Sled Island 2010: A Bicycle Odyssey by Tyson McShane

Having won a ticket last minute to Sled Island and having not booked the time off, I wasn’t able to arrive in Calgary until Thursday afternoon. To make up for it this, I came completely prepared for the venue-based festival spread across Calgary’s downtown: I brought my bike! Having distinct memories of watching the clock during Mogwai’s set at Sled a couple years ago, then sprinting to get into a nearly sold out show at The Legion a half dozen blocks away, I wanted the freedom to hit many, many venues in a night, without having to skip out midway through a band’s set. What better way than my trusty bicycle?

Arriving in Calgary Thursday afternoon, according to the schedule literally minutes after Saskatoon psych-pop heroes Feral Children were to have finished their set, I texted CFCR main-man Jay Allen and Vive Music’s younger half, Rich Taylor, to see what was up. My first stroke of good luck: Feral started late. Off to Tubby Dog for dinner (if you hadn’t tried the A-Bomb (the ultimate hot dog) at Tubby Dog, make it a priority next time you pass through Calgary) and the end of Feral Children’s set.

It’s always great getting to see home town bands in other cities. Sometimes it is easy to start taking for granted a band you see every couple months, so it was great to see Feral Children playing to a packed crowd off and see the crowd loving it. Seriously, if you haven’t experienced the new full band version of Feral Children, go see them soon! Such a great mix of heavy, droning beats & bass, psyched out guitars and reverb drenched vocals.

Feral Children

With Feral finished and me full, it was back on my bike to hit up Central United Church and a set by Athens, Ohio band Southeast Engine. I hadn’t heard of the band before seeing them on the Sled Island schedule, but after hearing a couple songs and knowing they are on classic American indie-folk label Misra Records, I figured they were worth checking out. The band treads the same territory as many of the White Whale Records bands (Octoberman, the Mohawk Lodge) and takes some heavy influence from The Band. It wasn’t the most amazing set I’ve seen, but definitely alright stuff and they put on a nice chill show, which gave me a chance to plan my next move.

Next on the list was for Friendo at the Distillery. If you haven’t heard Friendo and you dig noisey, early 90s indie rock, you will likely hear of them soon, and you should likely listen up. Featuring Mike Wallace (drummer for Women) on guitar, the band definitely share a love of jagged rhythm with his other band, but distilled down into a more melodic Sonic Youth-ish slacker, two guitar & drums sound. Great stuff and they put on a wicked show. Check them out.

Hyped up on some noisy 90s indie rock jams, I was excited for more, and despite everyone I knew in town getting prepped to see Sleepy Sun in a planetarium, I was up for more melodic noisiness. So, it was back to Tubby Dog to see Halifax-based Cousins. Cousins mine the classic 90s East Coast sound that makes Halifax a nostalgic mecca for anyone who grew up on Canadian indie rock, and they do it damn well. Backed by two drummers (recruited in Calgary a couple days prior), Aaron Mangle (aka Cousins) ploughed through a batch of finely crafted, noisy slacker rock anthems. It was occasionally a bit sloppy due to the drummers being recently recruited, but with the kind of songs Aaron plays, a bit of sloppiness just adds to the charm.

Finally having seen four bands in three venues, it was time to finish off the night at the Republik for what was set to be one of the shows of the festival: Women, The Posies & Deerhoof. I arrived at the Republik half way through Women’s first song to see the place packed. Women are one of those weird, perfect bands that can marry completely off the wall kraut-noise workouts with the crazily catchy minimal pop hooks. As a result, sound techs don’t seem to always know what to do with them, sometimes burying the noise and leaving the songs feeling a bit naked in a live setting. That wasn’t the case at the Republik, the set was one of the loudest I’d seen them play as they worked through songs from their newly released sophomore album, Public Strain, and ‘classics’ from their self-titled debut.

Following Women, The Posies set up. I’d heard of the Posies, I knew the names of some of the members and knew of their impressive pedigree, but I hadn’t heard almost any of their music. They’ve played in R.E.M and they were part of the last incarnation of Big Star….so you know there has to be something to them. Unfortunately, not many people thought they deserved a listen and most of the crowd cleared out. It was their loss, as they missed out on a classic power-pop show. Sure it might not have been as edgy or “cool” as Women or Deerhoof, but if you’ve ever dug a Teenaged Fanclub album, you’d dig The Posies’ classic fuzzy power-pop. I really can’t believe more of these songs weren’t/aren’t classic indie hits.

With The Posies finishing up, the room filled to capacity in anticipation for Deerhoof. Apparently they blew a few minds the night before at Central United Church, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the crowd rush in to fill the space in front of the stage. Matt Flegel of Women had said from the stage that Deerhoof are the best band in the world and they pretty much make every other band look like a joke… some solid praise from someone who seems to know his way around making pretty great music. With all four members of the band set up across the front of the stage, looking like the furthest thing from an over-serious art-rock band, they launched into one of the most bizarre, charming and overall mind-blowing sets I’ve seen. The band cycled through odd chord changes and random, spazzy time signatures as if they were casually playing three-chord punk rock. Then, randomly, they threw in a Ramones cover to make sure everyone knew that three-chord punk rock was easily the equivalent of their bizarre art-rock. All the while they looked like they were having as much fun as anyone in the crowd and making their strange songs sound like they could be perfect pop anthems from another world. It was a nice way to end the first night of a marathon three days of music.

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All photos (c) 2010 Jason Allen