Day two of Sled Island began auspiciously for me. There weren’t any bands in particular that I was dying to see so I was essentially open to anything. My friend recommended Zola Jesus, so I made my way to Central United Church (the venue I missed getting into on day one).
Pierre Laporte was just finishing up when I entered the venue. I couldn’t really get a handle on their music from the one song I heard but the kids seemed to enjoy it. There were a group of guys crowded around the front of the stage, clumsily staggering into each other, unsure of whether they should go-for-broke and mosh. I have a feeling they’ve never been to a proper punk or metal show. Give it time and they’ll be smashing each others’ faces in no time.
As for Zola Jesus? It was interesting. They have a certain aesthetic that is certainly effective—the pairing of powerful female vocals overtop of droning, gloomy electronic sounds. The Los Angeles-based duo got off to an awkward start, fiddling around with the sound while sheepishly trying to avoid eye contact with the audience before finally starting. The vocalist has a booming voice that has a haunting quality. Unfortunately, the lyrics were mostly indecipherable, coming off more like a series of wails and moans. There wasn’t any song structure per se; by the time the fourth or fifth song came along it was virtually impossible to tell them apart. This isn’t to say that their music is lacking—it would be easy to imagine this sort of thing inserted into a David Lynch movie. What it needs is a little more dynamic—the singer’s bloodcurdling scream was employed only twice throughout the show and was a definite highlight. The crowd was nearly as strange as the group. The packed house sat and watched the show in rapt attention, clapping politely after each track had finished. There was no joy or emotion to be seen; it was as sombre a celebration I’d ever witnessed.
In need of a palate-cleanse, I left the Church and made my way down the street to the Legion upstairs. A cold bottle of Alexander Keiths never tasted so good. To my delight the James T. Kirks came onstage and rocked out hard. I can’t remember the last time I heard an instrumental band that kicked so much ass. They let the music do the talking and the message was simple: let’s have a good time. As they played through their first couple songs I couldn’t help but feel like they sounded a lot like an amped up Link Wray—and wouldn’t you know it? They proceeded to cover the man himself. Everyone in attendance was appreciative of the raw aggression and ear splitting volume they offered out. Their rough-and-tumble brand of rock made the room want to jive, want to dance, want to scream. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
Next up was Dinosaur Feathers, a Brooklyn, New York band that came highly recommended. I knew very little about them last night but I am ready to learn more. This was their second time in Canada, having previously been to Vancouver, but I hope they come around more often. Showcasing incredibly tight surf/pop harmonies over jangly rock and roll guitar, they stormed in and wowed those in attendance. The arsenal of hooks within the songs they unleashed on this night was outstanding. It’s always refreshing to hear falsetto pulled off well; the lead singer’s falsetto was simply perfect. They weren’t afraid to break out the cowbell and even brought someone in to work the Theremin for a song. It was hard to hide the smile on my face while these guys played—their music makes you feel good. (CHECK THEM OUT IN VANCOUVER ON MONDAY JUNE 27th)
There still was a plan lacking on what to check out for the rest of the night. Dum Dum Girls were closing the show downstairs and it was mighty tempting, but my cohort (who I finally reconvened with during the Dinosaur Feathers set) and I, after downing some tasty Jagermeister, decided to make our way to the Distillery to check out GOBBLE GOBBLE and maybe even catch Man Man’s encore and final performance of the festival.
Every time I come to Calgary I forget that the Distillery is a different place than it used to be. My old band used to play the old Distillery when it was a little place that housed the best metal and punk in the city. That’s still the case, by the way, but the new place is huge and really pretty nice. The same can’t be said for the former venue. That place was a scummy and I mean that in the best way possible. I guess I’ll just have to keep coming to shows before I get used to it. What important is that CBC (Calgary Beer Core) remains in tact, and I don’t see that ending any time soon.
Whatever Distillery it is now, it was hopping when we arrived. Edmonton’s GOBBLE GOBBLE were tearing the place up, bringing the highest amount of energy I’d seen thus far. As a resident of Edmonton I’d heard tales of their shows but nothing prepared me their wild brand of electro-pop. This isn’t generally my sort of music, but their enthusiasm and willingness to party was infectious and as a result the party was pretty out of control. Who was I to deny the good vibes? If you’re looking to have a good time, get your ass out to see these cats.
Seeing how I was already there and the show the night before was so damn good, I knew that it was my duty to see Man Man. I was lucky enough to briefly talk to frontman Honus Honus before the show as he quickly downed a shot of whiskey at the bar. He assured me that the show would sound better than the last. This struck me odd, as they sounded fantastic before. That being said, he knows his shit. He’d have to. Their chaotic show is no accident. They are fully in control of every topsy-turvy sound in their carnival dance. With white war paint smeared across their faces, the Philadelphia five-piece enthralled the crowd, only stopping to trade instruments or for Honus to change into a trench coat and the kind of goggles someone might wear while tunnelling to the center of the earth. As great as everything else has been, I didn’t regret seeing them for a second time—I’d be tempted if there were a third.
We made our way back to the Legion in hopes of catching some of Dum Dum Girls’ show. Several people slammed back swigs of vodka before heading inside when it hit me that I’d been swilling beer pretty consistently all day. The prospect of getting some rest to prepare for the next day was too tempting—I took the bait and got on the train back to my lodgings. What I didn’t expect was a nearly empty train with the important exception of a group of young ladies who decided to sing seemingly every soul song they’d ever heard in unison. And the funny thing is they actually sounded pretty good! If you’re reading this, anonymous girls, get your asses booked at Sled Island next year. That or continue to entertain my half-drunken ass in transit. It’s your call.
Beatroute After Party