Sloan has been at it for 25 years, but could easily have been a footnote in Canadian music history if not for their fortitude. Formed at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax in 1991, the alt-rock quartet has made a name for itself in its homeland, winning several East Coast Music Awards and a Juno Award for Best Alternative Album — 1996’s One Chord to Another. This album, however, almost never happened at all.
Sloan was signed to Geffen Records early on, as label executives rushed to find the next Nirvana. As part of a burgeoning Halifax music scene that included Eric’s Trip and Thrush Hermit, that saw a gold rush to the maritime province from the labels, Sloan was the band that survived.
The band’s first two albums Smeared and Twice Removed were released on Geffen in 1992 and 1994 respectively. After a dispute with the label over lack of promotion for Twice Removed, the band took some time off, leading some to believe they had broken up. Sloan self-produced and self-released the follow-up to Twice Removed, One Chord to Another. Sunday night, the band rolled into Daryl’s House Club in Pawling for an intimate rendering of that landmark album on its 20th anniversary of release.
Sloan has made its bones sharing writing duties, vocals and instruments among the band’s four original members: Chris Murphy, Jay Ferguson, Patrick Pentland and Andrew Scott. Power chords, hand claps and Beatle-esque harmonies are hallmarks of the Sloan sound. All these elements were firmly in place for the intimate audience of hard core Sloan fans this night.
Make no mistake, this is not a simple pop band. To survive 25 years in the business requires more than just catchy songs. The lyrics from each of the members reveal a depth that belies the catchiness of the music.
Throughout the history of pop music, many of the most poignant songs have carried a sense of darkness. The Beatles exhibited this to the extreme in “Run For Your Life” from the Rubber Soul album. And while Sloan has never intro’ed a song as bluntly as John Lennon did with,”I’d rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man,” a quick glance at Sloan’s song titles bears this out: “Everything You’ve Done Wrong,” Nothing Left to Make Me Wanna Stay.” Sloan has the songwriting chops to turn a subject such as unrequited love into dark poetry with a pop melody.
Daryl’s House Club is an offshoot of Philly Soul legend and half of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame duo Hall and Oates, Daryl Hall’s popular internet, now MTV Live show, Live From Daryl’s House. Hall opened the club in Pawling in 2014 as a venue to feature intimate gigs similar to those seen on his show. Tickets are sold as reserved seating or standing tickets and all reserved seats are at tables, allowing patrons to enjoy a meal and some drinks prior to and during a performance. The main performance space has room for a couple of hundred patrons. Wait staff meander in and out of the seated areas, taking orders and delivering dishes. It makes for a a dinner theater type atmosphere that doesn’t much allow for audience participation during a show, especially one for a band with such uptempo music.
This tour is a celebration of the band’s watershed moment. They’re playing the One Chord album in its entirety during the first set of each show. However, the music they were celebrating almost seemed like an afterthought as patrons ate their dinner during the performance. Murphy commented on this fact a couple of times during the set, “Finish chewing your food and sing along with us on this one,” he said, introducing “G Turns to D.”
Despite the limitations on audience participation, though with many in the crowd being in their late 30s/early 40s, there may not have been a whole lot of physical participation anyway. The band rallied through the album in its entirety. The participation in the chugging “G Turns to D” included many hand claps and singing along from those in attendance. A smooth transition into the Beatles, by way of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, “A Side Wins” had fans swaying in their seats.
The set concluded with “400 Metres,” a song that wouldn’t be out of place on a Pavement album with its speak-talk lyrics. The hypnotizing keyboard presence mixed with Pentland’s guitar ended the set with a chill vibe reminiscent a late night ’70s FM radio show.
“Coax Me,” opened the second set, encouraging the devoted to sing along. This opened the doors to a rousing second set featuring many of Sloan’s greatest hits, including what is probably its best known song, “Money City Maniacs” as well as “Losing California,” a song requested all night long by some of the more boisterous fans in attendance.
The band seamlessly traded instruments and vocals throughout the night. Murphy stepped behind Scott’s sparse drum kit while Scott grabbed a guitar and sang and Ferguson took up the bass several times. The formula of equals behind this band is what has kept it going for 25 years. All four members contribute to the whole. And while there’s a formula to the sound, Sloan is far from formulaic. Their songs echo past eras, yet remain uniquely their own.
Those in attendance on this night were the Sloan faithful in downstate New York. Some traveling great distances to see their cult heroes in the intimacy of Daryl’s House. They were treated to a special show from one of music’s hardest working bands.
In a more fair world, Sloan would be playing a sold out show at Madison Square Garden rather than a small downstate club in front of noshing patrons on a Sunday night in October. Somehow, you can’t help but wonder if Sloan prefers it this way though.
Sloan’s One Chord to Another 20th Anniversary Tour continues throughout the U.S. in November, finishing with a show in Buffalo at the Iron Works Nov. 19.
Check out some fan-shot video of Sloan’s encore performance of “If it Feels Good, Do It” from the Daryl’s House Club show below: