This marked my fourth time seeing Sloan. Compared to Mika, who guessed that this was somewhere around show #13 for her, I'm still an amateur. I'll always be older than her, and she'll always have seen Sloan more times than I have. I wonder if there's a way we can work on reversing these roles.
At least Sloan was playing in Regina. When they toured last year, they skipped over Regina entirely. The list of past shows on their website suggests that happens more often than not. And lately, it seems bands of all kinds are playing anywhere other than here. Hawksley Workman and Joel Plaskett are both coming to Swift Current (population: 15,503) but bypassing Regina, while Danko Jones has no time for Saskatchewan at all. Not having to make a road trip for this show was a treat.
And I was ready for a treat. After several late nights and one extended workday, I was half-dead going into this show. Mika picked me up at work and I changed out of my work shirt while she drove. She was tired too, and supremely irritated at our cat (Carl, a.k.a. Carly, Carlo, Carlito, Bites McGee, Fights McGee, Flops McGee, Snowball, and/or Shit-for-Brains, among other names) for darting outside repeatedly and making her late in picking me up.
"Late," here, being a relative term. The doors were at 7:00 and we didn't arrive at The Pump until almost 8:00, but some delightful friends had beaten us there and saved us seats. The show also didn't start until somewhere around 9:45, so really, the cat could have spent another hour hiding in the plants and we would have been fine.
I had never been to The Pump before, for good reason - it's a country bar. A Canadian Country Music Award-winning country bar, no less. I also hear tell that people get the crap kicked out of them there on a regular basis. When I told people about the Sloan show, the response of "eww, The Pump?" was a constant. Of course, Sloan is not a country band, which made this show an odd fit, but then Sloan fans aren't generally crap-kicker-outers either, so whatever. Maybe there just aren't any other similar-sized venues left in town now that The Distrikt is closed? Big Sugar is playing at The Pump soon too, as is famed country superstar Everlast; at least he recommended appropriate footwear for the place back in his House of Pain days.
This country bar also had a washroom attendant, or so I was told. I did not see this for myself; I cut myself off after one beer and thus never found myself in the position of paying a man for paper towels and soap.
The opening act consisted of about an hour of guys in Sloan tour jumpsuits futzing about with a ladder and the lighting setup. While this was going on, the country bar treated us to music by the likes of Blur and Guided By Voices. This may have been on par with some of the other opening acts I've seen through the years.
When they finally got the lights working and subsequently dimmed them, Mika and I went to go stand up by the front of the stage. I haven't done that to my poor feet in forever. She pointed out that we may as well, because otherwise, someone tall was just going to stand in front of us anyway. This was sound logic; unfortunately, we didn't account for the massive bouncer taking a position on the stage next to the speakers. This dude could have blocked out the sun, so shielding Patrick Pentland from our view was no challenge for him. This development was really irritating, but at the same time, it was hilarious and perfect. Of COURSE he'd come along and stand right there for the entire show. Why wouldn't he?
The bouncer was able to block our view because we, too, were right by one of the giant stacks of speakers. I felt a twinge of sadness when Mika pulled a set of earplugs out of her purse. "I have some more, but they've been rolling around in the bottom of my purse for months now," she said. I am not proud. Earplugs were dusted and ears were plugged.
Just before the show started, I once again got to chat with my neighbours from the apartment. I hadn't seen them in over a year, and now here they were twice in four days. If I see them next week in Minneapolis, I'm really going think that something is up. I was coherent as I could possibly be, given the earplugs. The crappiness of The Pump as a venue was pointed out to me and I have to agree - the stage is tucked away in one corner, with the aforementioned giant stacks of speakers positioned perfectly to cut sight lines right down.
This was Sloan's Twice Removed tour - they rereleased the album as a super deluxe vinyl box set, and on this tour, they started each show by performing the album from start to finish. Twice Removed is an album to which I have no nostalgic attachment whatsoever. Two songs from it, Coax Me and People of the Sky, wound up on Sloan's singles collection, A Sides Win. I had never heard either song before buying said singles collection. I did make a point of listening to some of the album before the show, but it was still largely unfamiliar to me when Sloan played. I liked it fine enough, but even the band kinda made it sound like this was something we all had to get through together before the real show began. "Congratulations, you listened to an entire album in the age of singles," said Chris Murphy.
