There’s nothing quite like live music. When the right band takes the stage, that song that you’ve heard a million times before, suddenly turns into this shared experience between you, the band, and the crowd. The band pumping up the crowd, the crowd giving it right back, and you in the middle of it all. A shared experience between a few dozen, to a few thousand people. Everybody brought to that same place and time for the love of one thing….music.
Somehow, I’d managed to go through 4 years of high school without ever attending a rock show. It’s not that I avoided them, it’s just that they never really seemed like the thing to do. My hometown isn’t exactly huge, so big name acts didn’t come around all that often, and the idea of spending money on some band that I’d never heard of seemed like way too much of a gamble. That was money I could’ve been spending on guaranteed fun, like trying to track down the hottest wings in the city.
When I heard that Sloan were coming to town, I was genuinely floored. They weren’t some unknown property, or a nostalgia act on the casino circuit. Sloan were one of the more popular, and well respected Canadian bands of that decade. They even had a single in heavy rotation on the radio. The fact that this successful, contemporary band was playing a gig in my city was surprising. The fact that said gig was going to be at a local bar was bordering on unbelievable. The universe was practically demanding that I take advantage, so who was I to disappoint.
A trip to the local CD Plus, and $20 later, I had my ticket, and was all set for my first concert.
The Canadian also happened to be my first time in a real bar. Sure there was the trip to the odd sports bar for wings, but those were basically restaurants. The Canadian was the real deal. I’m talking entrance at the back, staircase to the basement, bouncer at the door, and second-hand smoke permeating everything. Windows weren’t really a thing, and the ceiling tiles were on the verge of collapse after years of nicotine and audio abuse.
My friend and I quickly grabbed some t-shirts from the merch table, and managed to snag a table on the edge of the dance floor. The opening band (Cuff the Duke) was decent, but I was probably too excited about the whole scenario to really process much of what they were playing.
Not long after Sloan took the stage, an old man came up to us and let us know that, “Young fellas like you should be up there, where the action is”. I was pretty sure that it was just a ploy to snag our sweet table spot, but he was pretty creepy, so we decided to vacate anyway.
It was the best thing we could’ve done really. We ended up getting really close to the stage, and got right into the show. As the music boomed, I could even feel little pieces of the drop-ceiling falling down into my hair. The whole scene felt very rock-n-roll.
As a very casual Sloan fan, I didn’t exactly know all the lyrics to their songs. In fact, a good chunk of the experience was spent awkwardly singing along with a good chunk of mumbling, and every 5th word shouted out. The best part was that I never felt nearly as awkward as I probably was. Sloan were just too captivating for me to even feel a bit self-conscious.
With all four members of the band sharing the songwriting duty, they would regularly mix up their lineup on the spot. The drummer would grab a guitar, the guitarist would grab the mic, and the singer would be sitting at the drums, spinning a drumstick between his fingers. Whoever wrote the song, would sing the song, and the music was fantastic.
Crowd interaction was the icing on the cake. From a story about the band running into a random fan downtown, and getting invited over for dinner, to the bass player standing on an amp, taking aim with his bass guitar, and firing notes into the cheering crowd.
Walking out of the Canadian, I made the mistake of trying to talk with my friend about how great the show was. Turns out, that on this night of firsts, I also ended up with my first case of rock-induced tinnitus. The conversation sounded a lot like we were having it at the bottom of a lake, but I’m pretty sure he enjoyed the show as much as I did.
Instead of the usual scenario of me becoming a fan, buying albums, then searching out a live gig, Sloan won me over on the spot. In the following years, with every Sloan album that I picked up, I just appreciated them even more. As hard as it was to believe that they would play in my town back then, I have an even tougher time now, getting over the fact that one of my all-time favourite bands was my first ever concert experience.