Jul 3, 2012
by Jay Allen, CFCR Program Director
Similar to last year, Friday was the big day at Sled; for myself and my travel partners. Friday marked the day where CFCR was to host our second annual showcase of bands from Saskatoon at the Calgary fest. For the second consecutive time, it was to take place at the fabulous Tubby Dog hot dog restaurant, and we were super excited for it.
This year, we named the showcase “Peace From One Province East,” and brought another group of four bands to play: Foam Lake, Jeans Boots, Haunted Souls and Castle River.
We had booked an interview with University of Calgary radio station CJSW, and they had also invited Castle River down to play a set live on the air. So, CFCR Music Director Arnie and I got up bright and early to get to the U of C campus with time to spare. I called down to the hotel front desk to have Alfie (my minivan) brought out of parking by the valet service, which was a constantly amusing feature of the weekend, since Alfie is a ’93 Plymouth Voyager van. He’s in decent shape, but when he got stolen last winter, the ignition was wrecked so I have a small screwdriver in place of the key, which definitely enhanced the valet experience.
We arrived at CJSW’s studio and shot the shit with their staff & volunteers for a while before we were shown into the on-air booth for our interview. We could see through the glass into the recording studio that the Castle River boys were setting up.
After a quick on-air chat with host Dana, we threw it over to Castle River, who played a great three-song set, much to the delight of CJSW staff & volunteers, who collected in and around the studio for the performance. Castle River then joined us in the studio to talk more about the showcase and the music scene in Saskatoon.
After a quick stop at the hotel, we headed over to Tubby Dog to get an idea of when we could get set up. After seeing the Castle River dudes, we had touched base with all the bands playing our showcase… except Foam Lake. We had heard they were leaving Saskatoon very early in the morning to make it to Calgary in time to load gear into Tubby Dog, and that Jeans Boots guitarist Levi was going to be riding with them. So, I asked Jeans Boots bassist (and Slow Down, Molasses frontman (and my hotel roommate)) Tyson McShane to text Foam Lake’s Paul Ross to see where they were at. Expecting to hear that they were on the road nearing Calgary, Tyson got a response that they were at Tubby Dog already and had just seen Thurston Moore walk by!
Feeling much more relaxed about having all our bands in the right place, we arrived at Tubby Dog to get things set up.
Tubby Dog, for those who haven’t had a chance to check it out, is a really kitschy, stylish hot dog restaurant on 17th Ave SW, sort of on the western periphery of the “17th Ave Strip.” They have some of the most amazing and definitely messiest hot dogs you’ll ever eat. They have standard toppings like sauerkraut, bacon bits, chili, relish and mustard, as well as more out-there additions like potato chips, peanut butter & jam, Cap’n Crunch cereal, wasabi and fried eggs. They also host tonnes of shows there and never charge a cover. It’s a small-ish room, so it works great for showcases during Sled Island. We were really happy when we got Tubby as our venue last year, and were excited to have a repeat showing there this year.
First up was Foam Lake, who were minus one member (bassist Barrett Ross could not make the trip), but these guys are real pros and managed to put a set of their songs together that sounded really great as a three-piece, with their patented soaring vocals and driving rhythm.
Next was Jeans Boots, who put on an emphatic, spirited set of thoughtful singer-songwriter tunes, drenched in a thick, gooey layer of noisy pop. With a rotating cast of backing players, Jeanette Stewart (aka Jeans Boots) found a great mix of energy and precision with Tyson on bass, Levi on guitar and CFCR’s very own Arnie (AVL) on drums.
After Jeans Boots’ set, upstart punk rock band Haunted Souls took the Tubby Dog stage (read: an area of the floor cleared to barely house a band and its gear). This four-piece hasn’t been together too long, but they were chosen to be included on a compilation of Saskatoon bands put out by Mammoth Cave Recording Co. and have started to get noticed by the right people, hence their acceptance to Sled and CFCR's showcase.
Haunted Souls play classic garage punk rock, with gritty riffs and melodies in between singer Will Robbins’ battle yelps.
