Thursday, May 26th 2011
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If they say one dog year equals seven human years, imagine how many human years you could equate to one year of rock'n'roll time. Genres come into fashion and flame out seemingly just as quickly; music scenes spring up like dandelions and multiply overnight until the tastemakers-the-be anoint the next new hot sound. It's pretty easy to see how so many bands and artists end up becoming dust and debris, grist to the music industry's mill.
So having the Canadian pop/rock quartet Sloan celebrating their 20th year of existence is no mean feat. Factor in their enduring popularity and their unique band chemistry (juggling 4 members with just as many active and prolific songwriters) and you can forgive the boys for puffling out their collective chests at entering their 3rd decade. They call their 10th and most recent album The Double Cross, a roman numeric reference to the big 20 (XX) that also served as a modest backdrop to their tour.
Perhaps the most eye-opening thing about Sloan is that age is not hampering their recorded output: while most other acts trotting out LPs to the double digit count tend to be graded on a sliding scale of diminishing returns, The Double Cross is every bit as exciting and vibrant as the LPs released in their commerical heyday. So beginning the show with the first trio of songs from it, in the exact same order, more or less segueing together just like on the album, may have seen like overplaying their hands. Instead, the giddy rush of Chris Murphy's Follow The Leader followed by Jay Ferguson's brisk and wistful The Answer Was You and concluded with Patrick Pentland's sturdy fiff-rawker Unkind sounded right in place next to acknowledged Sloan classics like Losing California and Gimme That. The band's confidence in their new release was such that all but one of the albums' dozen tracks was performed to the 400 Bar crowd. (Laying So Low was the orphaned track, FYI.) The body of the show consisted of Jay, Chris and Patrick swapping lead vocals, with a stretch around the middle where Chris surrendered his bass to Jay and moved back to the drumkit while regular drummer Andrew Scott grabbed a guitar and sang four of his songs in a row.
It was my first time seeing the band live and it was fascinating to see the band's interpersonal dynamics on stage. Chris is the de facto MC and class clown. Patrick strong and steady on stage left, commanding attention when singing lead and adding to the vocal blend when needed. Jay content to let others take the visual attention, even when singing lead. Andrew calm and collected up front and a quiet dynamo behind the kit, pulling off his propulsive fills with a charming nonchalance. (While not a member on record, Gregory MacDonald's contribution of keyboard, percussion and harmony vocals enriched many of the songs, allowing the core four to concentrate on their guitar parts.)
Obviously, a band with over 150 songs to their credit isn't going to be able to touch all their musical bases, but the band was able to achieve democracy both in terms of covering their impressive catalogue and the authors therein. They were able to get at least one song from every album in the rotation except one (Smeared being the neglected one) and in a 90 minute, 25 song show, each band mate got at least four lead vocals. While the band didn't shy away from the singles like Coax Me and a 10-minute set closing Money City Maniacs, there was also a decent sampling of deep album cuts like Witches Wand and The Marquee and the Moon. Sloan could have arguably played another 90 minutes and still not hit all the crowd faves, but that's the hazard of having a long and successful career -- there are a lot of current acts that would kill for a problem like that.
Dearly Beloved were the unannounced warm-up act, and while their garage-tested uptempo rock wasn't quite a perfect fit for the headliners, the crowd seemed to enjoy their boisterous enthuiasm regardless. Rob Higgins is a natural frontman whose bass playing is second to none, and the back-and-forth he/she vocals with Niva Chow had a lot of punk rock spark. The rest of the band were no slouches either, and Dearly Beloved made the most of their half-hour.
Follow The Leader/The Answer Was You/Unkind
The Marquee and the Moon
The End of the Race
Burn for It
Shadow Of Love
Everything You've Done Wrong/Who Taught You to Live Like That
She's Slowing Down Again
Green Gardens, Cold Montreal
I've Gotta Know
Your Daddy Will Do
It's Plain To See
The Lines You Amend
The Other Man/Money City Maniacs
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