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Broken Social Scene - Toronto Needs An Enema

23-Jan-2006 06:28 PM Contributed by: pete Concert Reviews
It's only appropriate that the first review I decided to write for this site was for the Broken Social Scene concert on Friday, January 20th at the Kool Haus on in Toronto. The reason is that about 3/4 into the concert, Kevin Drew shouted Toronto needs an enema! He didn't specify Pet Enema, but still, I took it as a sign.

After a quick two-beer warm up at C'est What, a group of friends and I headed down to the Kool Haus. Yes, I'm a fan of Broken Social Scene, but my iTunes contains the truth: my ratings vary between 1 and 5 stars. Some of their tracks can be pretty boring, but the songs that I like, I really like. So my expectations were not all that high... I was looking for night out listening to a local Toronto band play a few good songs. Sure, that happened, but I got more. They put on a great show, but the clincher was Leslie Feist. With her and the amazing set of musicians on stage, this was one of the best concerts I've seen in about 10 years.

If you haven't seen Broken Social Scene live, you may not be aware that they are more of a collective than a band. When they first got on stage, I counted 13 people. I counted twice to be sure, but it was hard to see everyone from my chosen location next to the bar. The number varied from song to song, with a total of 24 people on stage by the grand finale. It was difficult to tell how much they all contribute at any given moment, but I think the large number of members explains their atmospheric sound. It also means there is always someone to watch, since at any time at least one of them is doing something mildly interesting.

The concert started off strong with, as a friend said, a string of singles. As far as I was concerned, they played everything I wanted to hear in the first hour before moving on to a few songs I didn't recognize. If I remember correctly (and I might not... note to self: take a small notepad to next concert) it was the first two songs that were played without Leslie Feist. I've read that Feist isn't always on tour with them, so I wasn't sure if she was going to appear. But I also wasn't sure I cared. Then Feist was brought on stage, and her arrival was the turning point for me. Feist has an incredible stage presence. I knew she had a great voice, but watching her on stage was a whole different story. On stage she emits energy that's not just picked up by some loser-geek-music-review-wannabe hanging out by the bar, it's also picked up by the band. With her hair flying around, she moved around the stage in a way that displayed confidence and passion for the music. I can't say I think she's a good looking woman, I've seen pictures, but I left that concert with a thing for her.

If you've heard their studio work but think some of it is a bit flat or hollow, you need to see them live. Their stage rendition of Almost Crimes is worth the price of admission alone. And that's just one example.

After that first hour, they ventured into some songs that I was less familiar with. But with so many people on stage, and Leslie Feist being a part of it all, the show stayed interesting right up until the encore. Oh... the encore. Actually, there wasn't official break between the set and the encore. Instead there was just one guy on stage with his guitar, experimenting with heavy feedback. And not in the Jimi Hendrix kind of way. It was much more in the I'm stoned and I can't stop myself from doing this way. I'll bet his wife/girlfriend/significant other loves when he practices that at home. Er, maybe he doesn't have one. Who was that guy? Anyway, after about 3-4 minutes of feedback, the band returned (and I mean the entire band) and pumped out a long, but messy, encore. It wasn't a strong finish, but basically I'd already hit peak mid-concert anyway.

On the negative side, the crowd was fairly subdued and, based on Kevin's comments, that must be normal for Toronto. Statements like I know nobody in Toronto likes to dance were met with apathy from the crowd. (On the other hand, Toronto needs an enema was met with a few chuckles from the crowd, and yours-truly near the back somewhere screaming "Enema!"). I never ventured near the front of the crowd, so if you were there feel free to set me straight on this point.

But the big bad was that the volume was turned up so loud that the music regularly wandered well into distortion-land. We moved ourselves closer to the mixing panel assuming it couldn't possibly sound so bad there, and the sound was definitely crisper. But at least a third of the crowd was off to the side (where the bars were), and they stood through crappy, distorted sound. I know, rock concerts are meant to be loud, I get that... I've been to many loud, loud concerts. But if the sound system can't handle it, or the accoustics of the room are just shit, it's the sound guy's is responsibility to compensate. It can be done. So when I'm stuck there finding it hard to recognize songs simply because the distortion is so heavy, the sound guy needs a wet slap in the back of the head.

And lastly... Broken Social Scene is not for everyone. One person at the show with us thought it was awful. One reason was the distorted sound (did I mention that yet?), but I'm pretty sure the other reason is, when you get down to it, Broken Social Scene is just a really awesome jam band. And not everyone loves a jam band.

But I sure do, and I will be secretly comparing other concerts to this one for quite a while.

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