Back in the late '90s, I saw Sloan open for Phantom Planet, when Jason Schwartzman was in Phantom Planet (after he starred in Rushmore) and the lead singer had been featured in a Gap ad--all of which added up to a roomful of excitable young girls hanging on their every gesture. I went to the gig expressly to see Sloan, but whatever impression the band made that night was overpowered by my disgust at Phantom Planet's vapid, preening performance. It's really no excuse for missing them all these years, but this time, attendance was mandatory and personal: Maudie, Trish, and I couldn't let Hannah's mom down (though we had to put away a couple slices of birthday cheesecake first).
Sloan, the Independent, April 30, 2007: For once, we arrived almost exactly on time, just as the opening band (the 88) was finishing up their set, and we found a spot at the edge of stage left--quite a contrast to the marathon stakeouts required by other shows I attend. This perch would later reveal its shortcomings, but in terms of proximity and sight lines, we were set.
The band ambled onstage and kicked off with "Flying High Again," the opening track from the new record, Never Hear the End of It. For the *ahem* uninitiated, this song proved to be a great launching pad. Not only was its energy infectious, but the shared vocals served as an ideal intro, allowing each band member to take the spotlight, if only for a line or two. Overall, the night's setlist favored the new album, as you'd expect from a promotional tour, though Chris Murphy found it necessary to sort of apologize every time they didn't do an old song. Oddly, though, he also managed to turn every expression of regret into a reminder that merchandise was available for purchase.
As for those old songs, I don't have the knowledge to tell you which ones they did, but I can report that the good-sized crowd did both Sloan and San Francisco proud. Though the show wasn't sold out, it was well attended, especially for a Monday night, and those who came out sang along boisterously and enthusiastically. Chris barely had to pull the de rigueur frontman moves to get the fans to chime in. In fact, the band grinned happily a number of times as they heard their lyrics serenaded back to them.
Even if I could remember what Sloan carried off when they opened for Phantom Planet, I'd know to regard that performance as an exception rather than the rule, and it was with fresh eyes that I took in this performance. What struck me the most about the band was the fact that four songwriters could co-exist and thrive together for so long. In this regard, they reminded me a little of Teenage Fanclub, though Sloan wins in the category of instrument swaps. I'm frequently guilty of crowning one player as the dominant force in a band, but I quickly realized it was futile to do so with Sloan. When you see them in concert, you soon realize not only that each band member has their own distinctive style but that they can integrate them with the others' as well.
Dearest Judy had done her part in pumping up the band, especially that Chris Murphy character, and he didn't disappoint. He visibly played to a girl with a camera in the front row, holding rock star poses and practicing multiple jumps for her (albeit tongue planted firmly in cheek, it seemed). There was some delay onstage during one of Chris's turns behind the drums, so he bided the time by standing on the chair and taking in the scene. In truth, I didn't see too much of Chris on the skins, as Andrew blocked my view, but I noticed he was guilty of some of the same infractions as the Phantom Planet crew. With Chris, though, the effect was much more endearing.
In addition to these exploits, he made us laugh with his appreciation of the new Rush record, his love/hate relationship with his glasses, and his general regard for his fans. And I barely noticed his Canadian accent.
The only real drawback to the night was that we were far too close to the guitar, which we realized as early as soundcheck, though we chose not to budge from our positions. My ears were ringing for a couple of hours after the show, but worse, the guitar frequently drowned out the band's otherwise golden harmonies. When Jay was playing lead, it was somewhat frustrating; when Andrew took his turn, it was almost painful. On a few songs, where there was either no lead guitar or only acoustic backing, we got a chance to bask in their lovely voices, but for the majority of the songs, we had to fill in the blanks ourselves. I suspect it has more to do with the club than with the band, but it's something I'll keep in mind at future shows.