Possibly the most notable part of the first set for me was that Murphy played for a while without his trademark massive glasses. I don't think I've ever seen him without them on before. Without them, he kinda looks like Bill Nye's rebellious ne'er-do-well younger brother, the one that turned his back on the family business (science, obviously) to pursue dreams of rock-and-roll stardom. "Dad really wishes you'd come back home. There's a job for you at the science factory."
The band left the stage for a bit, and someone standing in front of me swiped one of the Twice Removed setlists, revealing the list for the second half of the show. A quick scan revealed no Underwhelmed; I wasn't surprised. I've been going to Sloan shows for almost a decade and they've never played the song when I was there. Mika read an interview where the band had talked about retiring the song. I can understand getting really sick of something and not wanting to play it anymore, but this is the same band that regularly plays Theme From George Strombolopolous Tonight and Theme From Future Shop Commercials.
The second set was pretty much a greatest-hits set with a few album tracks from their newest albums mixed in. We did get The Good In Everyone and Money City Maniacs, as expected, along with The Rest of My Life, Losing California, Who Taught you To Live Like That, Unkind, and Everything You've Done Wrong.
We also got The Other Man. I tell this story in every Sloan review; I was never a fan of the song until I realized just how much Aaron hates it. Now it's become one of my favourites, if only because saying so is one of the best ways to bait him into a rage. I bet he's turning red right now, in fact. I wonder how far I can push this? Guided By Voices might be okay if they had someone to cherry pick the good songs instead of recording and releasing every noise that popped into Robert Pollard's head. Leonard Cohen should thank k.d. lang for showing the world how good Hallelujah can be when someone sings it properly. Henry Rollins wishes he could write as well as Paul Simon.
While we're on the subject of anger, there was a blue balloon bouncing around the crowd; this may or may not have had anything to do with the show taking place on keyboardist Gregory Macdonald's birthday. At one point, a fan spiked the balloon into the rafters, never to be seen again. Well. One scrawny 19-year-old in a red Fred Durst ballcap and muscle shirt (protip, kid: it's not just a name, it's a requirement for wearing) spent a good 45 seconds flipping off the balloon spiker. This was serious balloon business.
I appear to have gotten off track.
So! Sloan. Good! Lots of songs that I liked. Had a good time. Yes. For the last song of the evening, Murphy thanked us for coming out and noted how much they like seeing younger fans at shows, but they were ending on an old song. "She was underwhelmed if that's a word..."
And it was nuts. I don't know if I've ever seen a reaction like that for one specific song. The whole place went insane - it was as if every single person there had been to four straight Sloan shows without ever hearing this song. It was like being able to see the reaction inside my head. I sang along as loud as I could but wasn't able to hear my own voice (and I did take my earplugs out for this, which I guess means that Underwhelmed ranks higher than conversing with my ex-neighbours on some sort of scale). I often find it hard to compare shows, but this tipped the scales and made this the best Sloan show I've been to. And now it is two days later and I am still sleepy, but we used that as an excuse to order in Indian food last night, so even that's a win.
UPCOMING SHOWS - Saturday, September 29: Ben Folds Five w/Kate Miller-Heidke - Wednesday, October 3: Kathleen Edwards w/Jenn Grant - Wednesday, October 10: "Weird Al" Yankovic - Tuesday, October 30: Hawksley Workman - Friday, November 2: Dan Mangan w/Rural Alberta Advantage - Thursday, November 8: Plants & Animals w/Rah Rah - Friday, November 16: Metric w/Stars - Saturday, November 24: Red Hot Chili Peppers w/Rebirth Brass Band
As last time, thanks for putting this out before my own Sloan experience tomorrow.* I believe this will also be MY fourth show, second in a row at the 400 (Bar, not Metres) and I will be greatly relieved if we are spared an opening act since it sure was a God-awful one last time.
*Turns out this is a total lie, as they played Minneapolis two days BEFORE Saskatoon, so I have no idea what I must have read before I went to "our" show.