Broken Social Scene
Lynchpin of Canada's sprawling Broken Social Scene, described as indie's wu tang clan, Kevin Drew is a man who evidently has an aversion to pressure. In many ways this mindset has been the essence of the groups burgeoning reputation; but also perhaps provides an explanation as to why BSS have, thus far, failed to progress from a committed cult following and into the mainstream. The reluctance of Drew and co-founder Brendan Canning to seek the limelight is at the root of the collective's organic and diverse sound that invites contribution from a variety of Scene associates and members. BSS are a democracy of stars not a dictatorship or an autocracy. Shorn of the girls (Feist, Emily Haines and Amy Millan) and the brass 'blasters', tonight was very much the Drew show and initially suspicions were that he might not be able to step up to the plate.
Arriving on stage with one hand in his pocket and the other gripping a beer Drew made a little speech which reeked of 'getting excuses in early'. "Stop apologising" he was told by a particularly vocal heckler when observing that 'life is full of pressure. You get out of bed you feel pressure. You cook a meal you feel pressure. There's pressure to get the girl. There's pressure at work. So how about tonight we play free of pressure". Politely requesting the crowd's indulgence he explained the point of tonight's gig was to showcase and trial songs from the forthcoming album 'Broken Social Scene present's Kevin Drew's... Spirit if'. It wasn't the most auspicious start; akin to turning up to see your favourite footy team only to find out that some of the star names had been left on the bench and the rest would actually be playing rugby.
For a man with such a passionate fan base Drew's insecurity was surprising and as it turns out completely unfounded. As promised we were served up songs penned by Drew but interupted by seven of the Scene's stalwarts. Eschewing some of their tendencies towards ambience, balladry or electronica; opener 'Lucky Ones', with three guitars variously take the lead, was a statement of intent. Tonight was about rock. Continuing the earlier theme 'Farewell to the Pressure Kids' cranked up the volume before synth was finally allowed to rear it's head on 'Safety Grip'. Reviving previous obsessions with songs from love's outsiders the gig really kicked in with 'Too Beautiful to Fuck'; a tale of listening to people through hotel walls. Singalong for the fans came in the form of 'Backed Out on the Cocks' which the crowd enthusiastically embraced. Good as his word Drew continued to deliver more new tunes all of which showed potential. Much as it would be marvelous if it were otherwise it just can't be denied that nothing hits the spot in the same way as songs that have already been taken to the heart. After an hour or so the crowd were becoming slightly restless.
Buoyed by the mainly positive reception given to the new material the pressure now seemed to be off so that Drew and the boys began to relax. Rewarding the followers for their patience they stomped through 'Super-Connected'; just one of the winners the crowd had come in hope of hearing. Now on a roll 'Major Label Debut' was rattled through giving a delicate tune a new bouncy feel. Such was the reaction of the congregation to hearing the sermon that they'd yearned for from the cult leader there was still a nagging feeling that this was what the Broken Social scene can really deliver. There was a prevailing sense that tonight's show could have been something really special. Closing the set Drew was reconciled with his most fervent heckler inviting him onto the stage to waltz through the closing of 'Lover's Spit' a song so lush it could have filled the Royal Albert Hall several times over let alone a sweaty Scala. Revitalised by the crowd's enthusiasm for old favourites and now well and truly warmed up the Scene didn't want to vacate the stage but had to confess they had nothing more rehearsed. A quick conference was held to find out who knew how to play what while Brendan Canning stepped forward to point out; 'we're not going to cure any diseases tonight but we'll try to play you a song'. And what a song it was with 'Cause=Time' elevated to a tour de force.
All bode's well for the 'Spirit If' project and in fairness the Scala performance was a success but ultimately the sense was that this was a taster of what could have been. My own regret at illness forcing me to miss out on a performance last year of the whole BSS ensemble was only deepened. To slightly miss-paraphrase Smokey Robinson, sometimes a taste of honey can be worse than none at all.