Monday, November 26th, 2012
Sloan at The Phoenix in Toronto
Frank YangIt’s probably a reach to think that Sloan had some sort of master plan for the past couple years that would pull their career from the respectable but not overly remarkable holding pattern that it’d been in for the past few albums and make them both exciting and relevant again, but that’s pretty much what they’ve managed to do. Their twentieth anniversary as a band last year was kept from being a one-way trip down memory lane thanks to The Double Cross, arguably their best album this century (those arguing otherwise would generally be arguing for 2006’s Never Hear The End Of It). Further, their partaking in the “Don’t Look Back”-style album recital shows – Once Chord To Another for a local show last December and Twice Removed for this Fall tour – was an attractive hook for getting old fans who might have lost interest in recent years to be reminded of why they loved the band in the first place and that despite ups and downs in their discography, they’re still one of the best acts this country has produced in the past two decades.
I covered the landmark-ness of Twice Removed back in September, and as you’d expect given its iconic status, The Phoenix was sold out for Thursday night’s (adopted) hometown performance, the second-last show of their cross-country tour. Not as many people as who’d shown up for their epic show at Echo Beach last August, but that was a free show – hardly a fair point of comparison by numbers, but you could probably make a case for this show’s crowd winning on enthusiasm and anticipation. Despite promising to be on at the stroke of 8 – as with many shows on this tour, there was no opening act – the stage remained empty until quarter-to-nine, perhaps all a ploy to get some old-school “Slooo-aaaaan” changes going. If so, it worked.
When they finally took the stage, it was straight into “Penpals” and the first of many boisterous, singalong moments. And here’s where I’ll make a point about Twice Removed that I didn’t mention last time – for all the love laid at its doorstep, it’s really quite an odd record. Catching the band in the process of transitioning from a noise- to power-pop outfit and before each of the four songwriters had settled into the roles and styles that’d define them henceforth, it’s high on quirk and creative forays that they’d not repeat later in their career. In practical terms, it also meant that fewer Twice Removed songs made it into live sets than their more chart-friendly peers. Why play “Bells On” rather than “She Means What She Says”? “I Hate My Generation” instead of “The Rest Of My Life”? Maybe the Twice Removed recital was largely fan service and a nostalgia exercise, but it’s also true that its songs don’t get nearly the live attention that they deserve, and was as much of a treat as anyone could have hoped.
Even though the band took a decidedly businesslike approach to getting through the material – little talking, straight onto the next song – they still created no shortage of magical little moments; fitting for an album defined more by its magical little moments than any big, rousing singles. Patrick Pentland’s “Loosens” reminding everyone that he was the sensitive pop guy in the band before he decided to become the classic rock guy, Chris Murphy and Andrew Scott going it alone for the guitar-and-drum highlight “Deeper Than Beauty”, the irresistible chorus of Jay Ferguson’s “Snowsuit Sound”, and perhaps most of all, their bringing out jale’s Jennifer Pierce to reprise her harmonies with Pentland on too-sweet-for-words album closer “I Can Feel It”.
Sloan left the stage on that high for an extended intermission, but returned for a second 45-minute set of career-spanning material that offered a good balance of hits and deep cuts, an extra bit of focus on Double Cross and a four-song mini-set of Andrew Scott tunes in the middle of it all. It may not have been formulated to keep a packed house packed – people began peeling off throughout the second set as it became clear that it wouldn’t be a greatest hits revue – but I have to respect the band for keeping it unpredictable (though thankfully not as unpredictable as their all b-sides set at Sonic Boom for Record Store Day 2010. And I can only hope that those who left early got a good night’s sleep, because it meant they missed hearing Jennifer Pierce return for the encore to cover her parts on Smeared‘s rarely-played “I Am The Cancer”, didn’t get to see Chris Murphy’s one scissor-kick of the night during “Losing California”, and didn’t get to sing along with “Underwhelmed” for the set closer.
It’s no easy thing to work both the nostalgia circuit and maintain your status as a creative, active band simultaneously – I can only think of The Wedding Present as far as acts who are even really trying over the long term – but Sloan are doing a fine job of it. During the show, they promised a new studio album in 2013 and a One Chord To Another deluxe reissue set after that. What’s next, Navy Blues live? Bring it. I’ll stay interested until Pretty Together.
Photos: Sloan @ The Phoenix – November 22, 2012
MP3: Sloan – “Follow The Leader”
MP3: Sloan – “The Answer Was You”
MP3: Sloan – “Unkind”
MP3: Sloan – “I’m Not A Kid Anymore”
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”
Stream: Gentleman Reg / Leisure Life
Stream: The Dears / Live At Pasagüero