Friday, December 23, 2011
Sloan @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon
Update [December 25/2011, 1:38 am]: Review now up. Merry Christmas! Now have to wrap some presents
Thinking back to 1995 when Sloan headlined CFNY 102.1 FM's Edgefest 3 festival at Molson Ampitheatre, billed as their farewell performance, Sloan had called it quits. Their most recent album at the time had been their second full-length Twice Removed, released a year prior in 1994, and arguably to the some was the band's finest album. But a year after Edgefest 3, the band reunited to release their third full-length, 1996's Once Chord To Another, and as they say the rest is history, with the band continuing to this day as one of Canada's most respected musical outfits. It was "Once Chord To Another" which Sloan chose to play front-to-back for Toronto charity COUNTERfit (an Ontario Ministry of Health and City of Toronto funded injection drug harm reduction program) at a show at The Great Hall organized by Toronto band Fucked Up. The promise of such a performance was more than a tantalizing factor for many who snapped up tickets for the sold out event. And as a bonus, the opening bands lineup was none too shabby itself, with an all Toronto supporting acts lineup featuring Bonjay, Ohbijou, and The Rural Alberta Advantage.
Electro-dancehall duo Bonjay featuring dynamite vocalist Alanna Stuart and programmer extraordinaire Ian “Pho” Swain were definitely the odd man out on the bill and did their best to warm up the small yet devoted early attendees. I'd caught about half the set as I myself had been running late. I chose to hang back during the remainder of their set which may have worked to my advantage as the beats and vocals sounded superb from where I was standing. As soon as their set was over, I made my way to the merch table and ended up purchasing one of the limited edition show posters and then I ducked out of the venue to put said poster in my car before returning about 20 minutes later.
It's been a number of years since I've seen live nor paid attention to Toronto's Ohbijou. I was always a fan of the band's melancholy, string-laden, indie-pop sound but as a live entity had usually been disappointed with their laid-back stage presence. Now on album number three with this year's released Metal Meets, which I still have yet to hear although I'm assuming they were playing songs off of at The Great Hall, it seems the band is flexing a little more muscle these days. With the Mecija sisters, vocalist Casey and violinst Jenny, both wearing black (Casey wearing a black hooded cloak even), I'd swear the band had gone goth, and even they haven't they're definitely heavier, hence the album title Metal Meets perhaps. The band seems to strike their instruments harder, and play louder, Casey even going-into guitar-face and strumming her guitar furiously at times. Ohbijou still maintain their recognizable melancholy pop sound but this time with more oomph, and it's working wonders for them.
Since the release of their first full-length "Hometowns" in 2008, Toronto's The Rural Alberta Advantage have gradually been achieving a most fervent fanbase within Toronto, Canada and beyond. RAA were a band who'd in their early days regularly played shows at the tiny Embassy in Toronto but more recently have been headlining at midsized Toronto venue, Phoenix Concert Theatre. It'd been a few years since I'd seen RAA live when they played the third stage at 2009's Virgin Festival Toronto, the same year that American indie label rereleased their debut album Hometowns. Earlier this year, the band released their second album Departing which by my own procrastination had never gotten around to picking up. Given this gap in my RAA experience, it was nice to again see the band live. If you're familiar with the band's propulsive acoustic sound based around drums, keys, and acoustic guitar, then yes, not much has changed but that is a good thing. The band played a bit more ragged than usual ["Edmonton" in particular, seemed a bit more sped up and less rigid than on record] but overall reminded me why they're one of the best current bands in Toronto.
Beginning with Fucked Up's Damian Abraham announcing Sloan on to the stage, a la the beginning of One Chord To Another ("Will you please… welcome to the stage… SLOAN!"), the band erupted into lead off track "The Good In Everyone" and proceeded to play the entire album front to back. Second track "Nothing Left to Make Me Want to Stay", never a single but which should have been in my opinion, remains one of my favourite tracks on the album and I was singing along to much of it. You could feel the crowd energy surge on the punky "G Turns to D" and later on the urgent "Anyone Who's Anyone" (whose lyrics "Everyone who's played a part, We're all together now, Everyone who's played a part, stand and take a bow" sounded so appropriate that night). Other highlights included the three person horn section on "Everything You've Dong Wrong" and "Take The Bench", the former also benefiting from the crowd singalong. The Jay Ferguson-sung "The Lines You Amend" also garnered a favourable reaction from the crowd and a further crowd singalong. I cannot remember if I'd ever heard "Can't Face Up" live but regardless of guitar flub during the Patrick's solo which he freely admitted, hearing it that night was like listening to if for the first time, and when Patrick belted out the chorus it was sublime.
While the occasion of the night was to play One Chord To Another, the encore was a treat unto itself. Kicking off with one of my faves from Twice Removed, "Snowsuit Sound", then Fucked Up's Damian come on to stage perform a punky / hardcore number which I did not recognize which had Damian and Chris vocally playing one another then lead to some physical horseplay between the two. The next song "500 Up"(from their debut Smeared) was a pure joy to hear regardless of the mic problems that plagued drummer Andrew Scott's vocal parts. The piece de resistance to the encore and the night was the surprise appearance by Toronto's own Leslie Feist, who played added guitar for what was an energetic rendition of the band's song "She Means What She Says". Wow. What started out as Sloan agreeing to play a special charity show turned out for me in coming full circle with the band; the show revived, at least temporarily, the pure euphoric rush I once had for them. I guess that is what we call nostaligia but damn it sure feels good. After all, they are a band that has a song called "If It Feels Good Do It". Thanking the crowd at the end, Chris remarked that they came to Toronto as a Halifax band, but more and more are feeling like a Toronto one. And this another reason why Toronto is one of the best cities in the world.
Photos: Sloan, Rural Alberta Advantage, Ohbijou, Bonjay @ The Great Hall, Toronto (December 21, 2011)
MySpace: Rural Alberta Advantage