Monday, July 02, 2007

Going Sledding takes on a whole new meaning when you are talking about indie music in Calgary

(all photos, except last, are from Sled Island's flickr site)

I was only able to partake of two nights of the inaugural Sled Island Music Festival, and only one venue per night, but even so I managed to see seven bands. If I had remembered to take my vitamins, had the ability to clone myself (and maybe teleport as well), I could have taken in so many worthwhile acts, that my head would have exploded. But it would have been so worth it.

Let me make a prediction - Sled Island Music Festival is going to be one of the must-see festivals in the world of indie music. If this is what was being offered in the inaugural year, can you imagine how incredible this event will be once it is established? Book your flights now, is what I am saying. You can even stay for Stampede if you want.

Here's a bit of what I took in at the festival:

Chad VanGaalen makes the whole ADHD thing work for him
- Thursday, Grace Presbyterian Church
lineup: Darren Frank, Destroyer, Chad Van Gaalen

More and more performances are being held in churches in Calgary. Grace Presbyterian is yet another institution that is opening its doors to musical acts. And I must say I was impressed with not only the acoustics and the awe-inspiring organ, but also with the fact that the pews were cushioned. I always took Presbyterians to be such hard-asses, but the Grace congregation is obviously a kinder gentler breed.

Darren Frank opened the night with a singer-songwriter set, accompanied at times by a pianist. He has a lovely
voice, but the songs were a bit slow-paced for a warm night in a church balcony. I did run into him waiting for his accompanist/lady friend and he seemed like a really nice fellow, who was happy to engage in conversation. I was glad to see quite a few people lining up to give a donation to receive an EP from him.

Destroyer was enthusiastically received, as you can imagine, given the overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim that the album Rubies received. Dan Bejar, he of the crazy hair and membership in bands from Destroyer to New Pornographers to Wolf Parade, and I'm sure I've left some out, was actually there solo. The quality and vision of his music was evident and really well received, but I thought would have benefitted at times from having a backing band. It's hard to get all that music across with one guy and a guitar.

Highlight: Dan's shout-out to Lake Bonavista (where I live) - "I went fishing there today". Cool, Dan! You're
practically my neighbour now!

Everybody loves Chad VanGaalen. You would instinctively run away from someone who claimed to have a personal dislike for him, because there would be something seriously wrong with someone like that. Not only is he a hugely talented musician with an incredible voice, he is also an immensely gifted artist, videographer, and instrument maker. Your basic renaissance man, really.

And a Chad VanGaalen set is always a multi-media extravaganza, the stage being transformed into a strangely magical land of giant elephants, cat cut-outs, and Dr. Suess-like spinning Christmas tree cones. "I started making them at 5:00 am. They were supposed to be mobiles, but I feel asleep." It's all about the experimentation with Chad VanGaalen. "I painted a
brain on my kick-drum, because I thought it would be really cool, but now it sounds awful, like it's got masking tape on it." Even those experiments that don't work are pretty awesome in the hands of this overgrown kid.

Chad incorporated a lot more experimental sounds into his set than he has in the past, and I was really pleased to hear that. I don't think that a mind or talent like his should be reigned in.

- Accordion player guy with the Turkey t-shirt and Borat-like mustache, who also showed up at the Constantines' set
- Chad giving away the Tiny Tykes guitar to the person who was able to answer the skill-testing question what do you get when you mix red and green (Christmas).
Clinically Dead - Chad VanGaalen
After the Afterlife - Chad VanGaalen


If I had to choose between Christmas and seeing the Constantines perform, it would be the easiest decision I ever had to make
- Friday, Grand Theatre
lineup: the Details, Geronimo, Woodpigeon, the Constantines
The Grand Theatre is fast becoming one of my favourite live music venues in Calgary. It's intimate, has great acoustics, a low stage (you can rest your elbows on it) and has a very hip bar area, while still maintaining its all-ages status. The best of all worlds, really. And when I heard that the Constantines were a last-minute addition to Sled Island and would be playing the Grand, it was like Christmas come early. Too much goodness, really, for one person to comprehend.
Opening the night were The Details, a pretty decent up and coming band from Winnipeg. They played a pretty solid set, but we were a little distracted from the music from the fact that the frontman bore a bit of a resemblance to a young Mark E Smith (the Fall) and naturally we were intrigued as to how that might have come about.
In true Winnipeg socialist fashion, the Details were all about sharing. Which is why they were giving away not one, but two EPs. I happily grabbed the EPs and I'll be letting you hear some of their songs at a later date. I was really glad to see that the audience had swelled to about 100 people from the seven of us that were in attendance when they began their set.

