It must be the socialized medicine.
How else could one explain the fact that, somehow, Canada's Broken Social Scene sees nothing wrong with paying an 18-member band? Of course, it could also be the success. Since Pitchforkmedia.com shot the Toronto collective into the indie mainstream with an almost-perfect review of 2002's You Forgot It In People
, the band's roll has swelled, resulting in the outfit that performed three sold-out shows at Manhattan's spacious Webster Hall before jetting off to Europe.
On closing night, Broken Social Scene took the gaudy ballroom stage to AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)," urging the Manhattan crowd into a tizzy. The band capitalized early on, the first frenzy coming with the introduction of an eight-piece horn section for "7/4 (Shoreline)," off 2005's Broken Social Scene. The second frenzy came with the propulsive near-jungle groove of "K.C. Accidental," which was ecstasy-inducing by dint of sheer volume (bassist Brendan Caming's leaping splits didn't detract, either). And there were other frenzies later—like the arrival of slinkily-attired Metric vocalist Emily Haines for "Anthems For A Seventeen-Year Old Girl"—but the band rapidly settled into deep drift.
And what a lovely, sloppy drift it was. With as many as six guitars at times (when did the guitar army become hip again?), and often as many percussionists, the band conjured African bandleader King Sunny Ade in spirit, if not sound. The guitarists employed a variety of techniques to build their wall: upper-register arpeggios, assured palm-muted counterrhythms, squalling butterfly sweeps, lone melodies, harmonized chording and any number of other texture-building devices. Even when the band broke down to a quintet (plus backline percussionists) for "Time = Cause," the music was hard to pin down. Like the band’s albums, there were few unsubmerged choruses, and even fewer focused throughlines. Frontman Kevin Drew's stage presence was magnificently unmagnetic.
Having played with several of indie rock's gimmicks in recent years—size (see The Polyphonic Spree), abstractness (see Animal Collective), Canadian maximalism (see The Arcade Fire), and all-for-one-and-one-for-allness (see the Elephant 6 Recording Company), Broken Social Scene manages to capture its audience’s imagination nearly every time. There's certainly plenty for the music press to report breathlessly on, from guest musicians (Metric's Haines and Jimmy Shaw) to gossip (guitarist/producer Dave Newfeld getting busted for weed and roughed up by Manhattan's finest last time he was in town) to a sprawling family tree of bands (including Do Make Say Think, Feist and Apostle of Hustle).
Broken Social Scene played for almost three hours straight at the Webster Hall finale—though this included a couple singalongs, plenty of rambling Drew patter, and at least one and a half band introductions. The encore found Drew alone onstage, wondering where everybody else was, before picking up a guitar and strumming through "All My Friends," a Broken Social Scene B-side that sounded as woozy and indistinct as anything he played with his 17 comrades. When all the band members came out for one final tear through "It's All Gonna Break," they revealed their trick, assembling in a line across the stage and thrumming into the unison ending of "Freebird." The crowd went batshit, because everybody loves a good rock ’n’ roll show.