February 1, 2023 – Cafe Campus, Montreal, Quebec
On a mild yet greasy and slippery winter night, one of Canada’s most loved rock acts, Sloan, were preparing themselves for their return to the city. The last time Sloan came to town, was November 28, 2018 at this very venue – as stops after that fell to the global pandemic that shut down live music and just about everything else for more than two terrible years.
Fashionably late to the stage, not that anyone was really put out by it, Sloan soon began their first of two sets on the night. Black Sabbath’s War Pigs came over the PA system as the band made their way up onto the stage, where vocalist Chris Murphy sang a bar from the heavy metal classic, and signaled for the crowd to sing the next – in unison, the band and the crowd finished off the song, to a round of applause all around.
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Earlier in the day, the legendary Ozzy Osbourne had announced his retirement from touring due to a back injury that doesn’t seem to want to heal. Sloan had opted to be the sole performers on the night, and instead of having of having an opening band, instead were poised to play two full sets with a break in between.
Kicking off the evening with Magical Thinking, from the bands new album Steady, which was released in October of 2022. Despite being a new song, the sold out audience knew every word and bellowed it back at Murray all the way through. Following that was Spend The Day, also from the new record – in fact, all twelve numbers from Steady would eventually be played, spread out throughout their two sets.
Late in their first set, came their most known track – The Other Man, which was met with a sea of raised cellphones, all filming the exact same thing for no apparent reason. The crowd sang as loud as the amplified Murray could, creating an incredible ambiance for the track and – I suppose the lights were pretty but annoying too. Still two songs remained before the end of the first segment, She Put Up With What She Put Down and Simply Leaving.
Incredibly, Sloan still feature the same four musicians who formed the band more than three decades ago in 1991. There hasn’t been a day in the history of the band that had anybody else but them in the band. That has to be one the rarest things any band on the planet can boast. Seeing them on stage, you can understand why they’ve been together as long as they have – all of them appear to be the best of pals, smiling and chatting the whole set long.
All four are also accomplished musicians that pridefully switch instruments from time to time. Every one of them took a turn as frontman tonight. There was even a few songs where Chris Murray switched his microphone duties and his bass over to Andrew Scott, and then took his place on the drum set. Patrick Pentland also put the guitar aside to rock the microphone as well, and there were a few times when guitarist Jay Ferguson took on the singing duties. Astonishingly, no matter where on the stage these lads stood, they always sounded fantastic, uniformed and always like the same band. Sloan are something special.
Dream It All Over Again announced the restart of the show, where a further thirteen tracks would be played before the complimentary compulsory encore would bump the number of songs Sloan played on the night o a massive thirty-two tracks. The amount of songs, allowed Sloan to show all the elements that add up to one final product. Sloan are a rock band, or alternative as the term once was, with an underlying punk rock aesthetic and influence that occasionally rears its head up and snarls a little.
On the left of the stage, guitarist Patrick Pentland wore a The Nils tee-shirt; one of the earliest and greatest Canadian punk bands and also Montreal locals. Carlos Soria of The Nils was in the crowd and was beaming when I asked if he had noticed Pentland’s shirt. Of course he had. A decade ago, Sloan released a two-song punk rock 7″ that also came with a digital download of Sloan covering twelve punk classics, including songs from Minor Threat, The Descendents, Angry Samoans, 7 Seconds, Black Flag and The Nils. It finally saw a physical vinyl release in 2021, titled This One’s an Original.
The four song encore consisted of Losing California, The Lines You Amend, Underwhelmed and The Good in Everyone. What a great way to cap off an evening. Sloan left the stage in a showering of love and admiration. Cheers, clapping and straight up love and it was a beautiful moment to behold. Thirty-years into their career, Sloan is still as ripe and as potent as they ever were.
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The most difficult thing on the night, was trying to find a way through people to reach the bar. Every nook and cranny was replete. People upstairs stood on chairs and tables vying for a better view, for a chance to gawp down at the band below. The Cafe Campus is a great venue and to be quite frank, one that isn’t used often enough for live music. It sounds great, the lighting is always beautiful, and it’s well located in the heart of the city.
On this night, Sloan had been incredible. Tight, energetic and a whole lot of fun – everything you could ask for in a live show.