Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
The Double Cross
Sloan, Modern Superstitions and Whale Tooth at Echo Beach in Toronto
Frank YangI’ve been trying to do piggyback a write up of Sloan’s latest The Double Cross on a live review all Summer but have been constantly foiled. For their album launch in-store at Sonic Boom back in May, a perfect storm of non-functional transit made a 10-minute trip take 45 and while I could hear the show, I couldn’t see a damn thing. Then for their two-night stand at the Mod Club I was felled by a post-NXNE cold so those didn’t happen. It certainly looked as though my post explaining my Polaris ballot – on which The Double Cross earned a spot – was going to be all the opportunity I’d get to sing the record’s praises.
Though really, I think that little blurb said a lot. By rights, Sloan should be national treasures, but by getting their narrative drama over and done with so early on in their career – remember the post-Twice Removed break up/One Chord To Another reunion – they’ve only been able to make headlines with a long career of making consistently good and oft times brilliant guitar pop. That should be more than enough but it also makes them easy to take for granted – something I’ve been more than guilty of, particularly over their last few albums which may have tailed off in quality but still deserved more time than I gave them.
It’s a trend which The Double Cross reversed; not because I decided it was time to revisit Sloan but because the record demanded that I do. It opens with a dizzying pop medley of indelible melodies and seamless transitions that’s formally divided up as three songs but really feels like five or six, rotating through each of Chris Murphy, Jay Ferguson and Patrick Pentland as lead vocalists and with each at the very top of their games. It’s as high a high point as they’ve achieved in their two-decade run so there’s no shame in the rest of the record not quite getting back up there again. One one hand, it’s Sloan by the numbers with the requisite Pentland and Murphy rockers, Ferguson pop gems and Scott oddities but when you factor in that the band sounds as tight, energized and focused as they have in many, many years, the whole record is like a wonderful, unexpected gift.
Not unlike their free show at the shiny and new Echo Beach waterfront venue last Friday night. Though not especially well-advertised, it was part of Ontario Place’s 40th anniversary celebrations and a “through the decades” theme that had been going on for a few weeks; somewhat humorously, Sloan were tapped as a band representative of the ’00s but whatever – it was Sloan, sun and sand, all underwritten by our tax dollars.
Warm up acts numbered two, starting with locals Whale Tooth. I’d seen them back in early 2009 and had been impressed with their energy and presence. This time out they still had plenty of both thanks to frontwoman Elise LeGrow but whereas I felt they came across a bit overly breezy before, the past couple years had definitely seen the five-piece Tooth acquire some bite. LeGrow is still a formidable frontwoman and vocalist but she now sounds more like a rock singer than a jazz singer in a rock band and the band, to their credit, has toughened up and expanded their sound – it might tilt a little too U2 at points, but ambition is a commendable thing and they remain all sorts of catchy and entertaining. Pleased to make their re-acquaintance. Whale Tooth play the Summerworks closing party on August 14 at the MOCCA / Edward Day Gallery Courtyard and that show is free.
The middle act was similar to Whale Tooth in being an up and coming local rock act with a frontwoman who looked great in shorts, but Modern Superstitions differed in taking more of a garage/punk approach to things and also in that I’d seen them just a month and a half ago at NXNE. As at that show, it was quite a different band from the one on their debut EP All The Things We’ve Been Told, incidentally produced by Sloan’s Patrick Pentland. Not even a year on from that first recording, the band are tougher-sounding and carry themselves with an attitude that doesn’t feel like a front – they weren’t at all intimidated by the thousands on hand waiting to see the headliners. I said in June that the next time I saw the band, I expected they’d be ready to take on the world – I still think that’s true, their debut album currently being mixed would hold the key to that – but if I’ll be deferring that declaration until our next encounter.
It’s been a bit of an ongoing puzzle to me as to just how big Sloan is these days – see above notes about their being generally taken for granted. Using the size of their shows as a reference point, as is usually relevant for other bands, is difficult given that they rarely tour Canada conventionally in clubs and such, instead playing festivals and special events where the onus isn’t necessarily on them to fill a venue on their own. This is especially true in their adopted hometown of Toronto, where the last few times I’ve seen them were at instores or at festivals – even those Mod Club shows I missed, though sell outs, were deliberately undersized. So while this show didn’t do much to answer that question, it did offer proof that you could easily get 4000 or so to come out and chant “Slooooaaaaaaan” if you don’t charge em for it.
