Sloan Preview | 06.25.15

It’s not hyperbole to say that not since the Beatles has band democracy ever sounded so good.

 

 

An Evening with Sloan | 06.25.15
The Duck Room at Blueberry Hill, St. Louis
Doors: 7:00, Show: 8:00. $15 advance/day of show
 
Photo by Lisa Mark. (L-R: Chris Murphy, Andrew Scott, Patrick Pentland, Jay Ferguson)
As the great Patrick Pentland once sang, “it’s been a long time coming” for fans of Sloan that call St. Louis home. The Canadian power pop foursome last graced our fair city way back in September of 2004 (an important date in the life of your author, as reviewing that show was my first assignment for PLAYBACK:stl…how time flies!), performing at the Gargoyle (no one’s idea of the best place to see live music in our fair city) while touring for what is generally regarded (by even the band themselves) as their least essential album, 2003’s Action Pact. But finally, the band returns to St. Louis with a special “evening with” performance at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on Thursday, June 25.
Formed in 1991 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sloan is beloved not only for continuing to carry the banner for power pop, but for being a blend of the unique talents of four distinctly different singer-songwriters. All four members—bassist Chris Murphy, guitarists Patrick Pentland and Jay Ferguson, and drummer Andrew Scott—write and sing their own songs, and all are multi-instrumentalists (which leads to a decent amount of instrument swapping during the average Sloan show). Each member has his own stylistic tics: Murphy has a way with pumping rockers and snarky lyrics, Pentland offers up AC/DC-esque rockers and the occasional acoustic strummer, Ferguson supplies gentle ballads and lush Beach Boys harmonies, and Scott leans toward the psychedelic side of latter-day Beatles. Yet somehow, the band is capable of taking these four disparate songwriters and blending the results into a whole that is so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s not hyperbole to say that not since the Beatles has band democracy ever sounded so good.
Sloan debuted with 1992’s Smeared, a hazy collection of post-grunge and shoegaze that included “Underwhelmed,” the closest thing the band had to a hit State-side. With 1994’s Twice Removed, the band shifted to a more melodic, British Invasion-influenced style that frustrated their label but prevented the band from becoming yet another early ‘90s alt-rock also-ran. 1996’s One Chord to Another became a smash in their native Canada, thanks in large part to Pentland’s thrashing rocker “The Good in Everyone” and his strummy, horn-laced “Everything You’ve Done Wrong,” cementing the album as a favorite among Sloan fandom. Their follow-up, 1998’s Navy Blues, saw their Beatlemania come into full bloom with a batch of Fab Four-esque tunes (mixed with a little AC/DC and Thin Lizzy) and the vintage production to match. The band closed out their first decade by blending the Navy Blues approach with ‘70s soft rock touches on 1999’s Between the Bridges, the band’s most democratic album to date (three songs from each band member) and one of the most impeccably sequenced albums ever recorded.
After a pair of albums that went too far to the soft rock side (2001’s ballad-heavy Pretty Together, which still featured one of their finest rockers in the Pentland/Murphy duet “If It Feels Good Do It”) and too far to the hard rock side (the aforementioned Action Pact), Sloan took a brief respite before roaring back to life with 2006’s Never Hear the End of It, an album that mixed typical Sloan rockers and ballads with Abbey Road-esque song sketches and even a random thrash-punk number into one sprawling, 30-track masterpiece. The album became the start of a latter-day renaissance for the band, with the similarly adventurous Parallel Play and The Double Cross (the latter in celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary in 2011) proving similarly solid. In the name of unpredictability, the band even released a hardcore punk 7” (“Jenny”/”It’s In You, It’s In Me”), which came with a download of the band covering the likes of Black Flag and Minor Threat.
Since the decidedly undemocratic Action Pact (an album whose tracklisting was selected by the producer, Tom Rothrock, and is the only Sloan album to not feature writing contributions by all four members), equality has been a cornerstone of Sloan’s approach, and that’s reached its peak with the group’s latest, last year’s Commonwealth. The double-LP is split into four sides, with each band member given reign over one side, a sort of miniature recreation of KISS’s four-pack of solo LPs with (obviously) much better results. Ferguson’s “Diamond” side leads the way; since Never Hear the End of It, Ferguson has developed into the band’s secret weapon and his songs for Commonwealth number among his best, with the piano-driven “You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind” and the nimble bass riff of “Cleopatra” leapfrogging into the hierarchy of Sloan’s absolute best songs. Murphy’s “Heart” side serves as an EP showing in miniature every style Murphy is capable of, from rockers to searching ballads to snarky lyrical asides (“Don’t be surprised when we elect another liar/ Did you learn nothing from five season of The Wire?” he sings on “So Far, So Good”). Pentland’s “Shamrock” side is a trio of straightforward rockers (albeit with a bit more of a modern, Queens of the Stone Age-esque chug) split up by the spacy, Beta Band-esque psychedelia of “What’s Inside.” And Scott’s “Spade” side closes the album out with “Forty-Eight Portraits,” a nearly 18-minute long song that veers between every song style the versatile singer/drummer/guitarist/pianist has explored over his career, even featuring a callback to the Between the Bridges highlight “Delivering Maybes.” While maybe not quite up to the quality of the band’s previous three-album win streak (a high bar, if ever there was one), it serves as an excellent Sloan primer, and an excellent source of songs for the band to draw from for their current tour.
Intrigued? Head over to www.sloanmusic.com, where the band’s entire discography is streaming free of charge, and I’ll see you at the Duck Room on June 25th. | Jason Green

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