Since Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning founded the Canadian alt-rock collective Broken Social Scene in the late ’90s — pulling in many Toronto-based musicians from other notable acts along the way — it has seen members’ other bands sometimes eclipse its own in popularity.
With Metric, Emily Haines and James Shaw have racked up nine Juno Awards (Canada’s Grammys), and opened arenas for Imagine Dragons. Fellow Juno winner Leslie Feist was propelled to global stardom with hit “1234,” appearing on “Sesame Street” and in “The Muppets” movie.
But despite its members’ successes, Broken Social Scene is still equal to if not greater than the sum of its parts (although said parts are pretty great on their own). With 2017’s long-awaited return “Hug of Thunder,” the band proves neither age nor absence can darken its shine. Sonically and lyrically, “Hug” is of its time, politically and socially aware yet championing unity and good in its lyrics.
“It’s partly time of life and where we are as a culture,” says Ariel Engel, also of the band AroarA, a duo with husband and BSS guitarist Andrew Whiteman. “By the culture, I mean media and political culture, sort of a global pop culture. I don’t like speaking for anybody else, but I think it had something to do with both illustrating the demoralization and always searching for ways to persevere.”
“There’s definitely lyrical overlap between people’s lyrics,” she adds. “Some of those can be a pretty personal narratives. I don’t mean to be a cliché and say this is a dark time in history, but there’s a bit of nihilism in the air.”
“Hug of Thunder” may be Engle’s first official album as a member of Broken Social Scene, but she’s been playing with the band live since 2010. This time, she and Whiteman will bring their 4-year-old daughter on the road.
In press photos, the band stands at 14 members, but not all make the tours considering their careers outside of BSS. Yet “Hug of Thunder” certainly isn’t missing anyone. In Texas, fans will see nine musicians on stage, while the rest of the country gets seven — still big by rock band standards
“That’s 14 hands,” she says. “It doesn’t affect what we play. There’s always a mix. That’s the great thing about having a catalog like Broken Social Scene. It’s a real pleasure to see the audience enjoy new music, but also have that feeling of the familiar, where they know where the song starts and stops.”
The point of the show is to share joy in a seemingly bleak present day.
“If you look at it statistically, the average human has a better life than they did in the Middle Ages. We’ve made so many advances, yet we still can’t spread resources and greed is still pervasive. The more you know, the less you can feel optimistic,” says Engle.
“But there’s also a desire for triumph and connection, and if I can speak for Kevin (Drew), he’s calling us to connect on a human level.”
She continues: “What I love about being in the band is when the show takes off, I feel like we’re a whole bunch of people on stage connecting. It has a fundamental timeless quality.”
Broken Social Scene
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36h St.
Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.org.