Wednesday, December 24, 2014

So Far So Good

The current fragmented state of the music industry means different things to different people. For established artists who aren't megastars like Taylor Swift, it often means album sales are negligible and live dates are often played at smaller venues than in the past. For fans, it means you get to see one of the best bands of the last 20 years in a tiny club in Allston, Mass.

In the case of Canadian power pop outfit Sloan, they've never been a huge band down here in the States. I've been going to Boston-area Sloan shows for the last 17 years and they've all been in relatively small clubs (the Middle East downstairs, TT the Bears, the Paradise, Brighton Music Hall); the band draws considerably better in the Great White North, but they've always had an enthusiastic following here. Last month's show at Great Scott was to promote the band's latest double album masterpiece, Commonwealth, which found each band member contributing a side's worth of songs.



Smartly, there was no opening act as the band played for two hours, with two sets, and intermission and an encore. Last time Sloan came through in 2012, they were playing their 1994 album Twice Removed in its entirety on the heels of a reissue; this time around, they didn't play any songs from 1996's One Chord to Another, which leads me to believe they're likely readying another reissue and tour in 2016.

This wasn't a problem for me, because I've heard OCTA classics like "The Good in Everyone," "The Lines You Amend" and "Everything You've Done Wrong" pretty much every time I've seen the band. Of course, the band showcased the new record, with nine of Commonwealth's 15 songs played at Great Scott, including Andrew Scott's 17-minute suite "Forty-Eight Portraits," which opened the show. The first set saw the other three band members each take turns playing three of their songs. Patrick Pentland followed Scott and played the uber-catchy "Keep Swinging (Downtown)" from the new record. Jay Ferguson then played two of his new songs before digging into "I Hate My Generation" from Twice Removed, and then Chris Murphy sandwiched the Navy Blues classic "Suppose They Close the Door" between two new songs. The band was tight as always, switching instruments (Murphy would play drums and Ferguson took over bass when Scott stepped up to sing and play guitar) seamlessly and having fun (Murphy loves to mug it up on stage). Keyboardist Gregory MacDonald provided background vocals in addition to keys and handclaps.

The band had their roadies and staff dudes decked out as casino dealers in keeping with Commonwealth's card game motif, and they even had a fake radio ad for a casino playing between their pre-set songs.

After the intermission, Sloan returned with a set that included songs from most of their albums, including "Ready for You" from 2003's Action Pact; I can't recall hearing anything from that album after the Action Pact tour. It was the only Sloan album that Scott didn't contribute anything to and was seen as a hard rocking shot at arena glory that the band would rather forget. (FWIW, I still enjoy digging it out every so often.) It's always great to hear songs from 1999's Between the Bridges ("The N.S.") as well as 2006's "instant classic" (to quote Murphy) Never Hear the End of It ("Ill-Placed Trust," "Blackout" and "Someone I Can Be True With"). The band came back for an encore in which they played "Marquee and the Moon," a great showcase for Murphy's vocals and wry lyrics, and "500 Up" from the first Sloan album, Smeared.

You'll never hear the guys of Sloan complain about playing to small crowds (the Great Scott show wasn't sold out, but it was close). Murphy came out and actually greeted everyone waiting in line before the gig. Sloan obviously loves what they do, and luckily for us, they keep coming through every couple of years to blow our minds. Here's to seeing them again in a year or two.

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