The challenges a venue like The Mann Center must contend with acoustically and otherwise are myriad. There’s the monumental, gaping ceiling, crisscrossed with spidery rafters; the oblong breaches in the structure’s sides that make it an open-air space; and, of course, the unpredictability of the forecast. Then there is the hugeness of the Center itself; unfilled, it seems like its pitched rows of bucket seats go on for miles. As the members of Broken Social Scene—opening for TV On The Radio—took the stage Friday night, the weather obliged with a clear, balmy evening. But their performance suffered due to a sparse crowd (“We could have done this at my house,” singer Kevin Drew said at one point) and poor sound.
Broken Social Scene kicked off the concert with “Cause=Time” and “Texico Bitches.” During the second song, Drew responded to an enthusiastic fan’s “I love you, Kevin!” by pulling him on stage and handing him a maraca. Later, Drew ended the show by singing a fragment of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as an a cappella duet with the audience, a valiant attempt at conjuring a collective bond. It was as if he were determined to convert the cavernous Mann into a cozy club.
“All To All” and especially “Fire Eye’d Boy” were the most successful renditions of the night, taking full advantage of Broken Social Scene’s potential as a nine-piece that includes trombones, tambourines, violins, saxophones, and multiple vocalists. You’d think that the lengthy, baroque layers of BSS’ arrangements would lend themselves well to the Mann’s expanse, but on Friday the many moving parts were muddied. At times, witnessing the show from further back felt like being submerged in a puddle of sound, with shards of noise bouncing off every surface and in every direction in a way that was messy and overwhelming. “Meet Me In The Basement” and Modest Mouse cover “The World At Large” were less effective because of this. On “Major Label Debut,” one of the strongest tracks off 2005’s Broken Social Scene, Drew’s crisp voice was stifled and suppressed by the spiraling echoes.
Its setting is perhaps the Mann’s best asset. With sloping, manicured green lawns, pools of yellow light trapped under dark trees, and a postcard-perfect view of the city skyline, it boasts the kind of backdrop that most shows can’t hope to match. Despite the low attendance and the murky mix, Broken Social Scene delivered a set that embraced both the location and the moment.