I am an old man. I am a father, a husband, a school teacher, and when there is gas left in the tank, a photographer and writer for the greatest (I never said most identifiable or prolific) music blog this side of the Mississippi. I make note of this because it’s pretty infrequent that this old dude covers back to back shows, unless you’re talking about Pinback followed by Broken Social Scene, then a marital exception is drafted, signed, and notarized and Daddy stays out late two nights in a row. Needless to say, I was pretty invested in both of these headliners and was thrilled to be at both shows to document and reflect on their music.
Prior to their 2017 Hug of Thunder tour, the last time Broken Social Scene was on the road for a significant multi-city tour was in 2011 in support of their 2010 release Forgiveness Rock Record.Unsurprisingly, it has been 7 years between full length albums for the Canadian armada of multi-instrumentalist and songwriters founded by guitarist and vocalist Kevin Drew and bassist Brendan Canning. With Feist finding fame on her own, Ariel Engle steps out into the spotlight on Hug of Thunder along with her (AroarA) collaborator and partner Andrew Whiteman, whose rhythm guitar and backing vocals have played a role with Broken Social Scene from the outset in 2002. Charles Spearin, also an original member, for all intents and purposes of this review, were joined on stage by veteran guitarist Sam Goldberg and newcomer David French. Before launching into a blow by blow review it was Scotland’s own Frightened Rabbit up first.
You know how people often comment on how apologetic and nice Canadians are? It’s true. However, the Scottish should be noted for their blunt and at times irreverent humor used to mask their authentic kindheartedness and generosity. Sure these are all stereotypes but I’ve been told if they are positive stereotypes nobody leaves nasty comments on the blog. Frontman Scott Hutchison was playful with the fans out of the gate. He alerted us that while it is not common practice for him, he had eaten a sizeable hamburger, as any good tourist does when in New Haven, CT, the birthplace of the burger. He then cautioned that he may perform reverse peristalsis asking us “Would you like to see me vomit on stage? I just might!” Depending on your opinion of what constitutes a good rock show, you will be pleased or perhaps disappointed to learn the Hutchinson was able to avoid the proverbial liquid scream on stage. He had however mentioned that Broken Social Scene had informed them that they had a full hour set, the longest of the tour, much to the crowds pleasure. The brothers Hutchinson were joined by bassist Billy Kennedy, and guitarist/keyboardists Andy Monaghan and Simon Liddell. The boys from Dear Green Place (i.e. Glasgow) ripped through an hour long set playing classics like “Fast Blood” and “Living in Colour” while also dropping new cuts like “Lump Street” and “Get Out” from their 2016 album Painting of a Panic Attack. It’s always nice when a headliner brings along an opening act that could just as easily be headlining themselves. Not only does it bring a broader audience to the show but it reflects the lack of ego driving the headliners.
Broken Social Scene was anything but interested in showcasing a single “rock star”. The sheer number of musicians literally sharing the spotlight on stage was impressive. While Kevin Drew could be pegged as the “rock star” of the group, particularly now that Feist has set out on her own, he never once upstaged his fellow collaborators but rather recognized those around him for their abilities and accomplishments in other groups even. He even went so far as to praise Charles Spearin for his musical versatility and the music he makes as part of all instrumental and fellow North of the border compatriots Do Make Say Think. The one time Drew took charge was when he took the mic to assuage us Americans of these dark times, although not mentioned by name, under Trump. He let us know that our friends to the north believed in our ability to emerge from this temporary darkness. In a way it was incredibly kind and generous but I will say there was just a touch of condescension. Then again when you have a young and debonair Justin Trudeau and we have an aged orange buffoon in Trump, you’ve earned the right to look down your nose at our fucked up situation, even if for just a moment before once again reassuring us all that we will emerge stronger and more resilient. Politics aside, the men and women of Broken Social Scene put on quite a show for the good people of Elm City.
In a set totalling just under 90 minutes, several lineup changes, a venture out into the crowd on the floor, and at least one wardrobe change the band played songs spanning almost their entire history. From their sophomore 2002 album You Forgot It in People came cuts like the show opener “KC Accident” as well as “Almost Crimes” and crowd favorite “Cause = Time”. Originating from their self-titled 3rd and most critically acclaimed album came “7/4 (Shoreline)”, “Major Label Debut”, “Fire Eye’d Boy”, and “It’s All Gonna Break”. I will admit, this was one of those rare times when I was particularly excited to hear tracks from the new album. Hug of Thunder was released to solid reviews in August of this year but I have to say, it’s an absolutely stunning album, in part because of the significant role that Ariel Engle, with her rich and harmonic vocals, plays in shaping the sound of this record. Some of the groups most memorable performances came during performances of songs from their latest LP including “Halfway Home”, my personal favorite “Protest Song”, “Stay Happy”, and undisputed crowd favorite “Hug of Thunder ” that even had the woman working merch dancing atop her chair at the back of the venue shouting out the lyrics in syncopation with Ms. Engle.
At the end of it all, it was worth the near decade wait to catch the collaborative that sheds expectations and yes even stereotypes in order to make wonderful and inclusive music that pleases so many without being just more vapid pop music. Oh Canada we stand on guard for thee.