Sloan The Marquee Club, Halifax NS, March 7
Published Mar 08, 2015Sloan is both a rock band and a business arrangement.
Now, admittedly, that sort of statement could apply to pretty much any musical act, but it's particularly apt in Sloan's case. You have four different songwriters, their individual talents proven by records on which each band member's work seems particularly distanced from one another. (Last year's Commonwealth is the most extreme of these, as it divides Jay Ferguson, Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland and Andrew Scott's contributions onto four separate sides of a double record.)
And yet Sloan is the banner under which they continue to record and tour. There are plenty of good creative reasons to do this, I'm sure — but also very good business reasons. Sloan is a proven brand, able to draw crowds across the country (including last night's sold-out show at the Marquee Club) and bringing with it maybe the best back catalogue of any active Canadian artist, period.
All of which is to say that the band's Halifax stop on the band's East Coast Commonwealth tour came across as supremely professional. That's not always a word one would have associated with Sloan — they were once a rather spotty live band, to be honest — but it's an apt descriptor for the band in 2015. Despite their local origins, there was little to suggest that last night was anything other than another day at the job, with a setlist largely similar to what the band has been touring since the fall. (Murphy did note, in one of the few moments of stage banter, that "It's really important for us to kick ass in Halifax," and the encore threw in the requisite "Marquee and the Moon," given the locale.)
That's only a problem, though, if Sloan were the type of band to slack off on the job. But Sloan 2015 just keeps the hooks coming, one rock-solid song after another. The show's first of two sets focused heavily on Commonwealth material, structured the same way: mini-sets from each songwriter, mixing new material with select old favourites. (The exception was Scott, whose 18-minute, multi-part Commonwealth contribution "Forty-Eight Portraits" opened the show.) I'm biased towards Ferguson's material generally, so he earns my "Employee of the Night" award, but an honourable mention to Pentland: I don't always share his love for riff rock, but I'll be damned if it doesn't go over well in a live setting.
Those expecting the band's second set to be heavy on the hits might have come away slightly disappointed: only "If It Feels Good Do It" and "The Other Man" warranted the "h" word, much as I wish "Who Taught You To Live Like That?" had been a huge single.
But the night was a showcase for the aforementioned depth of the band's catalogue. The band trotted out gems like "I Am The Cancer" and "C'mon C'mon" and, as is always the case, Scott's time at the front of the stage away from the drums touched on some compelling, often forgotten corners of the band's discography. (My favourite last night was "Blackout.") Ending the main set with Action Pact's "Reach Out" was an unorthodox but effective choice; ending the night proper with "Money City Maniacs" was a given, but still as satisfying as it ever was.
Conspicuously absent from the setlist: anything from One Chord to Another, arguably the band's best record. I found this quite strange — that is, until a quick flip of the calendar pointed out that particular album is turning 20 next year. Would Sloan be the sort of band to hold back playing those songs in anticipation of an anniversary reissue and tour? Sure they would be: that's just smart business.