Canadian pop-rock quartet Sloan were still relatively unknown in the UK even at the peak of their media attention when they were signed amid the flurry of major label activity that swallowed up and spat out alternative music in the wake of Nirvana in the early nineties.
They played at this very same venue some fifteen years ago to about the same amount of people as they do tonight, which isn’t exactly what you call progress. But then again, it’s fair to say that Sloan haven’t overly ‘worked’ the UK! This is the first time they’ve been here in five years and prior to that their attention to this island has always been sporadic. But then it would be. Sloan are absolutely huge in Canada and quite deservedly so.
You see, Sloan are officially better than most bands, fact! ‘How can you prove this is an undisputed fact,’ you may ask. Well, the proof is in the chemistry. Sloan contain not one, but four different singers and song-writers amongst their ranks. And each and every one of them is great. Jay Ferguson. Andrew Scott. Chris Murphy. Patrick Pentland. They all swap instruments, the all sing lead, and they all write the songs. And because of the fact (yes, get ready for another fact!) that they’ve been playing and living so tightly together for so many years, every song comes out sounding one hundred per-cent Sloan.
So, tonight is a rare ‘for fans only appearance’ by Sloan. There’s no support bands, the majority of the audience is Canadian and/or hardcore fans and the whole evening belongs to Sloan and Sloan only. They play a fast moving set that takes in old favourites amongst new tracks and rarely played tunes from their past. And they don’t leave us hanging around for two long before wheeling out the hits. Second song in and we’re getting hammered by Underwhelmed, their biggest hit from back in the day when grunge and terms such as ‘alt-rock’ ruled the world. It’s not hard to see why.
They pack the punch, dynamics and glorious pop-sensibilities of Nevermind era-Nirvana combined with the best of seventies pop-rock ‘ala Badfinger, Big Star and later on, Red Kross. The real joy is Sloan play with an enthusiasm and conviction that could almost fool you into thinking it’s the first time they’d ever played their most famous song. In the UK at least. Unsurprisingly, it gets the biggest cheer of the night.
From then on, it’s a blur. Although the band rarely sits still and constantly swaps instruments, the energy levels never dip, the harmonies are never less than spot on and the crowd, a room of singing and smiling faces, are having the time of their lives. You’d have to be a horribly sour human being not to enjoy this. Damn near pop perfection.