by Jay Allen, CFCR Program Director & host of Pirate Radio (Thursdays, 7:30-9pm)
At this point, Sled Island is like my second home. This was my fifth time to the Calgary music & arts festival, and everything felt really familiar, from the six-hour drive from Saskatoon, to the downtown traffic upon arrival. I get to see people, places and things that I only see that magical weekend in June; I get to eat and drink things that are special to Calgary. The bands change from year-to-year, but everything still feels the same. Last year was a bust, with the majority of the festival getting flooded out. Despite some threatening weather and artist cancellations, this year’s festival managed to go from start-to-finish without any major roadblocks.
Once again, I brought my bicycle to Calgary for Sled, a practice I highly recommend to any prospective festival attendee. It means you can get from one venue to another in the blink of an eye and not risk blisters or shin splints. The downside is that you sometimes end up doing more running around and less hanging out at one venue, discovering new bands. Despite my penchant for pedaling this year, I still caught some new-to-me bands that I really dug, as well as some old favourites and bands I was excited to see.
Calgary’s Fist City are one of my favourite Canadian bands to see live. Their jittery, high energy punk rock is embodied by singer/guitarist Kier, who, though short in stature, is a huge presence on stage. I saw them play in Saskatoon a little while ago and Kier ended their set by vomiting on the floor of Beaumont Film & Record. Nothing quite so dramatic took place at The Legion, but it was still a great show.
Bass Drum Of Death are a band out of Oxford, Mississippi and released their debut record on their hometown label, Fat Possum. Their self-titled follow-up record came out about a year ago on Innovative Leisure. They play boisterous garage rock, filtered through their southern roots; a blend of Jay Reatard, Wavves & Ty Segall.
Vancouver band Zen Mystery Fogg literally stopped me in my tracks on the way to see their fellow Vancouverites Dead Ghosts. I walked into the Palomino on my way to their main basement venue and was compelled to stay upstairs to check out the end of ZMF’s set. And when they announced that they were giving their 7″ record out for free, they confirmed my spot in their fan club. Dead Ghosts were great as well, but it’s always nice to be taken by surprise. Calgary’s Divepool & The Pygmies started things off for Dead Ghosts. I missed Portland’s The Shivas, which was one of several tiny regrets that undoubtedly happen during a multi-venue festival like Sled.
Victoria-based duo The Backhomes set up shop under a tent in the parking lot of The Local 510 bar on 17th Ave SW. They sing and play guitar & harmonica over pre-programmed synth-psych tracks, a little bit like US band Moon Duo, who played Sled a few years back. Calgary’s Devonian Gardens also played the parking lot party, bringing their trippy freak-out jams into the mix.
I couldn’t resist going to see Saskatoon’s Powder Blue, who were opening at The Commonwealth as part of the Thursday night Chelsea Wolfe bill. I was glad to see a decent-sized crowd for their set, and a swarm of people heading to the merch table after they were finished. It also got me more excited for CFCR’s showcase the following day (more on that in a sec).
Another band from Vancouver that I had heard previous to the festival and was excited to see was Tough Age. Their self-titled, catchy-as-all-hell album has been in my regular rotation since its release on Mint Records. They ruled The Bamboo on the Thursday night of Sled, with a set of frenetic, surf-y garage-punk. At one point, singer/guitarist Jarrett K walked out the front door of the venue mid-song, with his guitar still strapped on. Presumably he just wanted to get some fresh air, and he didn’t skip a beat in the process… Well, maybe one or two beats, but it was totally worth it.
Thursday night finished off with a set by Vancouver/LA band White Lung. The band absolutely destroyed Dickens Pub with their air-tight, ferocious punk rock. It was a bit anti-climatic because it got started late, but the music made up for the delay. See the fire and ice of lead singer Mish Way below…
CFCR once again hosted a showcase of bands from Saskatoon at Sled Island, with the help of SaskMusic, on Friday, June 20th at Tubby Dog. This year’s lineup featured the noise-gazing tones of The Moas, the dreamy space rock of Powder Blue, the quirky pop jams of Caves and the ear-rupturing stringed assault of Shooting Guns. The bands rocked, hot dogs were consumed (hell, hot dogs were even used as drumsticks!), minds were melted, blown and reanimated… it was a real good time.
I heard about Seattle’s La Luz a while back, after they were involved in a pretty horrific tour van accident. I was glad to see that they had recovered from their physical (and no doubt, mental) injuries enough to make it to Calgary for Sled. They were one member down, but still put on a great set of surf-soaked songs just before Shannon & The Clams at the eastern-most venue in Sled’s schedule, The Golden Age Club.
I first heard Edmonton’s Betrayers when we received their album Let The Good Times Die at CFCR. I hadn’t gotten to see them live before, so I was excited to check them out as part of Local 510’s “Hangover Breakfast” on Saturday afternoon. Two drummers, low & lazy shoegaze vocals, lots of reverb & jangly guitars, Betrayers have really got it all.
I also checked out another Alberta band called The Yeah Dads on the recommendation of Shooting Guns guitarist Chris Laramee. The Lethbridge band was playing a Saturday afternoon set upstairs at the Palomino, so I pedaled down to check it out. I think they’re still a pretty new band, but they’ve got a different sound than a lot of the ‘garage-rock’ that is prevalent these days, fusing sounds of The Stooges & 70s glam into their music.
Another band I heard recorded but never seen live was Halifax trio Crosss (apparently, the extra ‘s’ makes it ‘Crosses’). I actually managed to catch Crosss twice on Saturday, as they played at Tubby Dog as well as The Golden Age Club. Drummer Nathan Doucet was also supposed to play with Heaven For Real at Tubby Dog shortly before Crosss’ Golden Age Club set, so he and I discussed if it was possible over a hot dog at Tubby. Not sure how he did it, but he was there (in different clothes no less!) for the later Crosss set at The Golden Age Club, and they jammed out another great set just before Sudbury, ON’s Strange Attractor. Crosss play a sort of haunted doom-pop, full of pounding drum & bass lines, and heavy guitar riffs and trippy vocals by frontman Andy March.
Crosss (Saturday, June 21 at Tubby Dog)
One of the bands I was most excited to see was So-Cal legends Rocket From The Crypt. My plan was to arrive at Olympic Plaza (Sled’s main stage and only outdoor venue) early enough to get into the photographer’s area to get some sweet shots of this band I fell in love with in high school in the 90s. However, I got caught up in a conversation on the nature and social importance of radio with some old pals & new friends, and I didn’t realize what time it was until RFTC had just gone on! So I rushed to the venue and still really enjoyed their set of horn-laden power-pop/punk. I didn’t exactly get any sweet shots, but it’s better than nothing…
The night and the festival were capped off with a set by New York band (The) Obits at, who were a last-minute addition to the lineup after curator Kathleen Hannah and her band The Julie Ruin had to cancel. Obits features Rick Froberg from Hot Snakes, Pitchfork & Drive Like Jehu, and they were the perfect raucous end to this year’s Sled Island at maybe the festival’s most iconic venue, The #1 Royal Canadian Legion.
Another successful Sled in the bag. See you again next year, Calgary.
All photos (c) 2014 Jay Allen. Photos may not be used without permission.