Jack Rabbit’s, Jacksonville, FL • November 12, 1999

This was my first venture to Jack Rabbit’s in Jacksonville. I didn’t know what to expect, but once I saw the quaintness of the venue, I got excited about the prospect of seeing one of my favorite bands up close and personal. (So close that I was able to snag the set list at the end of the show – a handy resource for this here review you’re reading!)

Sloan has indie rock god status in Canada. So, why don’t they even register as a blip on American FM radar? They seemingly have everything music executives drool over: good looks for the screaming girls and catchy tunes that they (gulp!) write all by themselves. An abundance of talent makes for a rousing game of musical chairs with band members swapping both lead vocals and instruments during shows.

Their music harkens back to pop classics, when rock bands embraced hooks that fans couldn’t stop humming for days. Their influences begin with the Beatles, then make a stop with second generation Fab Four-influenced bands such as Badfinger, the Raspberries, and Big Star. Just a dash of 70’s hard rock bands like Kiss and AC/DC give a little muscle to the mix.

The band members are an eclectic mix of personalities, which is, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, another marketing virtue for those who make that their business to exploit. Bassist Chris Murphy is the ham/joker of the lineup. Guitarist Jay Ferguson is the shy one (as witnessed by his bashful wave to a fan calling his name from the crowd before the opening song.) Second guitarist Patrick Pentland is the serious one, and drummer Andrew Scott is the dark brooding one of the bunch (as witnessed by his vocal disdain for the sound guy’s bungling of the stage monitors.)

First to rush on stage was Chris, all smiles, chomping gum, and armed with a camcorder with which he quickly employed the fans in front to document the evening’s show. The opening tune, “G turns to D,” is an up tempo number from 1997’s One Chord to Another , which echoes Revolver -era Beatles. The show continued with high energy as they ripped through their first single off this year’s Between The Bridges , a number less like the Beatles and more like the 70’s power pop that emulated them.

Andrew seemed too pissed after the monitor debacle during his song “Sensory Deprivation.” So, the band invited a fan up for the vocal duties on “People of the Sky.” “Joe the fan,” who happened to be tying the knot the following day, was a bit nervous. But, with a cigarette in hand, he bravely ventured to the stage. Chris gave Joe a signal when to start, and off he went. I thought he looked familiar, and when he sang with relative competence, I realized I saw him in his own band during a downtown Jacksonville celebration this past fourth of July.

There is a place for smarts in pop music: “Hey you, you’ve been around for awhile/If you admit that you were wrong, we’ll admit that we’re right.” Lyrics like these from “Money City Maniacs,” however, may be more smart ass than smart. Sloan is very open with their admiration for Kiss, but aren’t exactly metalheads. That may explain the sentiment in the lyric “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans” from “Coax Me.”

Many of today’s rock bands toss aside the rich rewards of harmony vocals, something that Sloan does so well with all four members as strong vocalists. Hell, most pop/rock bands today don’t even sing (Limp Bizkit, Korn), let alone harmonize. To see it live was a welcomed site. After the conventional ending of the set, there was the standard re-entrance for an encore performance of “I Am the Cancer.”

It took me five hours to venture up from my South Florida home for the show in Jacksonville. I tend to have to travel north to see anyone not on the Billboard charts. But, this trip was worth every mile to see Canada’s best kept musical secret.

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