Last on the ticket was Castle River. These guys are a two-piece band that used to be called Father Figures. They play a mixture of indie rock, prog and blues, with intricate time-signature changes and vocal harmonies. And since they use multiple amps, their guitar sound is thick and juicy despite not having a bass in the mix.
Following the showcase, I took some time to devour a hot dog (I opted for the A-Bomb, which features bacon bits & potato chips as toppings) and a beer before looking at the schedule to figure out what to do next. One thing earlier on in the evening that interested me was Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore at the Theatre Junction Grand with opening act Yamantaka//Sonic Titan. After being turned away from Hot Snakes the night before, I was on high alert with the bigger venue-based shows, and this was a soft-seat theatre, so capacity would be even more limited. We lucked out and got to the door before they had even let people into the theatre. So we sat for a beer and waited for the floodgates to open. Despite being well back in line, we got great seats just a couple rows back, which worked great for me and my bum knee, since I didn’t have to get up to shoot photos.
First up was eclectic up-and-coming buzz band Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, a Montreal/Toronto band who fuse experimental music with performance art. YT//ST mix elements of proggy metal with weird Asian pop, percussive chanting and painted faces. After catching a portion of their show at Amigos in Saskatoon in May, I was looking forward to seeing a full set. And they did not disappoint. Sometimes their dense soundscapes almost lulled me to sleep, but it was definitely more of a hypnotic trance than a nap.
After YT//ST, the legendary Thurston Moore was up. I went outside to get some air, confirming that I would be able to get back in with my stamp, and went out to the rainy sidewalk. By this time, there was a lineup of hopeful people, so I decided not to push my luck and I just went back inside. However, in the three minutes that I was outside, the volunteers at the door got all confused and discombobulated, and there were some anxious moments before I was allowed back into the theatre. This is the difficulty of hosting a festival like Sled Island. Many of the shows are individually ticketed, so there has to be a lot of organization to make sure nobody gets short-changed, with all the full-festival, one-day and single show passes to keep track of, never mind the “VIP” folks that always try to get in at the last second (when I was waiting in line for Hot Snakes the night before, I heard the door guy say “Feist just showed up with like eight people at the back door”).
Finally back in my comfy seat, Thurston Moore took the stage (again, read: floor) to start his set. It was a very earnest and personable set, with awkward stage banter, forgotten chords and misplaced instruments. It was really cool to see such a legend of music in such an intimate environment.
I left a little bit early, as I was keen to get over to the Legion for California band Terry Malts. My lighter had just run out of fluid, so I asked a kind-looking dude on the street for a light. He reached into his pocket, pulled out two lighters, handed me one and said “Merry Christmas.” I thought it was good luck to hang on to a Bic lighter until it died without losing it or having it stolen, but then getting a free one from a random good samaritan? That was twice as nice.
The Legion was nowhere near capacity, which suited me just fine. I hobbled up to the stage to shoot some photos of Terry Malts, a San Francisco “chainsaw pop” trio who brought a much more punked up sound to their live show than what is heard on their album Killing Time.
The cool thing about the Legion #1 is that there is an upstairs and a downstairs, so after a band is finished on the main stage, you can head up the stairs to catch what’s going on there. The acts overlap, so you don’t get to hear the whole set, but it’s cool that you can constantly be hearing music if you so desire. I went outside for a minute, but could hear the sweet sounds of Night Beats, playing another set, this time in the smaller, upstairs venue.
Following Terry Malts on the main floor stage was Memphis/North Carolina garage rock band Reigning Sound, featuring former Oblivians & Compulsive Gamblers frontman Greg “Oblivian” Cartwright. For me, RS doesn’t live up to either of Cartwright’s former projects, but I’m a sucker for that garage sound, so I wasn’t running for the exit.
After Reigning Sound, I was starting to fade, so I put my camera away and found a seat for long enough to check out a couple tunes by Canadian punk stalwarts Nomeansno, who are always a treat and in this case were a great end to the night.
Check back very soon for more coverage of the Sled Island festival right here at CFCR.ca!
All photos (c) 2012 Jason Allen