Broken Social Scene shake up convention

Experimental wisdom
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  September 13, 2010

SOCIAL ACTION: For the freewheeling BSS, the releases are just a template for the live show.

Prior to the popularity of Animal Collective, indie-rock fans long denied any genetic relationship to the types of bands (i.e., the Grateful Dead) you had to see live to get the "real" experience. But Toronto's Broken Social Scene — who come to the House of Blues next Friday — have just the kind of fans who live by the candlelight of their concerts and know every word to every song. And short of having their own collective noun ("Brokies?" "Socialites?"), these fans are raving mad in love with the various Canadian boys (and sometimes girls, including Feist) who move in and out of the large extended family that is Broken Social Scene.

"I think we probably give more than other bands," says bassist and founding member Brendan Canning over the phone from Toronto. And he's right — in the process of making sure that no two shows sound the same, Broken Social Scene do let the rope go more than a little bit. A couple of years ago, they played a show in Mexico City where they invited a mariachi band to play on stage with their horn players. At the end of the night, the mariachis led both band and audience in a drunken refrain of "Cielito lindo" ("Ay, ay, ay, ay/Canta y no llores . . . ").

"I think it would be terribly boring if you were in a conventional band where you were just like, 'Here is my song and here is my guitar part,' " says Canning, whom you could call the measured and objective force in the group's consciousness. But he isn't suggesting stoned stupors or wanky jerkathons, either. Broken Social Scene could easily cop note-for-note perfection if they wanted to. Instead, the collective of musicians choose to apply a more free-form, poetic set of rules in order to keep their music from becoming mechanical — sometimes pushing things too far even from singer Kevin Drew's comfort zone. "Kevin gets a little frustrated sometimes, because everyone really just goes purely on the feel of the night as to what might go down." says Canning. "Sometimes these experiments can go south if you're not careful. But at the same time, it is part of what makes this band unique and really fun and exciting and keeps people coming back."

After a five-year gap between proper releases, Broken Social Scene issued their fourth album this past May, the John McEntire–produced Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts), which absorbs much of the live warmth and shimmering incandescence of 2005's Broken Social Scene and converts it into a digitally buzzing, fuzzy, rattling halogen lamp of an album — one that calls to mind recent polished art-rock albums like Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca and Wilco's A Ghost Is Born.

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