Sloan at Subterranean | Live review
Being big in Canada isn’t so bad. Sloan, bred in Halifax, based in Toronto, can play massive venues at home, release double albums on a whim, and its members can embrace the boy-child rock star dream well into their grey hair years, somehow looking like the exact same people they were twelve years ago. Number one tunes? Got ‘em. Everything is good in Sloan’s world.
Coming to the states every now and then, different story altogether. Whenever it has a new album—the tenth The Double Cross is out now—Sloan has to wriggle itself into American venues smaller in stature. In the late 90s, the band’s string of albums, One Chord to Another and Navy Blues, were on the forefront of a new classic-rock-reimagined approach, and Sloan’s following in the U.S. soared. So, booking itself in to the cozy Subterranean last night felt less like a bid to be closer to the fans then to make sure it played to a packed house. We were jammed in that joint last night, a few of us wondering what other venues the band could have conquered—or where it will be next time through town.
Sloan’s catalog is prodigious at this point, so, hitting the stage around 10pm—it immediately intermingled new tunes and hits and almost hits from One Chord, Navy Blues and that era. Double Cross is no slouch, and fresh recordings such as the upbeat jangler “Shadow of Love” (which reminds anyone with a proper rock vocab of Bowie’s “Hang On to Yourself”) and the disco-influenced (vaguely Phoenix-like) “Your Daddy Will Do” cast light on a multi-dimensional Sloan that doesn’t show any signs of a late career flame-out. The band’s stockpile of unrecorded songs, bassist/singer Chris Murphy contends, is so large it could run on without writing anything new for a while. But there’s always a question of cohesion where you’re ranging from Dylanesque wordplay to My Bloody Valentine—style Cloud City gliders. If Sloan has an Achilles' heel, that’s it.
With Sloan live, there are some constants that will never change. Chris Murphy is the band’s strongest overall singer (each member of the quartet takes lead vocals on his songs), but his songs are sometimes the wordy-wandering kind that don’t punch much live. Patrick Pentland writes the band’s unabashed rockers, but his voice is sometimes overstretched in them—but he makes up for this with fretboard fireworks. On this particular night we got toys from the attic such as the always strong “Who Taught You to Live Like That,” “Sinking Ships,” alongside the new “I’ve Gotta Know.” Drummer Andrew Scott had his mini-set—always good for a change of pace, but not exactly the band’s most confident sound.
For an encore, Sloan took us to a peak with “The Lines That You Amend,” a Canadian number one about a love triangle of Canadian indie scene stars “The Other Man” and FM-era stadium rocker “Money City Maniacs” (with an extended Grand Funk-style breakdown) surfacing. Sloan’s never quite settled on a one lead singer, one identity or stuck with a musical focus for very long. That’s probably held them back from a stateside breakthrough or Top 40 followings enjoyed by lesser bands (Kings of Leon, anyone?). But being given to multiple personalities and adventurous variation within the four-man-band format, Sloan rarely repeats itself or wastes a minute of our time. You can't say that about too many club-level headliners.