Northern Beats Under A Summer Sun With Broken Social Scene, East Pointers, and Melissa Laveaux Broken Social Scene, East Pointers, and Melissa Laveaux celebrate Canada Day at Summerstage
NEW YORK, NY- At the front gates of Summerstage, volunteers handed out maple-leaf flags and dispensed the advice to stay hydrated. Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield provided little shade on a 105+ degree afternoon, but the blistering heat didn’t stop New Yorkers from filling the lawn in anticipation of three bands that were performing in celebration of Canada Day. Toronto’s Broken Social Scene headlined, with support from Prince Edward Island’s The East Pointers, a folk group, and Montreal’s Melissa Laveaux, a roots and soul singer.
With their adrenaline-fueled performances, The East Pointers have carved a defining space in the modern folk genre–no small feat in the increasingly crowded field. The trio, comprising Jake Charron (guitar), Tim Chaisson (fiddle), and his cousin, Koady Chaisson (banjo), won the prestigious Juno Award for best roots album of 2017. In their latest album, What We Leave Behind, we find bracing harmonies soaring alongside that the high-lonesome timbre of the fiddle, modernized with keys, and all framing a narrative style that blends allegory and autobiography.
Take “82 Fires,” for instance, which East Pointers wrote while on tour in Tasmania in 2016 when wildfires raged across the land. The lyrics could be a Steinbeck novel:
Raised two boys in the land of my father’s tending crops in the fertile fields. Through depth of frost and fire only took what the land could yield. We heard old tales of 82 fires, smoke turned day to night. And legends told there would come a time when their return would follow their might.
That song moves into “Tanglewood,” an instrumental piece that starts with bright tambourine and takes off in a blistering rhythm, prompting audience members to rise from their picnic blankets and dance.
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During changeover, an emcee asked the crowd trivia questions. “What percentage of maple syrup produced is from Canada?” he asked, bouncing between stage and grassy field. The correct answer — approximately 70% — earned one audience member a water bottle. This kind of crowd engagement shows why Summerstage’s concert series is one that New Yorkers eagerly anticipate every year. (And a special shout-out to the staffer who walked around the photo pit spritzing us with water — you were our hero, sir.)
Next up was Melissa Laveaux. Her finger-picked roots and folk guitar stylings, bookended by drummer Martin Wangermee and bassist Elise Blanchard, were a force to be reckoned with. There’s both a velvety depth and a litheness to Ms. Laveaux’s voice, and the songs she shared–some in English and others in French–are illustrative of her border-crossing heritage as a musician born in Montreal to parents of Haitian descent.
A formidable songwriter in her own right, Ms. Laveaux handles other artists’ material just as adroitly. “Crazy In Love” uses gentle backing harmonies and sprightly phrasing to transform the Beyonce original. And it’s no easy feat to channel the gorgeous melancholy of Elliot Smith, but in the hands of this Canadian artist, “Needle in the Hay,” the song’s ruminations on the uncertainties of dependency and attachment take on new light, less anxious and more boldly resistant.
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Indie rock mainstays Broken Social Scene have shape-shifted in and out of studio and over the years, spanning anywhere from six to nineteen members. Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning formed the band in 1999, and the rotating cast includes musicians who also play in other Toronto-area bands, including Metric, Stars, Feist, and Apostle of Hustle. Critics have tried to succinctly describe Broken Social Scene’s sound–baroque rock, dream pop, and so on. As a democratic collective of talented individuals, it makes sense that Broken Social Scene is not a single sound but a technicolor palette of guitar rock, poignant folk ballads, and cinematic, orchestral pop.
Hug of Thunder sees the band weaving these elements together into a multivalent, mellifluous whole. “Sol Luna” is a gentle, strings-adorned invocation, “Halfway Home” is a song that should be played loud to appreciate how it soars to anthemic heights, and in title song “Hug of Thunder,” Leslie Feist creates a simmering urgency through staccato delivery with enough reverb and crisp drum machine percussion to effectively paint a picture of a young woman flipping through the pages of her diary, trying to figure out how the experiences all add up. And Ariel Engle’s warm, saturated delivery in “Gonna Get Better” is in perfect counterpoint to the ominous edge of the lyrics — things will get better ‘cos they can’t get worse (Engle fits in so seamlessly that new fans would never suspect she’s the newest addition to the band).
There’s a particular combination of pathos and lightness that few are able to harness as effectively as Broken Social Scene does with their sweeping, textured arrangements of strings and synths. Together, the band creates an intriguing tension between the nearly euphoric moments of the songs and the heavy ambiguities of the lyrics. As the title track reminds us, none of us is immune to existential anxieties and doubts and heartbreak that makes inevitable the fact that “all along we’re gonna feel some numbness.” But music sends electric sparks to light up those dormant neurons. It might get worse before it gets better — but we won’t stay numb, not within the embrace of these songs.
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And check out the full calendar of Summerstage events.