By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Slah-oan! Slah-oan! The stage was set and the natives were restless. The chant started slowly. At first it was in perfect harmony with the song playing over the PA, almost as if it were a backing track. But the song ended and the chant continued — as if this were a European soccer match or a Morrissey concert. Next, darkness, shadows ambled into position, then a snare drum rolled and everything just exploded.
Sloan is the Canadian Fab Four, a powerhouse quartet that writes well and rocks hard. Fifteen years into a career of sorts, and here they were Thursday night back in Chicago celebrating an unusually refreshing look backward — the release of "A Sides Win," an astonishingly solid singles collection reaching back to 1992.
Back then, Geffen Records was trying to turn them into Sonic Youth when all they really wanted to be was Cheap Trick. (From the stage on Thursday, bassist Chris Murphy referred to Robin Zander "the best singer in America.") Fortunately, they became much more — without, thus far, anything resembling "The Flame" (shudder) — and turned the Beatles' fully cocked "Revolver" rock 'n' roll legacy into an experience more fun, more clever and more honest than every band in the mid-'90s "power-pop revival" put together and turned up to 11.
Thursday's show at the Double Door — where they last played, they kept reminding us, years ago when they opened for Jale (who? exactly) — was an unapologetic romp through the greatest hits. Given the band's exuberance and the fans' unwavering devotion — Slah-oan! Slah-oan! ... it kept going throughout the show — it was an approach that never seemed calculated to sell the latest record. They played the hits (in Canada, where their second album was voted the greatest disc of all time, yes, they have hits) because they are, indeed, great songs. No one in the crowd cried out for obscure album tracks. Many clapped along long before they were asked to (each incidence of which somehow, at least through these rose-colored lenses, was utterly free of the usual cliches).
Every song elicited whoops and cheers and wild movement by the kind of geeky rock fans who are not prone to grace in such contexts. It was easy to imagine the Double Door as the UIC Pavilion. Here's a band that missed the era that would have embraced it with arena arms.
Opening with "Losing California," with guitarist Patrick Pentland craning his neck to accommodate a mike stand too tall for him, Sloan crashed through its A-list, covering nearly all of the greatest-hits package — a maniacal "Money City Maniacs," a stomping "She Says What She Means," closing with the frenetic, two-minute rush of "The Good in Everyone."
Sloan didn't begin its career quite as rawk as it's become, an evolution that was obvious when, after blasting through a half dozen breathless scorchers, they were a bit too out of breath to handle the delicate harmonies of one of their first singles, "Coax Me." And when everyone but Pentland switched instruments so that drummer Andrew Scott could play guitar and sing a couple of his songs — all four members write and sing, like Teenage Fanclub — his slow, carefully colored dirge-ballad was an interesting and, admittedly, welcome island in the testosterone flood.
Those who claim that rock is dead simply don't understand the compartmentalized playing field of 21st century popular culture. It ain't dead, it's just been put into its place. But that doesn't mean it's any less thrilling when you dive in. Just listen to the fans spilling out of the Double Door, still chanting. Slah-oan! Slah-oan!
at the Double Door
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.