Photo: Andrew Sardone
Broken Social Scene | Riviera Theater Chicago
by Joshua P. Ferguson
Originally published on the Time Out Chicago blog (Head there for photos from the show)
Couple fun facts about the Riviera (I haven’t been in a while): The security gives you these great, psychedelic 21-and-over wristbands. You can use these trippy things to buy cans of High Life. Neither of these things can really serve as signifiers for the enjoyment I got out of Broken Social Scene’s sprawling set at the Riviera this past Saturday night, but they definitely put me on the right track as I cruised down the walkway and settled into a killer perch on the closest raised platform before the floor level standing area. I could see right above everyone’s heads and take in a full view of the stage.
The Sea and Cake was in full swing, breezing through its set. Admittedly the crowd wasn’t terribly lively (yet), but the band’s brand of easy-going jazz rock didn’t really scream out for a reaction either. I couldn’t help but remark to a friend that the Sea and Cake sounds like Broken Social Scene on Tortoise, if Tortoise were small batch strain of herb smoked backstage before the show. Aside from trying to encapsulate the mellow and effortless grooving going on onstage—the band’s antics were minimal, it was too deep into the music—I was also pointing out drummer/instrumentalist/recording engineer John McEntire’s stamp on both groups and how it was interesting to hear how this musical force from Chicago, McEntire, played out in different settings. The band didn’t elicit the same outward crowd response that Broken Social Scene would requite, instead the sipping of cheap cans of beer and the crossing of arms seemed to be the audience’s own way of showing its appreciation. And the Sea and Cake certainly commanded its fair share of appreciation.
With a 7:30pm start time, I’d assumed that the show was going to be an all around early one, dumping us back into the chilly fall drizzle outside by 10pm. Clearly I was mistaken. Less an opening an act than a band sharing a bill, The Sea and Cake performed for an hour. I figured Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning and the crew would follow suit. Man was I wrong. Two hours and 21 songs later, Id been treated to a show the likes of which you don’t see that often anymore.
“World Sick,” the lead song on Broken Social Scene’s Forgiveness Rock Record makes a perfect set starter, but I couldn’t help but worry we might be in store for the same show we’d all queued up for at the Pitchfork Festival in July. Certainly that was not the case. There were still those obligatory moments, “Texico Bitches,” “Forced To Love,” “Arthouse Director” and other strong moments on the new record. But there were also deviations that took us back to older fan favorites like Drew’s solo run through of “Lover’s Spit” that swelled with melodica, horns and brushed drums as bandmates rejoined him onstage on by one. There was also the banjo shuffle of “Anthem For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl” from ’02’s You Forgot It In People that so stirred the girl behind me, she exclaimed “Oh my god, I’m mostly dying right now,” in between singing along at what bordered on shouting.
Beyond the bulky set list, there’s the bulk of Broken Social Scene itself. At its most climactic point, on the newly anointed anthem “Meet Me in the Basement” the stage was overflowing with 14 people across drummers (McEntire sat in for almost the entire performance), guitarists, strings, horns and guest performers. At one point, Metric guitarist James Shaw joined the fray, and towards the show’s end, The Sea and Cake even retook the stage for the joint effort “The Colony Room,” which the two bands had rehearsed together on a whim during soundcheck. The entire show was a whirlwind of personnel changes, guitar swaps and musical chairs: the saxman taking up the tambourine, Canning and Drew shedding six-strings altogether to team up behind the keyboards, and Lisa Lobsinger taking the lead from time to time, looking as if someone had just woken her up on the tour bus. If that was actually the case, she didn’t miss a beat.
Fighting an 11pm curfew—meaning the show had to be done by that time—Drew pushed the band on. The collective skipped an encore. But they tried. After a failed attempt to push everyone off stage, Drew returned to the mic exasperated. “We’ll never make it in Vegas” he joked. Having a collective for a band surely equates to herding cats from time to time, but we weren’t watching and loving Broken Social Scene for feats of choreography. With chops like that and a love of Chicago that had it pulling out all the stops, who cares about theatrics, Broken Social Scene clearly came to deliver the jams.