Keyboard Scribblings by Peter Grier (host of The Owls Are Not What They Seem, Tuesdays 11pm-12am), Photo Snaps by Peter Grier & Brendan Flaherty
My Sled experience started Tuesday night in Saskatoon at a late night house show with Victoria’s Island Eyes. They played a breezy Wolf Parade-infused set after Psychic Pollution contaminated heads with tangerine John Carpenter dreams. I felt the plight of the touring musician playing late night shows. Knowing the Victoria guys had to be in Calgary for Sled by 3pm made my 9am departure less daunting, despite being up till sunrise on the solstice.
Day 1 (Wednesday, June 21):
After a sleepy drive with a couple members of The Avulsions, we arrived in Calgary in time to pick up passes and for me to meet up with my hosts Kev and Jayne.
I got to the Central United Church just as Faith Healer were packing up, but I didn’t let that bum me out, as that’s the nature of this festival beast, and because the main act I was excited for at this show was up right away. Weyes Blood from California took the congregation with just the right recipe of pure presence and bold humor. She did the classic acoustic folk bit as well as lounge-sing-along, with a cassette of prerecorded organ and backup vocals. This went well with a K-Mart Karaoke cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.” Next, Low took the altar with their minimal but dynamic folk rock which blew me into a Midwest daydream haze. But they were in no way a “soft rock” band, as the power of Steve Garrington’s bass rattled the church walls.
After the dust of them angels settled, I headed straight to the Palomino basement for the legendary Simply Saucer. I didn’t let Blu-Shorts terror-demon screams send me straight to hell, but they were a refreshing flip of the coin after the church concert. Buds The Avulsions were great to see play for a different audience as they now a have cult growing in Calgary. Simply Saucer wowed us all with their genuine joy of playing together again after all these years. Rock rides again!
Day 2 (Thursday, June 22):
After a very long sleep, I tried to get a bike but no one rented at the shops nearby. So I fixed my blues with book and record store shopping.
After a fantastic BBQ (don’t get me started on the many side dishes!) with Saskatoon ex-pat pals, Kev and I walked to Studio Bell at The National Music Center for Dedekind Cut and were zoned in by ambient drones and tones only to be interjected with aleatoric jabs of sound which kept us from drifting off too far. After a brief “Hoo boy, whatta show,” Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith began her earthly electronica. All the sounds she produced sounded like living creatures crawling in the night. Even from high up in the rafter seats at the NMC I could see she was very actively triggering samples, adjusting levels, and tweaking effects, all while singing and creating vibrant rhythms. Likewise, the
live projections mirrored the synthetically organic tones Smith produced with visuals of over saturated brightly-coloured objects floating in the dark. It was the most amiable cyborg experience one could have!
Next, I met up with The Avulsions’ Josh and Sam to walk to the Nite Owl, a cute book-filled pub, for an end-of-the-night set by Calgary’s Lab Coast. Though I was very tired, I was happily satisfied with their baby-bear porridge of indie rock. Not too hot, not too bland, but filled me up so good. Despite that, I still had enough room to pick up a slice of pizza on the walk back home.
Day 3 (Friday, June 23):
After eating at a Harley Davidson-themed dinner, which felt like a greasers-only A&W, Kevin and I went to the mythic Recordland for some claustrophobic fun!
We made it to the CFCR showcase at Tubby Dog just in time for the tail end of Ponteix’s set, and a brief chat with the band before they sped off to the airport for their Whitehorse gig. Up next were The Garrys! It was a treat to see them play before a
crowd festival folk, many who were seeing the doom-wop trio for the first time. Part way through Man Meat’s raucous set I was getting the woozy-sleepies and, weighing my options, eventually decided to sneak away for a mid-day nap (apologies to both Man Meat and Shooting Guns, I heard y’all rocked the house).
Fully recharged, I strolled down to the Local 510 parking lot tent for Gary’s House (editor's note: This is not the house where the members of The Garrys live), fronted by Edmonton ex-pat Garret Johnson and a crew of his buddies. Their set was relaxed jangle with Garrett on acoustic guitar and less rambunctious than his previous project Brazilian Money.
