This concert was not broken. On July 11, 2009, 18 Torontonians got together to do something they’d all done before. Arriving in town from disparate locations, they met at Toronto’s Harbourfront and went on to play a concert which will undoubtedly be forever engrained in Toronto music history. One of a kind, symbolic, chaotic, harmonious, an end and a start – and to think, it was all born out of an extended apology.
The day was meant to host an annual festival curated by Arts&Crafts Records on Olympic Island. A few months after announcing the show, to the chagrin of many, the festival was cancelled due to worries of competing with the noisy Molson Indy 500 cars racing on the Gardiner Expressway, across the lake only a few kilometres away. In its place, Captain Kevin Drew announced that his band would play a free show on that same evening at the Harbourfront Centre and hoped, with a cherry on top, that this show “with special guests” would be enough to redeem themselves for not cross-checking their dates with David Miller’s calendar first. I was lucky enough to be there, and let me tell you, it was most definitely enough.
From the moment I got there, seeing the multiple cameras rolling, gathering footage for the upcoming concert documentary This Movie Is Broken…I knew that something out of the ordinary was about to happen. For starters, the setting felt more right than any other venue I’d seen them or any derivative of the collective at. Don’t get me wrong, I love Olympic Island, but everything about an experience on the islands feels separate and distinct from an experience in Toronto-proper.
Standing at the Toronto shoreline for a free concert in the nano-sized amphitheatre, I looked around and realized that this wasn’t the typical audience that I’d seen at past BSS shows. Sure, the tweed jackets, fedoras, ironic t-shirts, plaid shirts and dirty-man beards were all there, but they were all interspersed among a crowd including families, young and old, black and white, yellow and brown, from neon-coloured hipsters to urban b-boys, and more. Did these people even know who Broken Social Scene are? I sent a text to a friend, as I settled into a space I found apt, saying that I was praying to the rain gods to wash the riff-raff spectators away, so that I could get closer to the band that I loved more than they did. But rain clouds refused to appear, and I soon ate my e-words.
As Broken Social Scene hit the stage and opened their set with ‘Fire Eye’d Boy’ and ‘7/4 Shoreline’ to a massive roar, an electricity filled the crowd who excitedly applauded one minute, and respectfully listened the next. By the end of ‘7/4’ I looked around and realized that there wasn’t a place within eye-shot that wasn’t full of people uncomfortably invading each others space. But no one left after one song, two songs, three songs, eight songs, the first encore or the third. Some went to get a view from a better or different vantage point, but everyone stayed. The b-boys started a circle in the middle of the crowd, behind a tent obstructing views of the stage, and started break dancing to ‘Almost Crimes’ and ‘KC Accidental’ while indie kids flailed their limbs about and danced next to them. Couples slow danced to ‘Anthems’ while others bizarrely paid homage to Michael Jackson while moon-walking in circles. Saying it was eclectic would be an understatement. Toronto, much like Canada as a whole, is a broken social scene. We dance our own way but we dance to the same tune and in the midst of this chaos, we find harmony, beauty and love.
There could be no crowd more apt to see Broken Social Scene. There could be no band more apt for the crowd. The respective independent successes of its parts over the years, has found the “band” in a constantly evolving form, punctuated by the release of their last, self-titled, album which highlighted an obvious anxiety and discomfort with the state of their crumbling collective. Their show at Harbourfront, 5 years later, showed more than anything else that BSS has grown comfortable in its own skin and is now able to accept and celebrate their form. The setlist had clearly been laboured over, with plenty of thought given to the order of songs, the guests to be showcased, and the message being sent to fans. This in itself showed a whole lot of growth and maturity from the days when show lengths and sets would be completely inconsistent and hastily contrived – while those days were great, BSS is no longer the unknown band from Toronto; their success has given them expectations to live up to, the type that requires structure and organization within their brokenness to deliver upon.
So the show began, first re-introducing the crowd to the most recent iteration of their touring troupe, led by Drew and Canning, and one by one, Feist, Amy Millan, Emily Haines, Andrew Whiteman and Jason Collett came out, to massive roars, while the entire band played backup to a song or two from their respective catalogues. The highlights of these sets were probably the first and the last: Feist’s medley/duet with Kevin Drew of ‘Past in Present’, ‘Safety Bricks’ and ‘I Feel It All’; and about 18 people on stage, and a few thousand around the stage, chanting “I’ll Bring the Sun” during Jason Collett’s.
As they got into BSS classics, the sun set in an incredibly poetic way – as cliché as it may sound. Everyone seemed to realize that this was realistically the last time that these guys would all play together – the end of an era or closing of a chapter. It was all about to break, and so too did the attempts at maturity and organization as the group finished the set, and returned for about 4 one-song encores, unable to decide when and how to stop – a characteristic of theirs from the early days. It didn’t matter though, it was great to see, and suggested that some things would never change.
That evening, Toronto, in all shapes, forms and colours, came out to see and pay tribute to Broken Social Scene and Broken Social Scene came out to see and pay tribute to Toronto. “We’re from here, we live here, we eat here, we love here,” Kevin Drew repeated at the end of the night. So are we Kevin, and we still love you.
Kevy Key Jam (New Song)
Fire Eye’d Boy
Love Is New (Canning)
Frightening Lives (Drew)
New Song (Amy Milan)
Safety Bricks/Past in Present/I Feel It All (Feist/Drew Duet)
Gimme Sympathy (Emily Haines/James Shaw)
I’ll Bring the Sun (Jason Collett)
Soul Unwind (Andrew Whiteman)
MTV Jam/New Country