TORONTO — Members of Broken Social Scene had to make a difficult decision in the wake of the suicide bombing attack that left 22 people dead in Manchester.
The Toronto band was scheduled to open the European leg of its tour for the upcoming album “Hug of Thunder” on May 23 at Albert Hall in Manchester.
A day earlier, a terrorist attack struck Manchester Arena, where thousands of young people had turned out for an Ariana Grande concert.
“We all sat in the backstage room and had a big group meeting to see how everybody felt,” recalls Charles Spearin, a member of the sprawling rock collective.
Questions circulated about whether the venue would still be open, while the band debated if it was appropriate to go on stage when emotional wounds were so fresh.
The band decided their show must go on and thought the sombre “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” would set the appropriate tone to open the concert.
Earlier plans had called for Manchester native Johnny Marr, former guitarist for the Smiths, to join the band on stage. But the guitarist was reticent to entertain his hometown crowd when the whole country was in emotional tatters.
Broken Social Scene singer Kevin Drew stayed in touch with him throughout the day.
“I would send him these little texts because he was very upset,” says Drew, who sent Marr a video message after visiting a memorial near the blast site.
“I recorded and said, ‘Here’s your city right now, Johnny,’ and an hour before we went on he called me.
“(He) went, ‘I gotta do it, especially if you’re playing ‘Anthems.’”
The powerful opener echoed across the Internet as fans shared videos of the performance. Some spoke about how the moment helped them find some solace.
Drew says he couldn’t have predicted the response.
“After we were done I said, ‘Well I hope someone recorded that,’” he remembers. “We were playing for the people in front of us and that was it.”
Reflecting on the unexpected confluence of circumstances, Drew says the tour ended up starting “in a really beautiful way.”
“In the sense of wiping away all the pettiness and stupidness that sometimes crops up in a band,” adds Spearin.
Broken Social Scene has endured its share of conflicts and disagreements, driven partly by the complications that come with a rotating membership that varies from six to 19 musicians.
It’s been seven years since their last album “Forgiveness Rock Record” was lauded by critics. Since then, many of the band’s members have progressed into their 40s, some have raised kids, and they’ve all pursued other musical projects.
Brendan Canning remembers the 2011 tour that caused inevitable rifts between bandmates. Cramped bus quarters and a lack of sleep had eroded their patience with each other.
“Add in some booze perhaps here and there,” he says.
“It’s not the way you’re supposed to be living a life, but you’re in the circus, so you have to just accept that.”
Temporarily dissolving their collective seemed like the right decision. And with the exception of some 2015 shows, they mostly stuck to that plan.
“The one thing that really drove us back together was a sense of curiosity,” says Spearin.
“Music sometimes isn’t so much an expression as it is a discovery.
“You write the music to find out what’s going on inside.”
“Hug of Thunder” is due out on Friday. Broken Social Scene plays Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on Oct. 21, Windsor, Ont.’s WFCU Centre on Nov. 1, and Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Nov. 3 and 4.