J a n u a r y   2 0 0 4


'You Forgot It In People' is the winning CD

Broken Social Scene is anything but
by Mark Anderson

ot exactly a band, Broken Social Scene comes off more like the musical mixture of a well-oiled athletic team and a traveling fun show.

Their recent disc, You Forgot It In People, is an engaging pastiche of tuneful hooks and dreamlike soundscapes that bear little resemblance to one another. Several have the capacity to get under the skin for weeks at a time.

Broken Social Scene: tuneful hooks and dreamlike soundscapes that get under the skin. ["Looks Just Like the Sun," by Mary Bergherr]

And for whatever such things are worth, the Toronto-based collective won Canada's Juno Award for best alternative album of 2002. It was released stateside last summer.

But the disc only hints at the oddly affecting spectacle that is Broken Social Scene's live show.

This quirky brood barnstormed Portland several weeks back for a rollicking, jam-packed show on a Saturday night at Dante's.

They followed a pair of Toronto opening acts and took the stage with an ever-changing lineup that included members of both supporting bands.

In combinations that often neared double figures, the assemblage featured four different vocalists along with trumpets, trombone, keyboards, drums, hand percussion, bass and as many as four ringing guitars at any given moment.

Players exchanged instruments and shuffled lineups between songs like a wily hockey team sharing equipment and changing lines on the fly. Sometimes only a few members played as the rest stood off to the side. Other times the whole crew joined in and enveloped the room with sound.

Kevin Drew functioned as de facto team captain, addressing the crowd, singing his share and mostly playing keyboards. As co-captain, Brendan Canning handled much of the bass, but also spent key moments on guitar and worked a phalanx of pedals, knobs, buttons and switches.

You Forgot It In People: A 2002 Canadian release, available stateside in 2003.

Many songs began with Drew noodling around on his keyboard, seemingly in search of some elusive sound. Several moments might pass before he'd find it – at which point he'd wander over to a box on the floor and twiddle knobs until the sound pulsated to his liking.

Then, with the newfound sound as backdrop, the drummer would kick out a beat and off they'd be – an apparent pack of gentle-souled people who clearly love making music together.

Both the show and the CD run a gamut of styles – from dreamy instrumentals and horn-juiced pop to gentle ballads and tough-edged rock. Broken Social Scene displays a jam-band's heart and seems connected to a parallel universe where words don't matter as much as melody, rhythm, groove and an unrelenting grace.

But the show didn't lack teeth, either in music or philosophy.

Somewhere near the midpoint, Drew, mild mannered and Canadian as could be, aimed a pointed-but-friendly lecture at the enthusiastic crowd. To paraphrase, he proclaimed that, around the world, the U.S. isn't exactly viewed as the greatest of nations these days. Find the right people to vote for, he said, and vote for them.

Then he apologized for his three minutes of speechifying and it was back to music.

Feel Good Lost: The 2001 debut.

Meanwhile, several other songs from the album retained just the right resplendent bite on stage, especially "Cause = Time," "Looks Just Like the Sun" and the night's encore, "Lover's Spit."

If the show had a flaw, it was simply in playing the amazingly infectious "Stars and Sons" about 45 minutes too soon. Even so, the elongated live rendition – bass-driven and four guitars strong – was unbeatable.

But placed toward the night's end, it might have come close to lifting the roof off the place. Still, sometimes things sound pretty good just the way they are.

Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People is filled with infectious, memorable songs. On stage they're inspired, joyful, melodious – and anything but broken.

E-mail Mark at andersonenterprises@hotmail.com, and see more tripewriter.

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