Dressed in a cream-colored parka, Broken Social Scene frontman Kevin Drew skipped onto the Boulder Theater stage last night pumping his fist along to the Toronto-based indie supergroup's customarily euphoric opener, "KC Accidental," from the band's 2003 breakthrough You Forgot It in People.
Seeing as most of Saturday featured T-shirt weather in Boulder, it crossed my mind that the proudly Canadian rock star could be holding on tight to the idea that winter might not be over. Then again, it'd be wrong to expect absolute reason from the man made famous by singing lines like, "I swore I drank your piss that night/To see if I could still live."
"I'm trying to lose weight, people," Drew said. "That's what the parka's for. We're gonna play as many songs as we can... and I'm sweatin' it out."
So was the packed Boulder Theater, full of C.U. and Naropa hipsters and thirty-something music geeks standing shoulder to shoulder, drinks in hand amid the intermittent clouds of pot smoke Drew is always requesting come his way when he's on stage. And unlike its last few tours, Broken Social Scene -- which currently features four guitars, a two-man horn section, bass and drums -- is now filling its set lists with fan favorites rather than toying around with hit-or-miss material from Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew's solo records, so feeling crammed in didn't feel so bad.
Right out of the gate, the band sustained a frenzied momentum with up-tempo, ecstatic guitar workouts such as "7/4 Shoreline," "Fire-Eyed Boy" and "Stars and Sons" (with its big "Freebird" ending), performing in front of a cloth backdrop featuring a mountain range not unlike the Flatirons which tower over Boulder. As ever, Drew worked the loving audience, which, in some cases, knew the lyrics better than he did, and the sizeable band -- highlighted by the awe-inspiringly fluid drumming of frizzy-haired Justin Peroff.
Supported by three rhythm guitarists for most of the night, Andrew Whiteman seemed more indulgent than ever on lead, insinuating assortments of improvised laser-like melodies over nearly every inch of music that didn't feature vocals, in an effort to juxtapose Johnny Thunders and Jerry Garcia. Sometimes the metrosexual Whiteman came off as about forty years late to help found Wings, and sometimes it worked.
Saturday was my first chance to witness Broken Social Scene singer Lisa Lobsinger, who has an incredibly tough gig filling the shoes of not only Feist but also Amy Milan and Emily Haines, all of whom cut their teeth as mesmerizing Broken Social Scene sidewomen.
Lobsinger's first chance to win the Boulder Theater crowd's favor was "7/4 Shoreline," which the versatile Feist famously highlighted on 2005's Broken Social Scene like a dynamo in high heels. Lobsinger conversely stalked the stage slowly like Miles Davis, often with her back to the audience as if it were an enemy, and stood still while singing Feist's jubilant verses in a silky middle range before again turning away from the crowd.
On "All in All," from last year's long-awaited album, Forgiveness Rock Record, and the slow-motion Amy Milan classic "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," Lobsinger fared better, her smooth voice and elegant-meets-ostentatious demeanor aptly juxtaposing the abstractly romantic (or romantically abstract) Broken Social Scene style. And then on the fierce new ballad "Sweetest Kill," dedicated to "your ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend and the person that died," Drew showed Lobsinger -- and any fledgling rockstars in the crowd -- how the whole slow-burning romantic lead-singer thing is really done.
Tempering big-time rockers like "Superconnected" and the aforementioned "Fire-Eyed Boy" with timely saxophone solos and downright genius from-the-soundboard effects on Drew's vocals and Peroff's flowing drums, what impressed me, as usual, about Broken Social Scene was the group's ability to make relatively simple songs -- many sit on one chord for what seems like a dreamy hour -- into layered psychedelic symphonies. But the two most notable moments in Boulder on Saturday night were actually comical.
During "Cause = Time," Broken Social Scene's signature tune, the group was forced to sit on C for several minutes, Canning remarking "C feels so good in my body!" while Drew asked the audience, then Canning, then Peroff, then a roadie with a smart phone, for the lyrics to the second verse. Which he then mangled anyway.
"I need to start taking some Gingko," Drew said.
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Later, during a version of "Lover's Spit" begun with Drew alone on vocals and gentle keys not unlike Feist's legendary version on Beehives, the impolite majority of the Boulder Theater began conversing so loudly that Drew abruptly changed the lyrics to lash out at the "emotionally irritating" rudeness of people who come to a concert just to talk to each other. After melding "Lover's Spit" hilariously into U2's "With or Without You," Drew finished the song with a little help from his friends.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Taste is subjective, but I'd say Broken Social Scene's best albums (You Forgot It in People, Beehives and Broken Social Scene) put them in the top rock bands of the 2000's, along with Arcade Fire, Radiohead and a few others. Random Detail: The band's use of two basses on the simultaneously mellow and menacing "Sweetest Kill" was the most powerful use of that rare technique I've heard since the Rum Diary. Or perhaps, even further back, Ned's Atomic Dustbin. By The Way: The wavy extended instrumental opening to "Cause = Time" was beautiful, and apparently in large part because the band flubbed it so bad on its first try, the previous night in Aspen. "Aspen was just a warm-up gig," Canning said. Take that, Aspen.