on hiatus the same year.
I love their songs. I love their sound. It’s expansive and complex and layered and never boring. There are moments that absolutely soar as the guitars and the drums and the vocals and the horns come together and lift you. Their songs are sometimes melancholy. (Both “Lover’s Spit” off You Forgot It in People, and Leslie Feist’s rendition of the same song off Bee Hives are just beautifully mournful.) Their songs are sometimes cynical. But undercutting any melancholia or cynicism is the knowledge that, despite everything, Broken Social Scene is a bunch of friends playing together, and that in itself is incredibly affirming. And somehow, after 18 years, they are still playing together; they came out of hiatus this year and released Hug of Thunder. I saw them live for the first time in California.
Saturday, 25 June 2017, Pasadena, California
I was at the first (hopefully annual) Arroyo Seco music festival in Pasadena. I was there to see BSS. I got to the stage 10 minutes before their set. I walked up to the fence at the foot of the stage, setting myself slightly house right of center. Every song they played was viscerally exhilarating: “I know this song! I love this song! And they’re singing it for me!”. At one point during the set, a child in pink earmuffs, about 7 years old, wandered onto the stage. One of the bandmembers motioned her to go back into the wing, but she refused and folded her arms. I know that feeling, kid. I wouldn’t want to leave if BSS was playing, either. Which is why I decided to follow them on their west coast tour.
Friday, 20 October 2017. Vancouver, British Columbia
The night started with drinks at The Union at the edge of Chinatown. My two bartenders had, between the two of them, an impressive beard and a mohawk the color of a galaxy. I walked to the Commodore Ballroom and stood in line for a bit. The Belle Game, a local quartet (synth, guitar, drums, vocals), opened at 9pm. After their set, I put myself house left. BSS came out and played. Ariel looked at me during “Stay Happy” and smiled. I smiled back. (Later I would find out, from a picture he tweeted, that George Stroumboulopoulos was standing right behind me. I still insist Ariel was smiling at me and not George.) For the encore, Kevin Drew came into the crowd for “Lover’s Spit” and hugged people. I walked back to my Airbnb, stopping at The Brixton for a drink.
(21 October 2017, YVR airport)
Sunday, 22 October 2017. Seattle, Washington
I took the bus from the University District to downtown Seattle, and walked around Pike’s Place market for a bit before drinking a mezcal-based margarita at a bar. I met Michael, Achiamar, and Michael’s cousin for dinner and drinks at List, which was delicious. The Belle Game were on stage when I arrived at the Neptune Ballroom. When BSS got on stage, they sounded weird. Instruments kept dropping out — it turns out they had skipped soundcheck. At one point, the band huddled together, conferring; they decided to continue playing without taking a break. It was a weird show, with bandmembers running off backstage to swap guitars. I walked back to my Airbnb.
Tuesday, 24 October 2017. Portland, Oregon
Monday night I listened to an earnest and heartfelt band called Samsel. (The marquee at the Crystal Ballroom that night was impressive — 24: Broken Social Scene, 25: Jesus & Mary Chain, 26: Slowdive.) On Tuesday, had some drinks at Kask before heading to the Crystal Ballroom. The floor plan was weirdly pentagonal, all five sides unequal lengths. The Belle Game did not play that night. BSS came out and played the best show I had seen thus far. The crowd loved them; two guys tried to start up a mosh pit next to me. They played was a three-song encore, ending with “Meet Me in the Basement”, which is even more triumphant and joyous live. Entirely unintentionally, after the show I followed Sam Goldberg down the stairs; he was munching on a slice of pizza. He disappeared into their tour bus before I could think of something to say.
(25 October 2017, on the southbound train between Albany, OR and Eugene, OR.)
Thursday, 26 October 2017. Oakland, California
I rolled into Oakland in the morning, having slept badly on the train. Wandered around town, then took the BART into San Fransisco to meet friends for drinks at Oddjob. The wonderful bartender there was playing BSS; Jason and Michael, who were there already, had told him about my quest. Picked up Sylvia at Oddjob, and the two of us took the BART back to Telegraph and 19th. We got into the Fox Theater, and wound up house left, initially behind and then (after a polite “please, we’re both very short”) in front of a very tall person. The show was amazing. They managed to top their Portland show. The encore went on for four songs. The horns section ballooned to six players at one point. I walked back to my Airbnb and my feet were heavy from dancing too much.
(27 October 2017, on the southbound Amtrak just outside Paso Robles, CA)
Saturday, 28 October 2017. Los Angeles, California
I got to the Wiltern dressed as a queer purple wizard; it was the Saturday before Halloween, and I was going to a friend’s party after, so I thought it prudent to put on my centipede earrings. I waited in line outside; everybody seemed to be following the Dodgers game. Inside, I set myself up besides two rowdy Canadians. The Belle Game played. They were great. BSS waited. The two Canadians beside me got drunker and rowdier. Justin Peroff walked on stage to applause, followed by Andrew Whiteman, Charles Spearin, Ariel Engle, Sam Goldberg, Brendan Canning, David French, and finally Kevin Drew. They were amazing. We hand-clapped along to “Stars and Sons”. Kevin Drew dedicated the show (like he had each of the previous ones) to Gord Downie. They played four encores. Drew waded into the crowd for “Lover’s Spit” again. The horns section was beautiful. The trumpet player came back in a banana suit. Andy Kim joined them for one of the encores. Katrina and Andrea from The Belle Game came back for “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl”. The last song was “Meet Me in the Basement”, horns multiplying; Brendan Canning sprang around as if charged with electricity. They ended after midnight. I watched the stage as techs tore it down. One of the drunk Canadians hugged me. It was the last show of their American tour. I walked out and took a Lyft to Lysh’s party. After, I listened to You Forgot It In People as I fell asleep.
(9 November 2017, Los Angeles)