On its own, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival offers plenty of music, but there's a bonus: The tunes flows all over the city, with extra shows booked across town and the Bay Area. Broken Social Scene filled up the Fillmore for purportedly their final show, at least in North America and at least for a while. I don't want it to be true, but if they disappear for however long, I can safely say they left it all on the stage at the Fillmore.
Broken Social Scene, the Fillmore, October 1, 2011: I wasn't made for these times, in case you hadn't surmised from the week-long lag between the show and the publishing of this post. Knee-jerk responses, instant punditry, disdain by default -- I'm not comfortable with these habits. There's something about the slow burn of realization, when your sense memory mingles with personal revelations and hard-earned wisdom, and you wake up weeks, months, or even years later with a connection to the work that hadn't existed earlier. That's the story for Broken Social Scene, and now I flip to them on the iPod repeatedly.
Here's an unexpected twist: In 2011, I've seen more shows by Broken Social Scene than any other group, breaking the streak that band from Chicago has held for the last 108 (approximately) years. This is probably related to the aforementioned mania and my reduced concert attendance, but this is, after all, the band's farewell (for now) tour, and it's inevitable they'd hit their favorite towns before bowing out. Kevin Drew offered a little more insight into how they ended up in San Francisco -- and not Toronto -- for their swan song. He wisely heaped praise on our city, but also explained that their guest list at home would be unmanageable.
I can admit that the afternoon's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass slot was underwhelming, though it had less to do with the band and more with the circumstances. I would've hated to go out with that performance as my last memory of the group -- so it's a good thing I made it to the Fillmore. The show filled out all the holes in the festival set. Of course, Forgiveness Rock Record got plenty of love, but they also hit nearly every track off You Forgot It in People (minus two). Alas, "Lover's Spit" was sacrificed, but I got to hear "Shampoo Suicide" for the second time that day. They stuffed their already full agenda with such live staples as "Fire Eye'd Boy" and the customary closer "It's All Gonna Break." According to the friendly and knowledgeable fellow behind me, "Hotel" is a rare track, but they played it back in April -- maybe he just missed the wrong shows.
Broken Social Scene is known for its revolving roster, and tonight's lineup welcomed some old friends, including Amy and Evan from Stars, who got a solo spotlight in the middle of the show. In one of his many ramblings, Kevin hugged Amy tight and told us they'd known each other for 22 years. And in another tribute to longevity, he mentioned his parents, married for 44 years, were in the audience. We cheered them, only to be told he'd pointed us to the wrong balcony.
The big story in terms of special guests is probably Isaac Brock, who joined in for three Modest Mouse songs. He joked about delivering a eulogy for a living entity and playing the "first annual" last Broken Social Scene show ever. In return, Kevin gushed about his high regard for Modest Mouse. When Isaac returned for the encore, he also tried out a new voice on us -- apparently, in the persona of a New York-based comic.
"The World at Large" has been a part of Broken Social Scene's rotation for a while now, but the penultimate title, "The Good Times Are Killing Me," proved newer and more problematic. I lost track of how many times they restarted the song before they found the right key, but it finally gelled, after Kevin's persistent protests. In fact, though I've seen Kevin step up as the front man many times now, I'm still fascinated by his displays of leadership. For example, during "World at Large," he almost conducted the horn section into their cues.
Back to "Good Times" -- I thought this might be the end of the show, but instead, after the instruments were set down, Kevin led an a cappella chorus until the entire band returned for the final track. Brendan Canning looked exhausted at this point, but they soldiered on. And though we in the audience has been sweating it out for almost three hours, we heartily welcomed them back. Thankfully, Kevin had reminded us to stay hydrated and offered us a couple of stretch breaks during the gig itself.
There are so many details I can't fit into this account or even remember at this point, just because every moment felt epic. I lost track of the encores -- or the afterparty, as Kevin called it -- and I can't tell you how many false endings we heard as the band seemed to debate whether to cinch up a song. Broken Social Scene has always teetered between virtuoso turns and imminent collapse, and the same can be said of this gig as a whole, but somehow it works. I've been to a handful of (purported) last gigs ever, and as with at least one of its counterparts, I can safely say we couldn't ask more of them.
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