Sloan at the Crocodile Café
May 6, 2005, Seattle
I spent my youth listening to Sloan and now we’re growing old together. It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly 13 years since the “Fab Four” from Halifax released the Peppermint EP. They may have a few gray hairs these days (except for Chris Murphy, who mysteriously has not aged a single day since 1992), but they are still in fine form.
I’ve had a lot of cheap beer spilled on me while watching Sloan perform at shitty outdoor festivals in Canada over the years, so it was a treat to see them in Seattle’s cozy Crocodile Café. I was curious to see how they would go over with an American audience, especially in the city that spawned grunge: the sound that the band quickly rejected in favor of the bright, melodic confections that graced their 1994 masterpiece, Twice Removed. Unfortunately, because their label (DGC) wanted “Nirvana North”, it refused to promote the album in the US, and Sloan remains a “cult” band in America to this day despite their mainstream success and radio “hits” at home. As the joke goes, the band’s career goal is to win a Grammy for “Best New Artist” the same year that they win a “Lifetime Achievement” award at the Junos.
I decided to kill some time before the Minus 5’s opening set by wandering around the club and soon discovered that the sullen guy sitting alone at the merch table was actually guitarist Patrick Pentland. Once I overcame the initial shock of seeing one of my rock idols in such a humble setting, I found the courage to say hello and teased him a bit by pretending to pay for a T-shirt with Canadian dollars. He warmed up a little after that and kindly added his autograph to my Twice Removed CD, which Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson had signed the night before when the band played a sold-out show at the historic Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver.
When Sloan finally took the tiny stage shortly before 11:30, the place was packed. Although the audience was more reserved than the raucous, bottle-smashing Canucks who tested the Commodore’s spring-loaded dance floor the previous night, they were definitely into it and enthusiastically shouted requests. Andrew Scott attacked his kit, while Chris kept us entertained with his iconic “rock star” moves (somehow, he has enough charisma to pull this off without looking cheesy), sadistically making us sing the lines, “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their faaa-ans!” during “Coax Me”. It was fun to watch the four singer-songwriters switch instruments as they traded lead vocals on wry underground classics like “Underwhelmed” and “People of the Sky”, as well as lesser known gems like “Sugartune”.
The evening’s pivotal moment came when Chris mocked the Seattle Weekly, which had described Sloan’s music as, “Uber-annoying Canada pop, so arch and cloying and irritatingly ‘catchy’ they make Fountains of Wayne sound like the Misfits.” Clearly this snotty, indier-than-thou attitude hit a nerve with Murph because he fired back: “That’s pretty funny, but FUCK YOU! In the US, we’re a ‘pop’ band, but in Canada we’re a ROCK band! Shall we play some Gang of Four songs? I know this place is ground zero for cool, but I expect you to sing along!” When the Seattle hipsters did just that, he taunted, “That’s pretty good… it’s not Vancouver good, but it’s good.” Judging from their blistering set which included aggressive versions of “Money City Maniacs”, “She Says What She Means”, “Losing California”, and “Sensory Deprivation”, few who were in Sloan’s line of fire that night will think of them as anything but a kick-ass rock band at the peak of their powers.
Having conquered the Emerald City, Chris dryly remarked, “This may be your last chance to see us in a club!”
The newly released compilation A Sides Win: Singles 1992-2005 is a great introduction to one of Canada’s most beloved and enduring bands. In a shrewd move, the bonus DVD featuring videos and live performances will be an irresistible lure for hardcore Sloan fans who already own all of their albums and simply would have downloaded the two new songs, “All Used Up” and “Try to Make It”.