Then, I met up with fellow CFCR bloke Brendan Flaherty to check out the comedy show. We arrived in time for headliners Brent Weinbach and Aparna Nancherla who had us on the verge of fainting from laughed-out loss of breath.
Kevin lent me his bike so I raced to Broken City for another Avulsions set hot off the press of their new Split-7” with Mauno for the Flemish Eye showcase. Great as always. Can’t wait for that album! Up next was one of my most anticipated acts, Montreal/Calgary’s Un Blonde. Led by Jean-Sebastien Gaudet on keys, vocals and guitar they played a super soulful set. Loose and free, yet in control. This is a new groove I highly recommend.
Then I zoomed back to Legion to catch Shonen Knife. After only a 10-minute wait with Gan a.k.a. respectfulchild, we were in the happiest show I’ve been to in a long time. Nothing better than dancing away to hits like “Bear Up Bison” and head banging to “Antonio Baka Guy” in the encore.
Day 4 (Saturday, June 24):
Saturday was hangover day but after a long sleep I made myself go to the Central Memorial Park for some cloud-busting and sun-soaking. I arrived just in time for Vancouver’s Fake Tears playing moody electro-pop, followed by Edmonton’s Jom Comyn play Supper-era Smog-style tunes. Next, Supermoon mirrored the sunshine with their Vancouver twee-pop janglings.
After learning from my nap mistake of the day before, I stayed awake and pal’ed up at the Palomino for some grub, and checked out Toronto’s PONY, who kept it bright playing teen-angst power-pop. It made me feel like I was in an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and I loved it. Me and Palomino pal Ryan made sure we wouldn’t miss Thor and Friends back at the old Mugatu’s Lair NMC.
We limped down just in time for Calgary’s Foonyap, whose haunting songs of live violin and vocal loops chilled us into our seats. The night only got chillier with the intensity of ANAMAI, a duo of HSY’s Anna Mayberry and David Psutka a.k.a. Egyptrixx. The stark folk songs were augmented by Psutka’s doom metal guitar sludge and synth pulses, filling the room like dirt on a coffin. It was definitely the most moving performance of the festival. Then, Thor Harris and Friends took the stage to play bouncing Steve Reich-esque compositions. There was plenty room for improvisation, and Thor invited many musicians who were playing the festival to join. The mallet instruments of the core trio were complimented by synths, French horn, double bass and opening act Foonyap on violin. Thor kept us entertained with friendly banter of memories of the 2013 flood when he played the festival with Swans.
Post-show I had to say bye to Ryan and speed down to the Palace Theatre for festival curator and headlining act extraordinaire Flying Lotus!! The one thing about showing up later for shows is it’s hard to find your pals, meaning I was stuck alone in a poutine of sweaty dudes. Then the show began, with a blast of electricity. Double-layered videos of alchemic symbols, melting cartoons, freaky 3D stuff and morphing abstractions filled the theatre. I don’t like using the word “trippy,” but this was a trip like no other; premium, modern psychedelia at its most extreme. The shifting beats and samples always kept us on our toes and could have very easily slipped off into dubstep territory, but Steven Ellison is classier than that. Gan saved the day again by finding me in the crowd and going in to the pit just in time for Ellison to come out from behind the video screen to hype up the crowd with his Captain Murphy rap persona and pumped the crowd to hot air balloon levels. After a few more tracks, Ellison gave a final thanks to the festival with all his sincerity. After a mind-roller-coaster like this, all I could do was head back to my friends’ apartment and gush guts over how there were no words for a show like that. Then, it was time for late night grilled cheese and sleep for the early drive home the next day.
All words (c) 2017 Peter Grier. Photos: Weyes Blood (1), Simply Saucer Photo/GIF (3) (c) 2017 Brendan Flaherty; The Avulsions (2), Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (4), The Garrys (5), Gary's House (6), Un Blonde (7), Shonen Knife (8), Thor And Friends (9), Flying Lotus (10) (c) 2017 Peter Grier.