December 1st, 2009
Due to what I’m going to call "technical difficulties", there will be no pictures to accompany the following review.
Toronto garage-rock cum pop-punk act Magneta Lane was first on the bill tonight at Jammin’ Java. The all-female three-piece consists of Lexi Valentine on guitar and vocals, Nadia King on drums and, for this tour anyway, Kat Theodorelos on bass. Apparently the band’s permanent bass player is attending "university" back in Canada, so Kat, who regularly plays in fellow Toronto band, Lipstick Machine, is filling her shoes for the time being.
Valentine’s vocals reminded me of Karen-O from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, only without the screaming. She had that "I’m so bored, I’m cool" kind of sound that really provided a perfect contrast to the loud, feedback-laden music. The vocalist stayed in self-deprecating character even when addressing the crowd, as she mumbled an almost incoherent explanation for why she kept studying the back of her guitar between songs…apparently she forgot to wear her glasses and as such couldn’t see the band’s set list on the stage, so she taped it to the back of her instrument.
Meanwhile, King, whose face could rarely be seen through the bushy, brunette mop on her head, seemed utterly determined to destroy her drum kit as she laid down the foundation of the band’s attack. Adorned in various combinations of skirts, heels and cowboy boots, Magneta Lane had a sassy look to match their equally sassy sound…kind of like a more respectable, Hole-era Courtney Love. The "beauty meets brawn" dichotomy of the band’s image and sound easily won over the half-full crowd in attendance tonight at Jammin’ Java.
My first experience with Canadian alt-pop band Sloan, which was all the way back in the early 90’s (I’m dating myself), wasn’t one I look back on fondly. This was during the height of the major record label frenzy to swallow up anything labeled "alternative" due to the popularity of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, et al. At that time, Sloan had a minor radio hit with the song "Underwhelmed", which somehow propelled them to a headlining gig at a club called the Mad Monk (R.I.P.) in Wilmington, NC. My buddy and I, who were a couple of knuckleheads always looking for a good mosh pit to get mixed up in back in those days, made the hour long trek from our hometown to Wilmington in search of some action. Little did we know, we were heading to see a power-pop act that has more in common with the Fab Four than with Gang of Four, so needless to say, the scene was set for disappointment. As the show droned on (at least in our minds), my buddy finally decided to yell out the one and only song he knew, the aforementioned "Underwhelmed", to which vocalist/bassist (and sometimes drummer) Chris Murphy shot back a sarcastic retort for everyone in attendance to hear. The ensuing laughter from the crowd was embarrassing to say the least and Sloan would be forever cemented in our minds as a bunch of frat-boy, college rockers that could, for lack of a better term, kiss our collective asses.
Fast forward to present day…I’d like to think that my musical palate has expanded quite a bit over the course of the past 15 or so years. As such, I was back to make amends to a band that has stood the test of time and proven themselves as a mainstay in the alternative rock scene. I was ready for Sloan, take two. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to realize that Murphy hasn’t lost his witty, sarcastic sense of humor. Early on during the band’s set, he asked the audience "is this anyone’s first Sloan experience?"…when a few hands were raised he responded in his cocky, yet joking tone: "just finding out, huh?"…"yeah?"…"well, that’s okay".
Sloan is a band that doesn't rely on one particular member to handle lead vocals and a couple of the guys actually swap instruments during certain songs. I've already mentioned Murphy who primarily handled vocals and bass, but took a turn on the drums for a few songs. In addition, the band consists of Patrick Pentland, who played lead guitar and did his share of the vocal work, Jay Ferguson who played rhythm guitar, sang and played bass on a few tracks and Andrew Scott, who acted primarily as the band's drummer, but also took up the rhythm guitar and sang. Sloan was also accompanied by a keyboard player who, as you may have already guessed, provided vocals. Being proficient at multiple instruments and having one of four different voices out front at any given time gave the band a very diverse and interesting dynamic to their sound. You literally never knew what to expect from song to song.
Sloan is a band chock full of hooks and harmony and those in the audience who were familiar with their songs (I for one am not) seemed to eat it up. One fan in particular, who stood at the front and center of the stage, was a ball of energy, jumping up and down throughout the set, yelling song requests and singing word for word with whatever band member happened to be singing at the time. When Sloan did the aforementioned instrument swap, Murphy handed this guy a maraca and allowed him to keep the rhythm of the next song as the singer made his way back to the drum kit.
The rapport with the crowd continued throughout the band's set as they asked for requests...and when one fan yelled "Pen Pals...you haven't played that in three tours!", Murphy quickly retorted..."that's a fucking lie"...then turned to a young fan whom he had pointed out earlier in the show because she was celebrating her birthday and jokingly said "happy 13th birthday"...an obvious, semi-apology for his choice in language. This guy is funny I tell you.
For their encore, Sloan brought the enthusiastic front and center fan (the one with the maraca) onstage with them and gave the guy full reign over the microphone. Honest to God, I was completely blown away. The guy nailed every note of the song (again, I apologize as I have no idea what song was being played) and if you weren't looking, you never would have known it wasn't a member of the band doing the singing.
At the end of the day, I was glad I gave this band a second chance all these years later. Their Kiss meets the Beatles pop-rock sound combined with Murphy's wacky jokes and sarcasm are actually a breath of fresh air in the often stuffy "alt-rock" world. Amazing how age puts a new perspective on things.