The annual SXSW festival in Austin, Texas is always a highlight of the live music lover’s calendar. Thousands of bands descend on the town, so it’s an opportunity to catch some of your favorites as well as countless emerging artists. The draws for me in 2004 were the Posies (my favorite band of all-time), a reformed Trashcan Sinatras, Snow Patrol, and a handful of old favorites like John Wesley Harding. But there’s always a band or two you know little about that blows you away. That year, the clear unknown (to me) stunner was Broken Social Scene.
Many people at Stubbs on that cool March evening were there for the up with people bullshit of Polyphonic Spree. My friends and I made our way to the venue to catch the aforementioned Snow Patrol, on the bill promoting newest album Final Straw. We’d heard good things about BSS but nothing concrete that made us shiver in anticipation. After Snow Patrol finished their set, we made the call to hang around and check out the Canadian collective. We chose wisely.
About a dozen people made their way to the stage — the members of BSS, as well as their friends in Metric, Stars, and the Stills. From the opening notes, they were mesmerizing. Broken Social Scene had found a new way to build on swirling textures of sound, organically blending traditional rock instruments with horns, strings and electronica. What was most audacious was the way some of their songs treated vocals as an afterthought, focusing more on mood, atmosphere, and layers.
The horn heavy KC Accidental bloomed into Stars and Sons, the best hand-clap for a hook song I’d ever heard, not to mention having one of the most truly ass-shaking bass lines. Almost Crimes featured the manic, passionate vocals of Emily Haines and Amy Millan, and was the song that fully whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl, also featuring the lovely ladies’ vocals, brought the levels back down. Where the former song clawed at your back, the latter nuzzled in close and whispered in your ear. Non-album track Jimmy + the Photocall elicited chills and Cause = Time solidified the magic. It was that song where you could see all the moving pieces of the band synchronized to perfection. As they closed with the hazy, happy drunk beauty of Lover’s Spit, I realized I was witnessing one of those cathartic performances that capture the essence of great live music.
I caught Broken Social Scene a few other times in subsequent years, but that show still stands as one of the great ones. In 2011, the band went on hiatus so the band members could focus on other projects. Let’s hope we haven’t seen the last of them. Jason Isbell recently tweeted that he missed BSS. He’s just one of many.