Pete Yorn, Named By His Parents, And Sloan, Named After A Brand Of Auto-flush Toilets, Hit The Road Together
et’s face it, kids—guitar rock is back. No longer are debates such as the Backstreet Boys vs. *NSYNC, or Britney vs. Christina dominating the U.S. pop landscape. (And by the way, shame on you if you are over the age of 16 and were even remotely involved in such disputes!) No, America is now contemplating more significant issues—issues that really matter—such as The Strokes vs. The Hives (while I’m certain that Meg White could kick their collective asses with nothing more than a single drumstick). Sloan and Pete Yorn are two artists gaining momentum in both the U.S. and abroad, and they are likely to be topics of future deliberations such as The Pernice Brothers vs. Sloan for example, or maybe Ryan Adams vs. Pete Yorn. (I wonder where Winona Ryder stands on this one?)
Sloan is a Canadian quartet. I mention this merely because it is widespread journalistic procedure to note when an artist is Canadian. In fact, I’m not sure if it is actually legal to write about Sloan without mentioning that they are from Canada—Nova Scotia originally—where they are akin to superstars rather than cult favorites as in the U.S. The group (did I mention they formed in Halifax?), which features original members Jay Ferguson (not of “Thunder Island” fame), Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, and Andrew Scott, are living out their rock ‘n’ roll fantasy, if you will. For six albums over 10 years, they have been dispensing their consistently reliable brand of Beatlesque pop. Like so many other bands that are critically acclaimed but commercially marginal, they’ve bounced from record label to record label, alternating between their own Murderecords and a stint with DGC during the mid-‘90s alternative heyday. Most recently, their latest album, Pretty Together, was picked up and re-released by RCA after originally being put out on Murder. (Perhaps their coupling of horn-rimmed glasses with retro-riffage caused an exec at RCA to speculate that they might be the next Weezer.)
As I approached Boston’s Landsdowne Street on this evening, I too envisioned my own rock ‘n’ roll fantasy, albeit a rather leisurely one: simply that Sloan would open their set with the supercharged rave-up “If It Feels Good Do It”, which is also the first single from Pretty Together. Within the first thirty seconds of the song, they poke fun at Bon Jovi with a so-cheesy-it’s-cool working class salute (“This song is dedicated to you, ‘cause this song for people who know what rock ‘n’ roll is about”), then step back a decade to briefly pay homage to Aerosmith, all before a frivolous and fuzzy guitar burst jumpstarts the best anthem that Cheap Trick never wrote. You’ve heard of cock rock—please allow Sloan to introduce you to “mock rock.”
Fortunately, Sloan is all too aware of just how perfect a show opener this song is, and they heeded my call. Looking like extras fresh from the set of Dazed and Confused, Sloan proceeded to open their show by tearing into this tasty chunk o’ power-pop. Despite my concerns of the band having nowhere to go but down after this marvelous number, they continued to impress throughout most of the evening with a set that drew heavily from Pretty Together in addition to sporadically visiting their back catalog from Smeared up to Between the Bridges. What is unfortunate is that Sloan’s every attempt to mock ‘70s kitsch doesn’t come off as quite so successful, such as on “Pick It Up and Dial It”, a Kiss-like blast of unmelodic sludge which is not even as catchy as Kiss’ “Lick It Up”. However, the band showed that there is much more to Sloan than mocking and/or paying homage (at times they walk such a fine line, it’s difficult to tell the difference) to ‘70s rock icons. More poignant songs such as “The Other Man” and “Dreaming of You” further exemplify the entire embodiment of Sloan, who after a decade of keeping it “pretty together,” continue to mine some of the finest gold sounds committed to source tape.
Don’t accuse Pete Yorn of being a loafer, as he was visiting Boston for what at my count is the fourth time in support of his well-received debut album, musicforthemorningafter. For the many who have been fortunate enough to catch Yorn in a smaller-sized club venue on his seemingly endless tour schedule, consider yourselves lucky, because the secret is now out. If Yorn can avoid the infamous sophomore slump, he appears poised for superstardom, which will likely mean larger venues than what you may have grown accustomed.
As proof of Yorn’s rising popularity, I offer that a friend of mine who owns a fairly large CD collection, but one which contains nothing actually released in this millennium, just purchased musicforthemorningafter now that’s what I call market penetration! (Incidentally, he actually played the accompanying bonus CD first, seeing how he was more interested in hearing Yorn’s take on Bruce Springsteen’s “New York City Serenade” than his original material.) Besides a truckload of talent, what makes Yorn popular in so many different circles is that he is not really associated with any musical genre or scene in particular, capably straddling indie rock, folk, classic rock, and Brit-pop in a way that seems to welcome a wide variety of fans without turning too many genre loyalists off.
Perhaps inspired by Sloan’s high energy set, Yorn and his crack band came out with two brisk rockers from his debut LP, opening with “Life on a Chain” followed by the stellar “Black”, possibly his best song to date. Yorn and company efficiently and effectively worked their way through most of music, mixing things up with a few now standard covers such as their punk rock version of Bowie’s “China Girl” and the Smith’s “Panic”.
The only Yorn-penned song that he and the band played that wasn’t on music was “Knew Enough to Know Nothing at All”, a rootsy pop song in the vein of his other hit, “Strange Condition”, which is available as an import. As the set concluded with another crowd-pleaser, “Murray”, I couldn’t help but think that it was peculiar for an artist who has both another album that will likely be released this year (Pete Yorn, which was actually recorded prior to his debut release) and several new songs reportedly already recorded for what will be his third album, not to want to give the sold out club a sneak preview of things to come. Regardless of this slightly derivative set list for the evening, Yorn’s performance only substantiated the buzz that has surrounded him for the better part of the last year.