Halfhearted embraces won’t be enough to see us through. Moments where we let our guard down and make a genuine connection, with friends new and old, remind us that we are alive and not alone. That’s the passionate sense of unity on display throughout Broken Social Scene’s performance Thursday night at the Palace Theatre, as the Canadian indie-rock collective brought their Hug of Thunder tour through St. Paul after a seven-year absence from the Twin Cities.
“How are you holding up?” BSS frontman Kevin Drew asked sincerely to start the show. “You OK? You sure? We’re your neighbors, and we care about you. You can come over anytime you want.” That congenial spirit and caring nature prevailed throughout the nearly two-hour set, as the nine-piece group did their best to forge a special kinship with the crowd.
A jubilant anthem, the triumphant opener “KC Accidental” warmed up both the crowd and the band. Ariel Engle took center stage on vocals during a dynamic “7/4 (Shoreline),” and she served as de facto frontwoman many times during the show, as the guys behind her switched up instruments as well as song styles. (Hell, Charles Spearin even played a nyckelharpa at one point).
“Protest Song” burned with a defiant poignance given the current headlines, while the Andrew Whiteman-led “Fire Eye’d Boy” and “Texaco Bitches” (during which Drew immersed himself in the crowd) showed that their older tunes were still plenty potent. But even more than the music, it was the genuine sense of camaraderie between band and fans that resonated throughout the set.
“We’re going to go back to the You Forgot It In People record that made us come to your town in the first place,” Drew announced before a ripping take on “Almost Crimes” that featured Engle tagging Prince’s “Diamond and Pearls” onto the song’s coda. A punky run through “Major Label Debut (Fast)” kept the well-paced set churning, with Drew exclaiming, “There’s too much talk these days. We’re just going to keep playing songs, keep banging ’em out.” And indeed, this performance proved that music can sometimes say much more than mere words ever can.
The set ended with a flurry of spirited, hopeful indie jams – “Cause=Time,” “Superconnected,” and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)” – that came directly from the hearts of these talented Canadians, letting us Americans know that the rest of the world hasn’t turned on us despite our leaders’ lunacy.
After all the good that Broken Social Scene did for the people of this country, Drew asked us to do a favor for him and the people of Canada. He had us all scream at the top of our lungs for the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, who has been fighting cancer while proudly “wearing a First Avenue hat every day for the last two years.” Collectively exclaiming Gord’s name proved to be a much-needed cathartic release, a form of primal scream therapy.
An epic version of “It’s All Gonna Break” kicked off the “encore,” even though Drew and company never officially left the stage. Engle led the crowd in a tender singalong of “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” before Drew announced, “We send you out into the night with this one. Put it in your back pocket and save it for the tough times.” “Meet Me in the Basement” brought the night to a rousing close, strengthening the bond that Broken Social Scene has with their fans, reminding us that we are not alone in our fight for what’s right and good in the world.
A note on the opener: Glasgow’s Frightened Rabbit’s stellar 45-minute set was everything you’re looking for from an opening band. Frontman Scott Hutchison was in great spirits and formed a quick bond with the crowd. “You guys are immediately great,” Hutchison said early in their set. “Sometimes it takes a while, but immediately you guys are great.” The band played lively, impassioned songs from all ends of their career (“The Modern Leper,” “Living in Colour,” and, from their just-released EP, Recorded Songs, “Roadless”). “Some audiences forget that you can make our night, too,” Hutchison revealed. “We’ve just been sitting around all day waiting for this to happen.” And indeed, both bands made our night. It’s good to know the feeling is mutual.
Fire Eye’d Boy
Stars and Sons
Hug of Thunder
Major Label Debut (Fast)
Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)
It’s All Gonna Break
Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl
Meet Me in the Basement