Sloan: A Sides Win!

SloanSloan 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”.

12 thoughts on “Sloan: A Sides Win!”

  1. An aside…I was in Toronto a couple of years at an Oasis show and all these people kept crowding around our seats (Maple Leaf Gardens). My friends and I couldn’t figure out why all this attn. was headed our way, but everyone seemed to be checking out these two guys right next to me who looked like they could’ve been Noel Gallagher himself. Yes, you guessed it, I was sitting next to Sloan. They were very cool guys…but the guy I asked who they were gave me this “Do you live in a cave?” glare. I responded, “No Rochester. Close Enough.”

  2. I couldn’t make it out to that show because I was working the door at another club… I’m so glad he fucking called the douch bags at the weekly out on that snide remark. That paper is a piece of shit that panders Seattle scene to out of towners. No one that lives in Seattle, gets their arts news from the Weekly.

    I heart Sloan!

  3. Maybe next time Prop.

    I resolved to never miss a chance to see Sloan in the Emerald City after than one. It’s only a 3 hour drive.

  4. by douch, I meant douche. To this day, all my years, I don’t really know what a “douche bag” is.

    Yeah, those guys are pretty great and hopefully they’ll keep coming round.

  5. I really tried. I promise I did, I even got the live 2cd thing they put out a few years ago to see what was going on with them. Boy was I pissed when I ran through the songs on that one. My tastes dont really run to the watered down pop end of the spectrum so I should have known. Lets face it there has only been one great band that came from Canada that i can can come up with(NoMeansNo) and our friends up north didnt really support them like they should have. The good thing about the US is that we let our verve pipes and our nada surfs have their little hit record and then we let them dissapear into the obscurity and land of pandering where they belong. Meanwhile Sloan makes out like super stars in the tundra…

  6. I can’t believe he fucking forgot the Barenaked Ladies! I don’t even know why dipshits who obviously don’t care about music would even look at a website like this?

  7. i just can’t understand why sloan never got over on a larger scale than being a cult band. they had all the elements for atleast larger alt hit status… clever lyrics, big guitar sound, some rocking anthems, some guiet ballads… basically everything anyone could want out of a band. on top of it all, they’ve always treated their fans wtih the utmost respect.

    i jumped onto this bandwagon a long, long time ago (after picking up a copy of the peppermint ep in a cut out bin, but eventually jumping full on with the relase of one chord to another). i’ve always considered them a rock band… not a pop band. eventually i talked some of my friends that were in some bands that were fans of “the rock” into catching a show at the metro in chicago. they were all blown away. and i have to consider it one of the bast rock shows i’ve ever seen. after that, i noticed subtle elements of sloan begin to creep into their music. it was rewarding to see that sloan could win over the hardest of critics.

    i really believe that sloans going to become one of those bands that serve as a major influence on individual acts that’ll make it bigger (as big star or the replacments). they’re an important bridge between what was and what will be. definitely worth going out of your way to catch them live.

  8. I think a big part of the reason why they never broke big in the US is that they got royally screwed over – TWICE – by their label DGC. They got signed by the same guy who signed Nirvana & G’n’R, but unfortunately when their debut Smeared was released in the fall of ’92, the world – and virtually all of DGC’s marketing budget – was otherwise occupied with Nirvana. They recorded the tracks for Smeared (except for “Underwhelmed” which was completely re-recorded) at the same sessions as for the Peppermint EP for about $6000.00, DGC spent $30,000.00 on mixing and then about $15.00 on promotion. So of course it didn’t take off. Then when Twice Removed was ready for release in 1994, DGC also had signed ANOTHER new band named Weezer. And guess who got more than their fair share of DGC’s marketing budget THIS time? Unless you’ve been living in a cave – or Rochester apparently – you probably know that it wasn’t Sloan. They almost had to break up to get out of the contract with DGC, because they were paying them all this money to do basically fuck all for them.

    Well at least they now own all the rights – including publishing rights – to all of their music, even the stuff they released with DGC. They were smart enough to do that. So although they may not sell as well as alot of major label acts, they probably make more money than alot of them. God bless ’em.

  9. That’s why I’ll forgive them for letting Labatts use “Money City Maniacs” in a beer commercial. Sloan had just bought back their publishing rights and needed the cash.

    Autonomy = priceless

  10. They also allowed Labatt’s to use “Sensory Deprivation” for a short time too, but it never took off like MCM did.

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot…..great article D.

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