The phrase “a long time coming” comes to mind while I’m gathering my thoughts for writing my first concert review in almost two and a half years. When I walked out of the Phoenix Concert Theatre on the night of December 12th 2019, after having witnessed another spellbinding Pixies set, I could have never imagined that it would be the last taste of live music that I would experience for 28 months. Of course I don’t have to remind you, dear reader, of the trauma that we’ve all lived through over the last two years, making this journey out to the hallowed halls of a beautifully renovated Massey Hall all the more sweet. And a sweet occasion it was, Toronto’s beloved hometown heroes, Broken Social Scene, had been set to play the storied Shuter St venue last year, but of course Covid had other ideas and so the dates were moved twice to accommodate. This time ‘round though, nothing was going to spoil the party.

Now, as mentioned, this show was twice rescheduled and throwing another wrench into the works was the issue of drummer Justin Peroff coming down with a hernia a week before the show. This is Broken Social Scene after all, so any one of the long-time members should know enough capable drummers to fill the vacancy…Andrew Barr of Montreal’s The Barr Brothers got the nod to man the kit ultimately.

Any proper Broken Social Scene review needs to have a rundown of who actually was on stage for said show, and this show featured all of the regulars (Drew, Canning, Spearin, Whiteman, Engel, Goldberg, and David French), plus the notable supporting cast (Amy Millan, Evan Cranley, and Jason Collett).

Though the band doesn’t have any “new” material to play, they do have the recently released collection of odds and sods entitled Old Dead Young, which brings together B-sides and rarities spanning the the entire run of the collective, which they did pull from for these shows.

The two night stand largely featured the same setlist (probably due to Peroff’s absence) but the really striking feature was the difference in the energy level of the two nights. The first night was strangely subdued in the early going with the crowd virtually silent as the lights went down…it definitely influenced the band’s performance. The second night was markedly more fervent and its effect on the band was obvious. Though the sets only differed by a song or two, the mere act of slotting in “Cause = Time” as the second song on night two was the determining factor in how the crowd responded and indeed how the band responded to them.

From there both nights stuck essentially stuck to the same script. We got choice cuts like “7/4 Shoreline”, the Andrew Whiteman-sung “Fired-Eyed Boy”, a few from the aforementioned Old Dead Young (“Curse Your Fail” and “This House is on Fire”), and awesome takes on ‘Stars and Sons” and “Hug of Thunder.”

The night wasn’t just about BSS material either, Drew and Canning each got a chance to showcase their solo stuff; Drew choosing his heartfelt “Safety Bricks” and Canning bringing some serious boogie with “Love is New.”

Thanks to multi-instrumentalist and all round good guy Charles Spearin, the two-night stand also showcased the talents of another incredible drummer…Toronto ex-pat, turned L.A. studio session vet Sarah Thawer. Spearin’s connections run deep, so when it was clear that Peroff wouldn’t make the shows, Spearin called in a favour with Thawer, and she didn’t disappoint. She slayed the kit on fan favourites ‘Superconnected” and “KC Accidental”…the crowd eating up her Keith Moon styled flare.

Night 1 closed out with a double shot off of You Forgot in People…the moody “Lover’s Spit” and “Almost Crimes” whetting the appetite for that album’s anniversary tour that is to come later this year. Night 2 closed with the undeniable energy of their standout instrumental “Meet Me in the Basement” and it sent the masses out the doors with a euphoria most probably hadn’t felt in some two long years. Thank you Broken Social Scene. Thank you Massey Hall… god, how I’ve missed you all!

-Johnny Hooper