by Jay Allen, CFCR Program Director
The final official day at Sled Island 2012 was kind of a strange one. In past years, I’d spent Saturday afternoon record shopping, followed by an evening of venue-hopping, checking out as many bands as possible. This year, I had but one thing in mind: being at the front of the stage for Archers of Loaf at the end of the night’s bill at The Republik.
Of course, I still had to do some record shopping, so after hitting some of Calgary’s hotspots like The Inner Sleeve, Melodiya and Sloth, CFCR Music Director Arnie and I headed over to The Palomino, where Calgary label Saved By Radio/Vinyl was holding their showcase. Saskatoon’s Foam Lake was on the bill, which was incentive enough to attend, but in all honesty, it was the free BBQ that really had us following our noses to the downtown smokehouse/rock venue.
Like last year, the Saved By showcase was upstairs in the restaurant portion of The Palomino, and people were crowding in as we arrived to see the last bit of Foam Lake’s set. We chowed down on some pulled pork, BBQ ribs, corn and fries while Calgary’s Miesha & The Spanks rocked out, and by the time I came out of my food coma, I managed to check out and snap a couple photos of Halifax duo Cousins. Cousins’ latest album The Palm At The End Of The Mind deftly combines garage rock and lo-fi echo pop and is one of my favourite Canadian releases so far this year.
After Cousins, Arnie and I, along with Jeanette “Jeans Boots” Stewart, headed out into drizzly downtown, towards the Calgary Tower, which was the very romantic home of Sled-quarters, the festival’s administrative hub. Despite the long wait for and ride on the elevator, having the artist/sponsor lounge at the top of such an iconic landmark was decidedly cool.
After checking out the sights from the tower (it’s crazy to think that the Calgary Tower, now dwarfed by several buildings in Calgary’s core, used to be the tallest structure in the city), and taking some photos out the window and of Arnie and Jeanette (“Use your good camera,” Arnie said to me. “No, not that big one with all the lenses, your iPhone camera!”), we headed up the last flight of stairs to the lounge, where we enjoyed some beverages and had a nice sit.
It was at this point that I started to think about getting to The Republik for what was for me, the show of the festival: Archers of Loaf. This Chapel Hill, North Carolina band was around in the mid- to late-90s and was really pivotal for me at the time when I was discovering “indie rock,” back when those words actually meant “indie”-pendent and “rock”-and roll (not to sound like an old curmudgeon.. which I am). Archers combine punk with angular college rock, while never letting melody stray too far away. After a long hiatus, they have reformed and are playing a bunch of festival dates booked over the summer.
Vancouver pop-punk band Needles//Pins were scheduled to kick off the night at The Repbulik, so I was looking forward to hitting the venue nice and early. Needles//Pins are putting out some really solid classic poppy punk, a la Teenage Head (they even cover “Picture My Face” on a recent 7”), and have a brand new album called 12:34 on Lethbridge label Mammoth Cave.
After Needles//Pins, I had to take a break from standing, so I found a spot to rest my injured knee. I had a nice chat with Adam from Needles//Pins for a while and then just hung out while Camp Radio played their set. Once they were finished I decided it was time to start staking my claim by the stage, so I lugged my camera gear over to one of the corners of the stage while Bend Sinister started their set of piano-prog-pop.
My anticipation levels were getting very high by this point, which can often result in crippling disappointment, so I was a bit anxious about how the Archers of Loaf set was going to go. However, as soon as they took the stage and hit note one, all my worries flew out the window as I was reduced to a giggling, smiling, top-of-my-lungs singing, giddy little school child for the next hour and change. While this behaviour might sometimes have me feeling a little self-conscious, I quickly realized that I was among friends. Looking around the crowd, I could see several other 30-something bearded dudes and tattooed girls, with pin- and patch-covered jackets of both jean and leather, belting out Archers favourites like “Web In Front,” “Fabricoh” and “You And Me.” They played selections from all their major releases, even a couple from their last album White Trash Heroes, much to Arnie’s delight.
Between songs, front man Eric Bachmann told the story of how a bunch of their luggage and equipment was “misplaced” by the airline when they arrived in Calgary. Left without a keyboard, the band decided to download an app for their iPad so Bachmann could use it to perform the keys for White Trash Heroes slow-burner “Dead Red Eyes.” It was actually pretty amazing how close to the record it sounded.
After the last song of the encore, folks started flooding out of the venue. I nabbed a copy of their set list and had the band sign it, something I really don’t do often. I think I just didn’t want to leave the venue, since that would accept that the whole thing was over.
Sled Island 2012 was a smash hit for me. Even though it may have seemed like a slower year on paper, I got to see some great bands that I knew, that I didn’t know, and that I never thought I’d get to see. And once again, expectations soar high for next year. See you there.
All photos (c) 2012 Jason Allen