Broken Social Scene Finds It in the People

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The future of independent music is looking brighter every day. The Toronto-based indie pop project Broken Social Scene flooded the Bay Area's Grand Ballroom at The Regency with fans on Wednesday night, promoting their self-titled third album released early last month. Led by frontman-guitarist Kevin Drew and guitarist Brendan Canning, the band included an additional guitarist, one bassist, a female vocalist, three percussionists, three trumpet players, one saxophonist, one trombonist and a violinist, allowing for up to 14 people on the stage at once.

For those of you not familiar with Broken Social Scene, this is a run-of-the-mill arrangement.

"Let's listen to more music with less distraction," Drew said at one point, which seemed somewhat ironic considering the brass and string battalion pumping out the melange of cosmically hybridized chords behind him. But quantity seems to be beside the point, as the goal of this collective, like most good bands out there, is to look for that unmistakably unique quality: the perfect sound.

While superfluity could be argued, none of that really mattered once Broken Social Scene hit the stage. The show was like watching an intricately orchestrated party with each member feeding off the crowd's combined ardor, while minimizing solos and frippery. Booming with borrowings from grunge, psychedelic and even ska, the choreography of the show included drummer duels, flailing guitar necks and collaborations with the enchanting voice of compatriot opener Feist.

Without any elaborate light direction, the energy still pulsated the narrow Georgian-style ballroom from the crimson-draped balcony to the sole-pounded hardwood floor.

Kudos to the sound mixer, who undoubtedly has a comprehensive understanding of multitasking with the broad skyline of quivering volume gauges from the 14-piece microphone militia on display. Inarguably instrumentally-based, Broken Social Scene's vocals are often excluded from the limelight, but in concert the voices of Kevin Drew and company were an integral part of the show's abstract continuity.

The most impressive dimension of the concert, however, was the onstage dynamic. Utilizing every inch of space, the Scene's movement from the foreground to the background added fluidity to the Ballroom's more or less confined climate. Memorable tracks included fan favorites from You Forgot It In People like "Cause = Time" and "Stars and Sons," but the majority of songs performed, as expected, came off the new album. Noteworthy performances from Broken Social Scene included the fast-paced "Fire Eye'd Boy," along with more melodic pieces like "Major Label Debut" and "It's All Gonna Break." Slower tracks like "Bandwitch" occasionally reaffirmed the band's ambient roots, allowing for intermittent breaks between cacophonies.

It is refreshing to hear new energy coming from our friendly northern neighbors who embrace instruments outside of the traditional four-piece set, where the majority of indie bands sprout from the recent Britpop trend.

A unique blend of traditional and innovative, Broken Social Scene should be placed among the ranks of other rising Canadian indie bands like the Arcade Fire and Stars. Comedian Robin Williams once said that Canada is a loft above a really great party. In terms of independent music, the loft is keeping the party great.


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