Photos and personal accounts from others give those of us who missed the early years of rock our only taste of experiencing the 70s music scene inside small, smoke filled clubs when the eventual greats were just getting started.
But if you long to experience that bit of history and think your time has passed then go see Sloan. Perhaps a band that Donna Halper missed but the four Canadians who make up this Toronto-based group offer an unprecedented experience that embraces crafty musicianship inside a 1970s era package along with a whole lot of fun.
Sloan just touched down in the United States for their 2019 Navy Blues tour celebrating the now 21 year old album of the same name in its entirety and brought the goods on Sunday to Helocene – basically a nightclub in Portland that regularly hosts EMO acts and other dance nights – in front of a modest crowd of maybe 150 fans. I had never heard of Helocene and those who regularly drive by on Morrison Street probably don’t even know it exists. Small and crowded, pretty loud, a basic stage with limited dressing and band members within arm’s reach. Admittedly, I had never heard of Sloan either until a few months ago when blogger friend Deke over at Thunder Bay Arena Rock exalted their virtues.
Simply put: I had to go.
Understand though, Sloan isn’t just starting out and trying to get the attention of some record executive or influential DJ while growing a small but loyal following to their live shows. These guys have seasoned veterans status all without any drama or “classic line-up” debates.
Sloan never made it big in the United States, unlike some other Toronto based bands, but they have released albums and toured extensively since 1992 winning a Juno Award and hitting popular Canadian festivals while visiting small (and sometimes unheard of) venues down south. They incorporate an unusual method to their madness by taking a far different approach to songwriting and especially with their live shows – probably more than any other band.
Sloan consists of Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, Jay Ferguson and Andrew Scott. They sound like a mash-up of Supertramp, the Animals, the Zombies, the Beatles, the Monkees, and KISS while embracing a modern rock edge. The band has no true lead singer though Murphy and Pentland, together, sing most of the band’s songs. Whoever sings, wrote that song and each member has contributed lyrics to at least one song on all 12 albums, the exception being Action Pact. Perhaps one explanation to the band’s longevity and continuous lineup. They also switch instruments throughout the evening though each has their primary tool. Jack of trades and master of one thing, perhaps.
Sloan played two sets and since they just set sail on the Navy Blues
tour they played their 1998 album in its entirety – front to back – for the first set which lasted about 50 minutes.
True to their form the band members mixed it up all evening with Murphy singing and playing bass on some songs, while lead guitarist Pentland sang on others and when it wasn’t those two on the mic, rhythm guitarist Ferguson sang or Scott – who got up from the kit, gave the sticks to Murphy who gave his bass to Ferguson – grabbed a guitar and sang. The switch-up allows for an interesting dynamic and overall band make-up. All four bring a different vocal style but they blend in so well with one another you have to pay attention to keep up with the singer songwriter.
Sloan blitzed pretty quickly through Navy Blues, barely stopping for a quick “hello” or “thanks for coming out” then getting right back to business. They had a great jam on “Sinking Ships” sung by Scott who also played guitar, their big hit “Money City Maniacs” got the crowd amped up and “Chester the Molester” not only has an amusing name but brings a fun harmony. I love the great uptempo beat on “Suppose They Close the Door” and before you knew it, rather efficiently, Pentland was singing the folksy “I’m Not Through with You Yet” as Sloan closed out their fourth studio album then left the stage for 20 minutes.
Sloan returned for what Murphy described as a career expanding set starting with “Flying High Again” (No, not an Ozzy cover) and “Who Taught You to Live Like That?” both off the 30 song long Never Hear The End Of It
from 2006. Overall, the 16 song, 55 minute set brought a bit more energy, got the band to relax a bit and had a heavier, hard rock vibe. Sloan included the Pentland sung “Unkind,” “Three Sisters” with lead vocals by Ferguson, the great “Ill-Placed Trust,” the very punk like “HFXNSHC” and of course the rocking “Live On” – a Sloan classic – the lone pick off Action Pact
Murphy said since they were playing in the United States they could play whatever they want (hint, hint, even Canadians like to hear just the favorites as Americans are wont to do) so they garaged out and ended the main set with “Another Way I Could Do It,” the deepest track off Never Hear The End of It Murphy claimed was unrehearsed but outside some mishandled stage lighting, which only the band caught, you’d never know it.
Sloan encored with “Deeper Than Beauty” another off Twice Removed
featuring just Murphy and Scott before the rest of the band took the stage for “The Lines You Amend” and “The Good in Everyone” both off One Chord To Another
. All told, Sloan took bits off eight of their 12 albums.
They played solid and somehow managed a pretty small stage that was pretty constricting especially as they switched out guitars and when Scott and Murphy changed places. The sound wasn’t great but not terrible, occasionally the vocals were drowned out some and when Murphy started in on “Flying High Again” his mic might as well have been off but they figured it out pretty quick.
Sloan clearly has core following in the United States and of course a much bigger base up north but after nearly 30 years of touring and releasing music they probably won’t make a more sizable dent in the US so to see them on a grander scale without the budget stage set-up you’ll have to take a trip to Canada to really see them in their element.
Sloan Portland Setlist at Helocene
- She Says What She Means
- C’mon C’mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started
- Iggy and Angus
- Sinking Ships
- Keep on Thinkin’
- Money City Maniacs
- Seems So Heavy
- Chester the Molester
- Stand By Me, Yeah
- Suppose They Close the Door
- On the Horizon
- I Wanna Thank You
- I’m Not Through With You Yet
- Flying High Again
- Who Taught You to Live Like That?
- Shadow of Love
- Three Sisters
- Coax Me
- Ill Placed Trust
- The N.S.
- People of the Sky
- Live On
- Snowsuit Sound
- Another Way I Could Do It
- Deeper Than Beauty
- The Lines You Amend
- The Good in Everyone