Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TV On The Radio, Broken Social Scene; Williamsburg Waterfront, September 8th 2011

Canadian band Broken Social Scene joined Brooklyn-based rockers TV on the Radio for an excellent night of music at the always-beautiful East River State Park in Williamsburg. A light misting of rain did not deter the sold-out crowd in the least, and spirits were high for the smart double-bill, a home court show for TV on the Radio and one of the last shows (for the moment, at least) for Broken Social Scene in New York City.

Broken Social Scene is known for bringing out a small army for their live shows, and last night was no exception. At various points during their set, I counted three guitarists, a bass that made its way around the band, two auxiliary percussionists, a few synths that were also touched by many hands, and something like five horn players: three big saxes, a trombone, and a trumpet. Oh, and one of the guitarists picked up a cornet, more than once. Versatility was a theme of the evening for sure.

It's no joke, hopping around on instruments like that. There is a reason that more bands don't do it at their shows, and that reason is that it's HARD. Bad things can happen on stage when too many people are moving around. As a longtime fan of the band but first time audience member, I was pleased to see that this relative difficulty did not deter them from being the aggressive multi-instrumentalists that they are at heart. Sometimes, playing one instrument the whole show just gets boring.

The band played a very good set to a receptive crowd. They were "opening" but you couldn't tell from their stage demeanor or their sound. They were fully invested in the show and it was clear that the crowd appreciated it. The setlist consisted of a nice selection from their broad catalog, including a Modest Mouse cover and even a brand new song. The horn section was tight and the arrangements were tasteful and effective. Even thought the group, in various forms, has been doing it for years, it felt new and unpredictable.

The same could be said for TV on the Radio. Their set was extremely high energy, and sonically thrilling. Though they refrained from too much instrument hopping, they were stellar nonetheless. The band has certainly evolved over the years in their recorded output, and though the setlist mostly contained cuts from "Dear Science" and "Nine Types of Light," it was clear that they were interested in showcasing their stylistic diversity. They did include "Staring at the Sun," a song from 2003 that was nice to hear live.

The musicianship was as good as you'd expect it to be from a group of consummate professionals like TVOTR. Dave Sitek's guitar work was phenomenal, and Tunde Adebimpe's vocals were clear and bright. Kip Malone has a surprisingly effective falsetto range, and is always impressive on guitar. And as sad as it was that Gerard Smith was absent from the stage, the band dedicated a song (among other things) to the memory of their former bass player, and at no time did it seem that they lacked sincerity.

One of the high points of the entire show was the lighting, which was an excellent mixture of rhythmic design and colorful variety. It was good to see Williamsburg Waterfront utilize their excellent stage and lighting setup, and it really contributed to the the overall enjoyability of the show. Sadly, the sound did not quite live up to the visuals, and I was often left wondering why the bass and kick were drowning out much of the middle register of both acts. A shame, considering how much beautiful mid-range content both bands put in to their songs. It was disappointing, if only for the fact that I heard better sound design last week at the same venue.

Despite that minor setback, it was an excellent show, and it was especially nice to be part of an enthusiastic crowd that was with both bands for the duration of their sets. Fans definitely got their money's worth, and it seemed to me that everyone left pretty happy about the whole thing. It's a nice feeling, isn't it? Doesn't always work out that way. Let's hope for more shows like it in the future.

BSS photo credit - Norman Wong, TVotR - Nine Types Of Light cover art.

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