NEW YORK, NY — On a sweltering Sunday in Central Park, a few days before the Fourth of July, Canadian indie collective Broken Social Scene offered a peace offering amid rising tensions between the U.S. and our neighbors to the north (really?!).
“Since we’re probably going to war,” frontman Kevin Drew said near the end of afternoon show at the park’s Summer Stage, “we’ll lose and apologize for it.” Saying he’s sorry for the division between the two countries, he led the audience in a therapeutic scream.
It was a funny and poignant moment of release, but what went unspoken was an even bigger gesture from BSS and the Consulate General of Canada — which put on the Canada Day event: a free show gifted to New Yorkers who are used to paying in the $50 range for a band with such considerable cachet and critical acclaim.
Cognizant of the unrelenting sunshine, the 10-piece band toiled to keep the energy level high, both onstage and in the crowd (which Drew ventured into at one point), opening with the majestic instrumental “Pacific Theme,” with saxophone and trombone filling out the band’s lush sound, which has much more space than on the band’s albums. Ariel Engle took center stage to lead the band through “Protest Song,” from new album “Hug of Thunder.” Drew reclaimed frontperson duties for “Cause = Time” from 2002’s sophomore album, “You Forgot It In People.”
“And they all want to love the cause,” sang Drew, “because they all need to be the cause. They all want to fuck the cause.” BSS, whose members frequently switch instruments, for his song deployed a 5-guitar lineup, which alternatively thrashed and soared.
BSS reached back to 2010’s outstanding “Forgiveness Rock Record” for “Forced To Love,” Drew, guitar-less now, working the crowd, the tense verses leading to quasi-release in the chorus.
After Engle offered the dreamy “Gonna Get Better,” Drew jumped into the grass to deliver the ballad “Sweetest Kill.” Another quiet highlight was the Brendan Canning ballad “Handjobs for the Holidays.” One of the few tunes sung by the band cofounder at Central Park, the whispery track fluttered to a soft landing on a decrescendo of saxophone.
The celebratory “7/4 (Shoreline)” ratcheted up the energy level for the set’s home stretch, with “Almost Crimes,” “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day),” “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” and “Lover’s Spit,” all from 2005 or earlier, closing out the show.
Fellow Canadians The East Pointers and Melissa Laveaux served as support acts. Prince Edward Island’s East Pointers slightly recalled countrymen Great Lake Swimmers and a more restrained Avett Brothers, a pleasant blend of indie (North) Americana and folky storytelling. High points included “Two Weeks,” the Celtic-tinged “Party Wave” and the seafaring suite from 2015 debut record, “Secret Victory.” Laveaux, of Haitian descent, warned listeners she’d be singing in Haitian Creole, “so you won’t understand a word.” A challenging listen for sure, and maybe not the best choice for a poutine- and maple bacon-chomping crowd waiting for a rock band to take the stage, but her set was nonetheless impressive, jazzy with an angular edge and featuring excellent guitar-bass-drums interplay from her band.