If you grew up more than fifty miles from the US-Canada border, there’s a better than average chance you don’t even know who Sloan is. And that, friends, is a goddamned shame, because that means more than half the US populace is missing out on some of the best rock of the past twenty years; some of the tightest harmonies, the best live-show instrument switching and yes, some of the finest shaggy rock haircuts this side of Oasis.
And it’s all because of the limited reach of Canadian radio.
Since I grew up in Toledo, Ohio – a mere fifty miles south of the Detroit-Windsor border crossing – I lived at the very outer edge of the range of CIMX-FM Windsor/Detroit, aka 89X, aka the Station That Saved Me From A Life of Listening to Janet Jackson. Not only did 89X play great alt-rock starting in about 1990, but, due to Canadian broadcast laws, it was required to play a certain percentage of music originating from Canada. Sure, you got a lot of Bruce Cockburn and Blue Rodeo, but you also got The Tragically Hip and Sloan – oh, and since we got CBC over the air, the original iteration of Degrassi, but Junior High AND High. But that’s for another article.
Thus, due to the twin cosmic accidents of geography and birth, I was introduced to Sloan with the release of their first LP, “Smeared,” in 1992 – and I’ve been a fan ever since. For more than two decades, the band’s original lineup has made fantastic foot-stomping rock, steeped with spot-on harmonies and clever lyrics, with an added twist – each of the four members writes and sings his own songs, and when playing live, the band adjusts mid-show. Lead singer and bassist Chris Murphy takes over the skins for drummer Andrew Scott’s songs, while guitarist Jay Ferguson grabs Murphy’s bass. Guitarist Patrick Pentland mostly stays put, but in every Sloan show, you’re guaranteed to get at least two songs by each band member, and if you’ve seen the band multiple times, you’ve surely got your favorite that you can spot coming once the shuffle begins. I’m partial to tracks from their second album, “Twice Removed,” released in 1994 on DGC and recently voted one of the best Canadian albums of all time; however, their entire catalog, along with their continuing commitment to touring and trying new things, deserves to be celebrated.
In this vein, the band gave a nod to their unique live shows on their recently-released 11th (!) record, a gem entitled “Commonwealth,” wherein each member wrote a suite of songs meant to be played together – sort of like taking one side each of a double-length LP. Of course, the band is touring to support this “concept” album and, of course, the bulk of the band’s shows take place in the northern states and Canada, with DC and North Carolina being notable exceptions. Such is the bands lot – as good as they are, the criminally-underrated Canadians haven’t made much of a dent in the US.
And that’s the US’s loss, in my book. But I’ll be seeing them at Detroit’s historic St. Andrew’s Hall on Nov. 8 and, since it’s the first time I’m seeing them since 2003, I’ve put together, with the help of a friend from Detroit, a dream set list for the show. I’ll include some clips so you can see what all us Northerners are on about and, of course, I’ll report back after the weekend to let everyone know what they played and what they skipped.
My Dream Set List is below – if you’re a Sloan fan, what’s yours?
Blue Derkin’s Sloan Dream Set List (in no particular order):
People of the Sky
Take It In
I Hate My Generation
Money City Maniacs
I am the Cancer
I Can Feel It
The Good In Everyone
The Other Man
She Says What She Means
Keep Swinging (Downtown)