By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
It comes about 68 seconds into the song, a new single from Toronto-based Sloan, and it’s a moment that let’s you understand this most remarkable of bands.
The song, “Money City Maniacs,” starts off with sirens and crunchy guitar riffs, then propels into a killer rock backbeat. It’s next to impossible to avoid bobbing your head. The first couple of verses go by, and then it’s time for the chorus:
And the joke is/ when he awoke his/
body was covered in Coke fizz.
“We wrote that song on stage in front of 10,000 people,” says guitarist Jay Ferguson. “Patrick [Pentland, the guitarist] started playing the riff and somebody just made up the words to fit the rhythm. You know, when Paul McCartney wrote ‘Yesterday,’ he called it ‘Scrambled Eggs,’ because ‘Scrambled Eggs’ fit the rhythm and it was something to sing until he changed it to something that made sense.
“Unfortunately, we never changed ours.”
There, in a nutshell, is what has made Sloan one of the best pop bands performing today: a Beatles reference, a sense of humor, and a killer song. With those in hand, a band can conquer the world, or at least Canada.
Sloan has spent the 1990s as quite possibly the biggest band in our neighbor to the north. How big? Big enough to sell out 40,000-seat arenas in Toronto. Big enough to start minor riots during in-store appearances in Vancouver. Big enough for the Canadian music magazine Chart to issue four commemorative covers when their latest record, “Navy Blues,” came out. Big enough for “Navy Blues” to go gold in only three weeks.
The band’s attempts at conquering America have turned out about as well as their country’s did in the War of 1812. But that’s, quite frankly, America’s fault: Sloan’s mix of smart songwriting, irresistable hooks, and general sweetness should be a natural.
Some of Sloan’s biggest American successes have come in Ohio, which is essentially Lower Canada for their purposes. The airwaves of Canadian radio extend over Lake Erie; In Toledo, listeners of Windsor station CIMX-FM 88.7 have gotten a pretty steady dose of Sloan for the last five or six years.
The lucky Americans who know about Sloan border on the maniacal in their devotion. “We get fans who drive 20 hours to come to our shows,” Ferguson says. “We see a lot of the same faces at our shows in Detroit, Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus, Toledo.”
At the band’s last Toledo show, in September, the Main Event was packed with fans, and just about every last one knew the words to every last song.
Sloan appears tonight at 9 at the Main Event. Opening acts will be Jr. Electric and the Deadly Snakes. Tickets are $10 in advance.
The band’s mainstream success in Canada has given them something usually reserved for superstars: artistic freedom. “We don’t have to make the same record over and over again to please radio or somebody at a label,” Ferguson says. “We’ve built enough of a following in Canada that our fans will accept the kind of record we give them.”
They’ve certainly been all over the map in their four releases. Their first record was straightforward, although especially good, “alternative” music. Their follow-up, 1994’s breakthrough “Twice Removed,” is as close to pure pop music as they’ve come. “One Chord to Another” (1997) was a blast of 1960s allusions, with Chicago-style trumpets and Beatlesy backbeats.
And “Navy Blues” sounds like it could have been 1972’s Record of the Year, with its crunchy glam guitars and its hard-rock posing.
“To go back to the Beatles, ‘Rubber Soul’ was a very different record from ‘Revolver,’ which was a very different record from ‘Sgt. Pepper,'” Ferguson says. “And the White Album is another left turn. We’re like that in that we don’t want to just keep pumping out B-plus versions of our last C-minus album.”
Sloan’s four members – Ferguson, Pentland, bassist Chris Murphy, and drummer Andrew Scott – all sing and write songs, and the different voices come across clearly on record. Considering how much of an obvious influence The Beatles are on their sound, it was only a matter of time before somebody compared the Fab Four to the Canuck Quartet.
“I’ve heard that Andrew is John, the natural, the genius, the non-methodical thinker,” Ferguson says. “Chris is Paul, the guy who wants everybody to get along. Patrick is the quiet George. And I guess that leaves me with Ringo.”
For the record, Ferguson doesn’t like the Beatles comparisons. But the four personalities have let fans on the Internet and at concerts focus on their favorite Sloan. “I think it’s great. It’s like with Kiss, where some kid could think, ‘Paul Stanley’s lame, but Ace Frehley-he’s cool.”
There won’t be any makeup on stage tonight, but could it be that a Sloan Army isn’t far off? Lesser bands have invaded America successfully.