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An entourage of a band takes shape

By now you may have heard about indie-rock band Broken Social Scene's shape-shifting lineup, featuring members of bands such as Stars, Metric, Apostle of Hustle, and so on. But to understand Broken Social Scene's immense popularity, you have to see it in action.

Saturday night at Avalon was a perfect snapshot of a band on a meteoric rise. Playing to a packed house, members floated on and offstage without warning and, sometimes, for no obvious reason. Just when you thought a song couldn't get any better, suddenly a ragtag group of backup singers would appear and build on the song's forever-in-flux foundation.

Of course, with that kind of entourage, not everything could run smoothly. After yet another stage shakeup, a friend remarked, ''They don't need a tour manager -- they need a stage manager." True enough. Sometimes, a horn section was lost over the din of so many guitars, and Lisa Lobsinger, whom lead singer Kevin Drew called the latest member of the band, was often barely audible on vocals, though she did provide some great hair (think Bram Stoker's ''Dracula").

Don't be fooled by that indie-rock label. Broken Social Scene plays brawny rock 'n' roll that swerves wildly from droning to upbeat to psychedelic. It begs to be heard in a big venue. Up to five guitarists played at once, combined with two drummers and Brendan Canning on bass, but it wasn't the kind of bombastic guitar rock it could have been.

Drew was ostensibly the sensitive frontman (he told the members of the crowd to make sure they have ''personal peace" within them), but it was clear he was happy to share the attention on songs such as the opening ''Cause=Time," ''Superconnected," and ''Lover's Spit," a haunting, reverb-drenched duet with Leslie Feist, who fronted the opening act, Feist.

An opening act that, by the way, nearly upstaged the headliner. Feist tore through a set both heartfelt and deliciously eclectic, from a scene-stealing cover of Nina Simone's percussive ''See Line Woman" to Feist's own quiet meditation on what venturing into the ocean might be like. In her case, less is more.

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