July 13, 2009
gave 'em all the slip

Saturday's free Broken Social Scene concert was probably the best concert of my life. I say "probably" because it was operating on an extreme handicap: Mason & I had a dumb fight on the way in, and when I stalked off in a huff, the crowds of people guaranteed that I lost him for the night. I was sorry about 10 seconds later, but by then it was too late. Shit. So I spent a good deal of the next four and a half hours wondering how I was going to find him, and what I would do if I couldn't.

BSS concerts are supposed to be about Mason & I being with people who like what we like, not to mention surreptitiously stalking band members* while remaining too terrified to get close enough to wave. They're supposed to be about screaming and dancing and getting chills of beauty and howling lyrics to "Major Label Debut" in each other's faces. They are not supposed to be about stupid half-second decisions that make it impossible to concentrate on any of the good things. So this concert was under a cloud. The worst event is still a good one with Mason at my side; that this one managed to edge into the top spot is a testament to how many delights were on offer.

And there were a mind-blowing array of delights. This concert was very much a valentine to the fans, with each surprise wonderful on its own; overwhelming in the aggregate. The first thing that was awesome was that they were all there, with very few exceptions (Bill Priddle, Ohad, Leon & Torq were all I could think of). The core was there, of course: Kevin, Brendan, Charles, Justin, Andrew & Sam. And I've seen them with guests before. But this was the first night I've ever seen when nobody seemed able to leave the stage. Evan and Jimmy were there for the whole night, rotating between guitars, brass and percussion whenever possible (they always make me smile). Julie Penner stayed onstage after her violin parts were done, and rocked the percussion with a big grin on her face. Jason Collett was there, freakishly tall as always. All of the original three ladies--Feist, Emily & Amy--were there, plus Lisa Lobsinger who has her own songs at this point and more than held her own. There were also people I'd never seen up there, like "founding non-member" John Crossingham who was there playing percussion for "Fire Eye'd Boy," just like their Letterman appearance. I kept a running count, and by the time they played "Major Label Debut" for the third encore, there were 19 people on stage. It was unbelievable.

What made it more exciting than just the sheer numbers was the obvious way that they structured each appearance for maximum impact. First Kevin brought out Feist, who (with the exception of the NXNE gig) hasn't performed with them since '06, and who is on record as saying she might never play with them again. Then Amy, who performed a solo song with Evan doing the hiphop drums behind her. The two ladies traded off vocals on "Shoreline," a song I never thought I'd see with Feist at the mic. (She couldn't get it loud enough to suit, so she ripped off the cover early on. Still wasn't loud enough.) All of the girls backed Emily in "Anthems," a song so beautiful that it sends shivers down my legs.

The best part was that it wasn't just about Broken Social Scene songs. I could have gone home happy with a pure BSS concert, but clearly the idea was to give us a revue-style performance with each solo project getting their own moment of glory. This was first obvious when Kevin & Feist quieted it down, trading verses of "Past in Present" "Safety Bricks" & "I Feel It All" in beautiful, stripped down harmony. Then Emily, "the ninja" came out to sing a gently rocking acoustic "Gimme Sympathy," led by Jimmy and backed by the entire band. (Feist singing along with the rest of us, completely away from the mic and for the pure joy of it, made me love her even more. Amy's still my favourite, but Feist in front of BSS, wearing a skirt with pockets that she stuck her hands in from time to time when she danced like a five-year-old, was magic.) Collett came out and sang "I'll Bring the Sun," which is the loudest song I've ever heard from him and inspired some deep back bending that I haven't seen since the Heads' Tina Weymouth. Andrew and Lisa blasted us out with "Soul Unwind," which I last heard in a stripped down, essential oil version at the album release and which was a thousand times better with a gang behind it. Brendan and Lisa sang "Chameleon," chilling us all out.

It was like a dream of a concert, a show that had could go in every direction and might very well never end. I know that I didn't want it to end, and it was pretty obvious that no one on stage wanted it to end, either. The encores went on forever, full of Brendan's scissor kicks and the crowd screaming for more. Kevin kept trying to go home, but he was continuously overruled. Right before the third encore, he attempted to say goodbye.

"Who wants to hear KC Accidental?" Brendan yelled, cutting through Kevin's farewell.

"Okay," Kevin sighed. "But I'm going into the crowd for this one. I'll come up and sing, but I'm going into the crowd now." He did, and the band played through the fanfares without him.

It was overwhelming. It was a hundred plates of food from the best buffet in town. I was feeding song titles to a sweet group of kids on my left, one of whom had only heard BSS the day before, and trying not to dance-collide with the couple on my left, whom I later found out, met at a concert at the Drake in 2003. Free concert audiences are full of weird people, and I saw my share (like a woman who pestered for a close-up seat and sat, head down, the entire performance), but there was a lot of positive energy all around me and it elevated the night.

I needed that, worried as I was that I would miss Mason entirely. When Kevin led us in screaming apologies, and assuring everyone that "[we] still fucking love you," I choked. So, despite the parade of hometown heroes and despite the beautiful moments that threatened to crowd each other out, my best time was walking to the car in the dark, and seeing Mason walking toward me.

At the very first part of the show, Bruce Macdonald was there, to announce that he was filming the concert for an upcoming documentary. They want fans to submit footage from the summer, to piece out the story, and I wish I could recreate that reunion, to put it alongside the glory that was that show. I have the feeling that even if I figure out a way to do it, it won't get into the movie. That's okay. At the very least, I can buy the DVD and watch the whole thing over again. It's only been two days, but I can't wait.

* (And, just for the record, I managed to overcome my feelings for a spot of shy stalking when I looked around for Mason and found the Spearin family getting food. "It's Ondine!" I thought, and then I saw Lisanne, an original member of my prenatal group. By the time we were done chatting, I lost the target. I also approached Kevin's mom & dad after the show, as it seems I'm only shy normally. After a concert I appear to be flooded with endorphins and will ask anyone anything. It's probably a good thing for the Spearins that they didn't have to deal with two small children plus an insane fan while balancing plates of food.)

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