Though they kicked things off perfectly with the aforementioned Double Cross opening salvo, the clock was then turned right back to the Peppermint/Smeared era for “Underwhelmed” and so began a musical joyride through their greatest hits. If anyone wanted to debate whether or not Sloan have been one of this country’s best bands over the past two decades, they offered up a convincing 100-minute argument for the “aye” side. The five-piece (including touring keyboardist Gregory Macdonald) brought their A-game to go with their A-sides and the result was pretty much pure win.
Picking out highlights was both a challenge and futile, but if pressed I’d submit “Coax Me”, which remains possibly their finest three-plus minutes overall, their bringing out Brett Caswell & The Marquee Rose’s horn section to serve up duelling solos over “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” or maybe when they all simultaneous fell apart during “Shadow Of Love” – hey, it’s not a proper Sloan show unless someone or everyone fucks up at least once. Also inspired was bringing out Nyssa from Modern Superstitions to lead a cover of the Martha & The Muffins song that gave the venue it’s name. If I had to pick a lowlight of the show, it’d have to be the inclusion of “The Other Man” as the penultimate selection – it’s a song that should probably never have been written, let alone made a single – but at least it didn’t end on that note. “Money City Maniacs” may have been entirely predictable as a finale and lacked the actual air raid siren that’s appeared at other shows, but that didn’t make it any less great.
And the same pretty much goes for Sloan themselves – yeah they’ve been around forever and yeah they’re pretty content trading in classically-styled pop music and not pushing boundaries, but none of that takes away from what they’ve done and continue to do. And while I don’t understand why they shun the Smeared material live – a little “Sugartune” or “I Am The Cancer” would have been a nice treat – that’s also a small complaint. What’s important is that we’ve had twenty years of Sloan and there’s no signs they’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
The Barrie Examiner has an interview with Sloan guitarist Patrick Pentland.
Photos: Sloan, Modern Superstitions, Whale Tooth @ Echo Beach – August 5, 2011
MP3: Sloan – “Follow The Leader”
MP3: Sloan – “The Answer Was You”
MP3: Sloan – “Unkind”
MP3: Sloan – “I’m Not A Kid Anymore”
MP3: Modern Superstitions – “Visions Of You”
Video: Sloan – “Unkind”
Video: Sloan – “Witch’s Wand”
Video: Sloan – “Emergency 911″
Video: Sloan – “All Used Up”
Video: Sloan – “The Rest Of My Life”
Video: Sloan – “The Other Man”
Video: Sloan – “Friendship”
Video: Sloan – “Losing California”
Video: Sloan – “She Says What She Means”
Video: Sloan – “Money City Maniacs”
Video: Sloan – “The Lines You Amend”
Video: Sloan – “Everything You’ve Done Wrong”
Video: Sloan – “The Good In Everyone”
Video: Sloan – “People Of The Sky”
Video: Sloan – “Coax Me”
Video: Sloan – “500 Up”
Video: Sloan – “Underwhelmed”
Video: Modern Superstitions – “Mercy Line”
Video: Modern Superstitions – “Visions Of You”
Video: Whale Tooth – “Hibernation Song”
aux.tv checks in with The Doughboys, who officially returned to active duty last night with a show at the Bovine Sex Club. They open up for Foo Fighters at The Air Canada Centre tonight… and allegedly did so last night at The Bovine as well?
It was already announced that Tasseomancy would be supporting as well as performing as part of Austra at their show at The Phoenix on December 1, but the August 30 release of their debut album Ulalume will also come with it’s own record release show – October 20 at The Great Hall. The Gauntlet also has an interview.
And the Halifax Pop Explosion announced their 2011 lineup yesterday and it’s pretty stellar. I went last year and had a great time – terrific fest and terrific city; if I wasn’t in Iceland the week before I’d consider a return engagement.