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Interview:
James Shaw of Metric/Broken SocialScene
at Webster Hall in New York

Story and Interview by Ryan S. Henriquez

Just minutes after witnessing Broken Social Scene wrap up the third of three shows at NYC's Webster Hall last week - in which they filled the 1400+ auditorium each night - the entire venue was humming with a euphoric afterglow.

The kickoff Thursday night show had some missteps - some beyond the band's control. Midway through the set, during an ethereal transition between songs, lead vocalist Kevin Drew abruptly ordered the band to "cut it" when techno music from the dance club beneath began pulsing through the floorboards of the auditorium, wrecking the band's momentum. After rebuking Webster Hall management, bassist / co-frontman Brendan Canning added to the melee by chastising an audience member for talking on his cell phone during a song. As right as Canning was, no one likes a scolding (least of all New Yorkers), and the vibe of the show never truly recovered.

What a difference a day makes. By Saturday night, eager to show Thursday night was a fluke (Drew even noted Thursday's "freaky" vibe), the band gripped the crowd early and never relented. What felt like overlong, even forced "jams" on Thursday night transformed into natural, beautiful epic anthems two nights later.

For me, it was a relief. I believe in this band, but Thursday night's show left me with doubts. It didn't help that tonight my pre-show interview with lead guitarist Andrew Whiteman never happened, and that somehow I managed to lose both my shoulder bag and voice recorder all in the span of the first 3 songs of the set. But by the conclusion of a set which magically stretched across some 22 songs (no intermission, no let up), my faith in the band was restored, along with my faith in humanity - two concertgoers approached me separately to return my bag and recorder that they'd found on the floor. Sweet!

And in a final serendipitous stroke, though my interview with Whiteman never materialized, after the show I caught up with Jimmy Shaw - Julliard graduate, sometime member of Broken Social Scene, and mainstay of the rock quartet Metric. Indeed, it seems virtually every BSS bandmember pulls double-time in another act or as a solo artist, some as formidable as Feist and Apostle of Hustle.

At the Webster Hall gigs, Jimmy played guitar and trumpet alongside the 14+ other BSS members including Metric chanteuse Emily Haines, a bat-out-of-hell whose sultry hair-raising banshee cries helped to exorcise any and all of Thursday night's demons.

 

RH: Great show, man.

JS: Tonight was incredible. We just had so much fun tonight. It's been about a year and half since I played a Broken Social Scene show, and my God are they fun. It's like a party down there [on stage]. With so many people performing, a lot of us can take a break for a few songs, have a few drinks, and then go back on. It's a really fun way to tour.

RH: You guys are playing Conan O'Brien on Tuesday, are you looking forward to that?

JS: Metric actually played Conan a few weeks ago. It's nothing like it looks like on TV. The studio is just this tiny little room! They make some serious use of the wide-angle lenses with that show. I mean you can't even tell that Conan O'Brien is this towering giant. He must be 6 foot 5!

RH: I'm a big fan of your last record [Old World Underground, Last Gang 2003] though to be honest I haven't had a chance yet to really listen the new album [Live It Out, Last Gang, 2005].

JS: The new one definitely has a darker edge to it. We recorded it through a long, dark winter when we weren't really in the best headspace, and I think you can feel that. But it made for one really interesting record, I think.

RH: The new album definitely has a different vibe to it than [Old World Underground].

JS: I'm happy we mixed it up with the new record. If you make your first two albums with the same sound, you can set yourself up where people expect you to sound that way your whole career.

RH: Any fear of alienating old fans?

JS: I've heard some folks complaining it doesn't sound like the old record, but I'm glad for that. It usually means they really liked the first record -and this is just something different. We could make 5 albums and you may only like 3, but so what - I can live with that, and I'm still happy to be making the music that I want to make.

RH: So I have to ask you - what was it like opening for the Stones last month at the Garden?

JS: It was incredible. The first night we didn't really get to sound check, and it was sorta' weird. But the second night was probably the best show of my life. Maybe the best night of my life. I'd never experienced anything like it. It was surreal.

RH: Is the Garden just immense?

JS: It really is a beautiful room. A big one, for sure, but still beautiful. A lot of arenas like that just aren't made for concerts, but the Garden definitely is. You don't really get how big it is when you're on stage. But after one of our sets I met up with my dad who had flown from Toronto to see us. He was up in the nosebleeds, and when I went to sit with him, that's when I really got the magnitude of the place - and what we had just done.

RH: What was the Rolling Stones touring juggernaut like? I imagine it must be a well-oiled machine.

JS: It's literally a moving city. They've got like a hundred tour buses alone. 300+ people that travel with the band, and another hundred or so that work off-site. It really is a sight to see.

Shaw had to cut our conversation short to return to the stage to pack up his gear. Even after three sold out shows at Webster Hall, with a band of 14-plus like Broken Social Scene, no one is above some grunt work on the road.

JS: Hell, I even feel spoiled with Metric. We're a quartet and we've got some roadies, so we don't need to handle our own gear. But it's obviously a little different with a band of this size. But, hey I ain't complaining!

As the cleaning crew mopped the floor, Webster Hall simultaneously lowered a trapeze rope from the ceiling to prepare the club-goers' burlesque show which would follow. Shaw had to laugh. It was hard to believe the spectacle of this incredible concert - which at times bordered on a spiritual revival - was being so briskly swept away with the empty cups beer cups to make way for an evening of strippers hanging above a bunch of club kids.


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