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Sloan Make Rare and Rocking Appearance in St. Louis

Originally published on KDHX.org

Though the evening was billed as “An Evening With Sloan,” it was clear from the beginning that a mere evening would not be enough.

After over 10 years, Canadian pop-dynamos Sloan broke the curse and returned to St. Louis to play a career-spanning set at the Duck Room and make up for lost times.

Typically, Sloan receive heavy fanfare in their native Canada and tend to play larger cities when cruising the states. But sometimes, even in those big US markets, they have trouble posting the attendance deserving of a musicial group of their stature. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Sloan make easy money of catchy hooks and unforgettable riffs. With 11 albums under their belt and a slew of singles that are criminally under-charted, they’ve had critics and fans eating out of their palms since the early ’90s.

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There was no opener for the evening. But who needs one?! The band agreed to two sets and possibly an encore. “But at most two sets,” singer Chris Murphy joked. With the kind of original catalogue the group has committed to memory, they could literally play until the sun came up and not lose a single person in the crowd.

The venue wasn’t officially sold out, but the dank basement of the Duck Room was packed with avid devotees who had been waiting a decade to see the group blast their euphoric power rock. Not even a steady drip from the broken air conditioner ducts above could ruin the night.

The stage was littered with gear and amps stacked high as the band members scrunched up on the small platform. Amazingly, they’ve remained intact — Chris Murphy, Andrew Scott and Jay Ferguson, taking respective turns at bass, guitar and drums, while Patrick Pentland helmed the guitar and vocals for the entire show. Keyboardist Gregory MacDonald added back-up everywhere he could and was a major player on stage.

With barely a word, they kicked off the spades side of the new “Commonwealth” record, that featured Scott singing and playing guitar, while Murphy wailed on the drums. A regime change followed shortly — Scott moved to drums, Murphy to bass and Ferguson to guitar. Their multi-talented approach is a reflection of the band’s ethos overall.

A seamless blend of a number of styles, Sloan relies heavily on Beatles-style hooks, garage rock riffs and sultry, pop harmonies. But the chord changes are where the real money is. Though we may think of pop as being easy to consume and understand, Sloan has a very unique way of taking our conceptions of pop and going even further, into a realm that feels so natural, we had no idea it even existed.

Though they’ve often suffered short shrift in the states, they’re deserving of so much more on stage. Effervescent, funny and reliably artful, Sloan know how to do one thing and do it well — have a damn good time, bringing forth a kind of energy is simultaneously chaotic and contagious.

The rest of the show featured songs from a random list of their albums. “We’re going off list!” Murphy shouted. Fans cheered their approval. Morale was doubled when Ferguson dipped into “I Hate My Generation,” an unflinching pop number from their most acclaimed album to date, “Twice Removed.” “Carried On” came after, an impeccable garage mess that radiated, pop, harmonic stasis and rock ‘n’ roll rhythms designed to make the room fall in love.

But the second set really shined as they dipped into their late ’90s and ’00s tracks, coming out of the break with “If It Feels Good Do It,” a stage burner that is as memorable as it is brilliant. “C’mon C’mon” followed and had the crowd singing along. Another stage change occurred, with Scott back on the main vocals to belt-out the complex, Beatles-infused “On the Horizon.” But Murphy couldn’t be kept from the bass and the mic, and returned to close out the set with rockers “Reach Out” and the mind-blowing riffage of “Fading Into Obscurity.”

The only downside of the evening was that no one was able to hear all the songs they wanted to hear — because there were just too damn many that needed to be heard in that tiny basement, songs like “In the Movies,” “Good In Everyone,” and “Money City Maniacs.” The list goes on. Nearby, I could hear longtime fans lamenting that the sound man didn’t quite capture the complexities of the group. And though I love the venue, I would have to agree. But hopefully the enthusiastic crowd reminded Sloan that we need them here more often. With any luck, St. Louis won’t have to wait another decade for that to happen.

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