Back in the early 1990s, I heard Sloan’s “Underwhelmed,” and I loved it. Such a great song that is still rocking and clever over 20 years later. Sloan has a tumultuous few years after that, appearing to break up but not, getting signed and then dropped and then settling down and putting out some amazing music over the next 20 or so years which few people outside of Canada heard.
They have released eleven albums and I think that each one gets better and better. Sloan is touring the 20th Anniversary of One Chord to Another. There are some great songs on it, although it’s wasn’t my favorite album. But the point is I have never seen Sloan. In all the years I’ve been a fan, we’ve never been in the same place at the same time. So even though I had been to a show the night before and this would make six concerts in twelve days (!), I bought tickets to see one of my favorite underground bands.
Since I knew they were playing all of OCTA, I listened to it a lot before hand and now, after seeing it live, I do like it even more than before. (But seriously if they do a 20th anniversary tour of Between the Bridges in three years…. you couldn’t keep me from that stage).
I’d never been to Underground Arts before. It is indeed underground. And it is indeed quite small (about 500 people max).
I arrived pretty early (start time was supposed to be 9:15, but they didn’t go on until 9:30–divas!). But that meant that I was able to score a spot right behind the guy leaning on the stage. As they say in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: so close I could scare the band.
Having never seen Sloan before I didn’t really know what to expect–set up, stage placement, who sings what and when. So I wound up on front of Jay Ferguson (rhythm guitar) on the right, just a few feet from Chris Murphy (bass) in the middle and a wee bit too far from Patrick Pentland (lead guitars). But one of the great things about Sloan is that all four guys in the band write songs and sing lead. Chris and Patrick are more or less tied for most songs, with Jay and drummer Andy performing fewer (but still great) songs. And I was delighted to see that when Andy sings, he comes up front to Jay’s place and plays guitar. Jay moved to bass and Chris played drums.
I loved that the bad came out and they played the intro sample from the album: “Would you please welcome to the stage: Sloan!” and they launched into ” The Good in Everyone.” Patrick sang lead, Chris did great harmonies and Jay played rhythmic accents (I really enjoyed watching him play because he wasn’t a typical rhythm guitarist–he added sounds and textures and interesting chords to the songs.
Then Chris sang “Nothing Left to Make Me Want to Stay” (hitting those falsetto notes) and “Autobiography” with some great snaking bass lines and Ferguson’s cool and interesting guitar lines and chords. This was great to see live. Jay’s first song was “Junior Panthers,” a song I didn’t think I liked that much, but hearing it live was revelatory. Knowing that he can sing like that live was also superb.
The punky “G Turns to D” was a lot of fun to sing along to. The crowd was full of die-hard fans, so we all knew the words and sang along. We even did the “Slo-oan” chant after the first set.
“Everything You’ve Done Wrong” features a catchy trumpet introduction. Well, for the tor the band had a keyboardist who played the puppets (and the piano sections). So they sounded perfect. And that was a treat to sing along to as well. I was surprised that Patrick only has three songs on this record, but he doesn’t switch places with anyone, so I guess that makes up for it.
Incidentally, before the show, I heard the guy standing next to me telling his girlfriend that “the guitarist looks like a wizard, now. I didn’t actually believe him, because Patrick (like the other guys) is usually pretty short-haired, but indeed, when they came out–wizard he was (see right).
“Anyone Who’s Anyone” is one of those songs that I didn’t know very well, but, again, it was much more fun live. The last four songs of the album each feature a different singer. First came the folky greatness of Jay’s “The Lines You Amend” which got us all to sing the “what’s so bad about dying anyway” line. Then Chris’ “Take the Bench.” This is a poppy song with some really interesting and complex chords from Jay that I never noticed before. But watching him play them so closely was very cool.
“Can’t Face Up” has another great and memorable bass line. It was Patrick’s final song on the album and it featured Chris’ harmonies, of course.
The final song, “400 metres” went to Andy. So, they switched places again. Chris on drums, Jay on bass and Andy in front of me for the song. It has a cool bendy guitar chord and Andy’s laconic speak-singing delivery. It’s the longest song on the album and they stretched out the ending for a mini jam session.
The guys finished the album and took an intermission. And then they came back for Set 2. Set 2 was an amazing collection of the band’s hits through the years. They played 16 songs, keeping largely the same set list as other shows but with a few swap outs.
I never expected them to start the second set with “Underhwelmed” (I assumed it might be an encore). It sounded great and was a lot of fun to shout the “I just ate my young” line along with everybody.
They broke with the older songs by playing a track from Commonwealth, their latest album. I actually wondered if everyone would play a song from that album (since they each recorded one side themselves), but it was only Chris who played from it. When the song was over he made a “political” comments by saying that the lyric “Don’t be surprised when we elect another liar / Did you learn nothing from five season of The Wire.” should be changed to Did you learn noting from 11 seasons of the Apprentice.”
It was back to Patrick for “Worried Now,” and then back over to Jay for his rocking (for him) “Who Taught You to Live Like That,” a great clap- along–and again, wonderful to see him up close singing it.
Andy got two songs in a row after that (easier than having him move around all the time, right?) So Jay was on bass (left). Andy sang “Sinking Ship” and the great “ba ba ba ba ba” sing along of “People of the Sky,” two of his older songs and super catchy ones at that.
And then they totally made my night by playing “Don’t You Believe a Word,” the first of three songs from Between the Bridges (this one by Jay, and a huge favorite of mine).
The moved up to Parallel Play, a vastly underrated album, for Chris’ rocking “I’m Not a Kid Anymore.” There was only one song from The Double Cross as well (I know, you can’t play everything). It was the amazingly catchy “Unkind.” And then one more from Jay with the deep cut “Snowsuit Sound” (with some more interesting bass work from Chris). Greg on keyboards led the handclaps. I realize I didn’t get any pictures of Greg on keyboards (sorry Greg–your contributions were great).
The only song from Pretty Together was Chris’ dark single “The Other Man” and it sounded great live–a very different tone overall tha they managed perfectly..
I wasn’t sure if they’d do an encore after two sets, but we were not disappointed. They came back for another song from Bridges (yes!) with Chris’ The “Marquee and the Moon” which sounded even more Televison-y than on record.
And they ended with the rocking anthem “If It Feels Good.” This song got everyone so psyched that a guy I hadn’t seen all show came barrelling forward to sing along with everyone. But it was a such a good-natured crowd that no one seemed to mind.
And that was it. 28 songs and one from every album except Action Pact (which is actually one of my favorites). In fact, someone had shouted out for “The Rest of My Life” (which I see they did play recently) and that would have gotten me totally psyched as it is such a great sing-along anthem. But I have no complaints at all. They could have played any of a couple dozen more songs an I would have been happy.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to see them again if and when they come back. I was rather under the impression that they didn’t play the States that often, although I see they’ come to Philly every couple of years, so I just need to keep a better eye out.
- The Good in Everyone
- Nothing Left to Make Me Want to Stay
- Junior Panthers
- G Turns to D
- A Side Wins
- Everything You’ve Done Wrong
- Anyone Who’s Anyone
- The Lines You Amend
- Take the Bench
- Can’t Face Up
- 400 Metres
C’mon C’mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started)
Money City Maniacs
So Far So Good
Who Taught You to Live Like That?
People of the Sky
Don’t You Believe a Word
I’m Not a Kid Anymore
The Other Man
The Marquee and the Moon
If It Feels Good Do It