The recent passing of Gord Downie has cast a shadow over the Canadian music scene and Broken Social Scene in particular, given members such as Kevin Drew's close collaborative friendship with Downie. Yet last night (October 20) in Vancouver, the musicians onstage chose to honour Downie by celebrating togetherness and the power of rock. In an oftentimes fun, sometimes stoic set, Drew and company played their anthems for, he said, "the people."
Native Vancouverites Belle Game were the opening act, drawing fans closer as they played beat-driven, reverb-heavy material from their latest record, Fear/Nothing. Vocalist Andrea Lo led the charge with her skilled falsetto and throaty chest voice, enchanting longtime fans (one exclaimed, "I paid $60 just to see you!) and newcomers alike.
After Belle Game's set, Broken Social Scene's members took to the stage, which was filled with percussion, saxophones, keyboards and many a guitar. "KC Accidental" and "7/4 (Shoreline)" started things off with a bang, Drew not waiting too long to announce he was entering the crowd for "Texico Bitches," inviting much audience participation. He explained that the band were playing for Downie ("doing it for Gord"), and had been for some time. They dedicated a poignant rendition of "Sweetest Kill" to the late musician, the song's nuanced and understated instrumentation juxtaposing their previous bombast.
Ariel Engle stole the show with her vocals on Hug of Thunder cuts "Stay Happy" and the album's title track, where she showcased an innate knack for melody that fit seamlessly into the band's pre-existing music. It was truly a joy to watch the playfulness onstage at the Commodore: Brendan Canning and Charles Spearin lying on their backs with legs straight in the air whilst playing their guitars; Drew's power stances and charming band member introductions; Andrew Whiteman's solos appearing to surprise and delight even himself.
Broken Social Scene recognize the difficulty of connection in today's world, yet they continually strive to overcome its barriers. By the time Drew announced he was heading back into the crowd — "This is going to be awkward," he warned concertgoers at the front — to sing "Lover's Spit" and dole out hugs, it was clear that this performance was about reaching fans on an individual level.
The ladies of Belle Game, Lo and Katrina Jones, joined Engle to lead a song that remains the perfect way to end a Broken Social Scene show: "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl." The simple refrain carried weight for anyone who felt nostalgia for the track, and this is something that the band knew. Drew called out that the band would see fans at tonight's second show or next year, when they plan to return: "Don't forget us."
After experiencing the warmth of last night's show, how could we?