Writing & Picturing by Jay Allen (CFCR Program Director and co-host of Pirate Radio, Thursdays 7:30-9pm)
Well, another Sled Island Festival is in the books. I think I've said it before, but going to Sled Island in Calgary every June really is like going to a home (600+km) away from home. Everything is familiar. The city (or at least the centre of the city) is alive with activity and music. Calgary's local music scene is out in full-force, and band-folk & festival attendees fill every bar stool and patio table around.
This year was a bit different for a couple of reasons. Namely, the omission of Olympic Plaza as the festival's "Main Stage." For me, this move made sense, as it usually rains for at least part of the weekend, and there's just something so impersonal about seeing a band, no matter how great that band, in an open, concrete slab.
It also made sense to forego the hassle of setting up Olympic Plaza this time around, because there wasn't really much in lineup this year that would have necessitated such a large-capacity venue. That's not to say there weren't a bunch of awesome acts, it's just that most of them were a bit more of a niche-audience thing, at least partially due to this year's enigmatic artist curator, Flying Lotus. I can't say I'm a fan, or very knowledgable in Flying Lotus' music, but having him curate defintely lent a certain nichey artistic/musical skew to portions of the festival, which I'm all for, even if it's not my thing (or if I just don't know that it's my thing yet).
So, without Olympic Plaza, it was all clubs, bars, theatres, Legions, and hot dog restaurants for this Sled Island, and that suits me just fine. There were a few tough decisions to make as far as what shows to see, and I definitely missed some that I already regret (Hailu Mergia), but overall I managed to see the shows I knew I wanted to see (Simply Saucer, Meatbodies), and caught a few things I had never heard of before that I ended up really liking (Steal Shit Do Drugs).
Here's what I saw on the first couple nights of the festival:
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Les Filles de Illighadad (@ The King Eddy)
I don't know if this makes me a "hipster" or not, but I've really been into African music lately. It was sparked about 5 years ago, when I saw Tuareg guitarist Bombino perform, and has got me looking at the history of African "pop" music (rock, funk, soul, jazz), as well as looking for artists making music today. I got to see Mdou Moctar at Sled a few years ago, and this year they had a couple African acts in Hailu Mergia, as well as Les Filles de Illighadad. This band of Tuareg women (and one fella) have been receiving increased attention in North America since being picked up by Portland label/project Sahel Sounds. They mix traditional rural African sounds with electric guitars to create a mesmerizing and enchanting live show. They played at the recently rebuilt and reopened King Eddy venue at the new National Music Centre, which was packed when I arrived (though luckily, someone left shortly so I got in just after they started). My favourite part about this show was how the percussion was set up. What appeared to be a wooden ball/orb was floating in a plastic storage bin filled with water, and then struck with a mallet, creating that beautiful, deep and fluid sound that is characteristic of a lot of Southwest Asian and African music.
The Avulsions (@ The Palomino (Downstairs))
This Saskatoon band is hot off the heels of a tour of the UK/Europe, and have a long-awaited debut full-length album in the works. The Avulsions were the lucky (and very deserving) recipients of the supporting slot for Simply Saucer, which was one of my most anticipated bands to see. They put on a great show of jagged post-punk/new wave, which was somehow both melancholic and frantic at the same time, though now as I'm typing, maybe that's the essence of post-punk/new wave.
Simply Saucer (@ The Palomino (Downstairs))
If you know me at all, you'll know I love to talk up and talk about Simply Saucer. This Hamilton band was originally around in the mid-1970s, playing their freaky proto-punk space music. They never put out their own album, but the legend of the Saucer grew to a point where a posthumous release called Cyborgs Revisited was released in 1989 (and reissued in 2003, and is about to be reissued again by In The Red Records), and they have also released a couple other releases of other demos/live recordings (Reckless Agitation EP, Saucerland 2xLP), as well as a couple releases of new material (Half Human/Half Live, Baby Nova). They recently reformed with two original members (Singer/guitarist Edgar Breau & bassist Kevin Christoff), as well as Killjoys guitarist Mike Trebilcock, Colina Phillips on synth/vocals, Ed Roth on keys, and Sled Island fixture Jesse Locke on drums. Jesse has played with a variety of bands at Sled, and this year was playing with Simply Saucer and Tough Age, and he also just wrote a book on Simply Saucer called Heavy Mettaloid Music, which you should read.
The Saucer put on a solid show, full of many of my favourite tunes of theirs, and Edgar Breau still has some great guitar chops. The two songs they really nailed in my opinion were "Nazi Apocalypse" and "Illegal Bodies." Total freak-out bliss.
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Thursday was started by venturing up to the University of Calgary for a radio interview with CJSW's Adam Kamis (Adam has had us on for interviews to promote our Saskatoon Showcase at Sled Island so many times, he's an honourary CFCR host!), on his program The Failed Pilot/Co-Pilot. Once again, CFCR Music Director Arnie and I joined Adam on the air, where we talked about the Showcase, as well as a bunch of other nonsense. One of the great things about going to other community/campus radio stations is finding out the hot tips about what to check out at the festival. A couple bands came up in the conversation with Adam that I immediately knew I couldn't miss. But more on that in a minute...
Walrus (@ Broken City (Patio))
I've enjoyed this Halifax band for a while, and was very happy to get to see them play live finally. Walrus' bouncy, breezy pop evokes notes of The Byrds & The Beechwood Sparks, filtered through that east-coast CanCon sound, and was a perfect soundtrack for a beautiful early-summer evening, up on the patio of Broken City. Their new album Family Hangover was recorded by Charles Austin from Superfriendz and mixed by Ian McGettigan from Thrush Hermit, and will very likely appear on my list of favourite albums of 2017.
Steal Shit Do Drugs (@ Ship & Anchor)
This was one of those beautiful "Sled Moments," where I heard about a band (in this case, from my pal Adam at CJSW), checked them out that day, and had that show be one of the highlights of the Festival. The band in question was Seattle, Washington's Steal Shit Do Drugs. I had never heard of them before (though their name definitely jumped off the Festival Schedule pages), so when I got the recommendation to check them out, I knew I couldn't miss it. Steal Shit Do Drugs are sort of like an off-kilter, garage-y Stooges, with janky guitars & a chugging back beat, fronted by the flamboyant & flagrant stylings of Kennedy Carda. Complete with a certain level of on-stage bravado, Steal Shit Do Drugs put on a captivating and primal rock and roll show, which was a lot of fun to see.
On the way back to the hotel, I stopped in to the newly re-minted Palace Theatre (It was called "Flames Central" for a few years. I mean, I'm a Calgary Flames fan and all, but it was a like painting a '64 Thunderbird with a purple highlighter) to check out a bit of Wavves' set. They play solid garage rock/power pop, and I definitely listened to them a few years ago, but I think I just wasn't into it at that particular moment, so I didn't make the push through the crowd to get photos. I guess it makes sense considering the band's name, but it's possible there was just a bit too much crowd-surfing for my increasingly refined (read: "aging") tastes.
Stay tuned for my Friday & Saturday coverage coming soon!
All words & photos (c) 2017 Jay Allen.