I had a lofty idea in my head that I’d go on a mission to see Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene as many times as humanly possible at SXSW. The first and only set I caught, however, was so weirdly wonderful that I’m afraid a second stop would ruin the charm of the first. I found myself already in Container Bar, where the band was set to play, about three hours early to catch the tail-end of Japan’s magnificent CHAI (side note: they’ll be in DC with my faves Den-Mate on Monday. You should go. I’ll probably still be napping off a music hangover, but have fun in my stead).
A SXSW rookie mistake then occurred. I assumed I had time and hopped onto Rainey Street, in search of tacos and donuts (both of which I found, shoutout to La Sirena and the lavender pistachio almond donuts from Little Lucy’s). I wandered the street and did some people watching. Eventually I snapped out of my reverie and made it back to Container Bar, where a line snaking down the block had formed. As the line progressed and I was two people behind getting in, the fire marshals came to halt entries.
I get it, safety first, but everyone behind me erupted into a chorus of boos. A man parked himself in front of the bouncer, announcing to everyone he wouldn’t be moving until he was let in since “he was in here this morning.” While I’m new to all of this, even I know that’s not how any of this works. Fast forward an hour – including watching The Joy Formidable from outside the bar – and I’m in! I find a sea of tall people. Luckily the guy who was smack in front of me asked if I’d like to sneak in front of them so I could see better – the kindest thing any person under 5’6” can hear.
Broken Social Scene wins the award for longest soundcheck, clocking in at about 30 minutes. I guess when you’ve got about ten people in the band including a brass section, that kind of thing is understandable. As the band takes the stage to raucous applause, their founder, guitarist and vocalist, Kevin Drew declares, “this is a clusterfuck, but so is SXSW, so let’s get started!”
So I’m learning, Kevin.
The group launches into their set, playing old favorites like “Cause = Time” and “Texico Bitches.” I was hoping for some “Lover’s Spit” (I’d love to see if there’s any correlation between Lorde name dropping that track and a whole generation of new Broken Social Scene fans forming) or “Sweetest Kill,” although I cry on cue as soon as I hear the opening bassline to that song, so its omission was probably for the best.
As their band operates as a rotating cast, save a few permanent members, there’s no Feist, Amy Millan of Stars or Emily Haines of Metric present today. However, there is Ariel Engle, who joined the band for their last album Hug of Thunder. She also records as La Force, and her voice is just as powerful blending into the background as it is leading the band in a breakout hit. A welcome addition, she fits in beautifully with the band and is a reminder of why these rotating cast setups like Broken Social Scene is so great. There’s always room for more, for new, and a freedom in fluidity.
Even with the lengthy soundcheck, the band encountered a few technical difficulties, to which Drew announced, “I’m getting my fucking ass kicked up here, ladies and gentlemen.”Despite this, the crowd was unflappable and thoroughly enjoying the music and banter. In fact, I think the highlight of my SXSW experience so far was Drew leaving the crowd with a speech on the evils of the scooters that have taken over the streets of Austin. No really, he’s right, they’re everywhere.
“We’re in our 40s and 50s and this broke us,” he joked. “Between this and all the scooters in the city, this is it.”