Highlight: imagining the hours in front of the mirror that the guitarist must have put into perfecting his rock stance
We gave the Geronimo set a pass and went out for a coffee instead. (Hey it was going to be a late night!) We had previously seen Geronimo open for Peter Bjorn and John, and they didn't really do much for us. But maybe they sounded better not wedged between Faunts and Peter Bjorn and John.

I have been wanting to see Woodpigeon for a long time. They are a local band who have been causing a lot of buzz with their wonderfully atmospheric music. I've been pretty blown away by them ever since first hearing their Songbook cd, and I haven't even worked my way through their entire back catalogue yet.
On stage they come across a bit as Polyphonic Spree (or perhaps Arcade Fire) meets A Prairie Home Companion, with 8 members, many of them decked out in frocks and suits, with the exception of the violinist, Foon Yap, whose high-waisted hotpants paired with ripped fishnets and stilettos conjured up more of an assassin/dominatrix vibe. Woodpigeon offered hearbreakingly lovely harmonies and gorgeous songs, but I would have been happy to hear more of the set coming from Songbook. More handclappy songs please!

Highlights: the fact that some of Woodpigeons' parents were in the audience and they stayed to rock out to the Constantines.
(caution: extreme hyperbole to follow)
Those of you who have been coming here for a while are probably well aware that I am absolutely bat-shit crazy about the Constantines.
They are quite simply the best live act you will ever see. I am absolutely blown away every time I see them play, by their passion and their insane energy and how they feed off each other while maintaining a cohesiveness that makes the individual members appear to function as a single organism. I have heard the Constantines described as the hardest working band in Canada, as the most criminally underrated band in the country, and have heard Bry Webb's voice described as jagged smoked chocolate. Believe the hype; it's all true.
There are no pretensions about a Constantines show; they just put their heads down and play their guts out every show. The Grand's show began with Draw Us Lines, a powerful synthesis of extended feedback, drums, and a single bassline, which cemented the mood. And then they proceeded to rip the roof off the fucking place.
- spotting Bry Webb wandering about the lobby several times before the show. In a plaid shirt, no less! I should have said hi, but was too much in awe.
- spotting Chad VanGaalen in the crowd, plus the accordion guy in the Turkey shirt, and the shout-out from the Cons to Chad for lending them his amp.
- drummer Doug MacGregor's uncanny resemblance to Animal from the Muppets
- Will Kidman playing the keyboards with his bum

- this exchange - Bry: thanks for coming, you couldn't get into Spoon, eh? guy in audience: fuck Spoon!
- being two feet from the stage with a perfect view of the entire band
- the insanity of Seven A.M. as the last song of the encore
- new Cons songs, which means new Cons album coming soon
- the fact that bassist Dallas Wehrle often looks like he's asleep. How do you sleep while you're rocking out like that?
- Steve Lambke shredding
- and Bry Webb's powerhouse voice. Always the voice.
turn these up really loud, multiply the experience by 10,000, and you'll have some idea of the sheer awesomeness of seeing the Constantines perform:
Draw Us Lines - the Constantines
Hot Line Operator - the Constantines
Arizona - the Constantines


justacoolcat said...

Wow, looks like you had a great time!

I do have to question this statement "They are quite simply the best live act you will ever see" I'm curious if you've informed Radiohead Barb?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Ack! Now I am all conflicted, Just A!

Deep breath. Okay.

The Constantines play lots of small venues where you can really get into the experience, while, sadly, Radiohead is now forced by sheer demand, to play stadiums etc. So although one can say that they have seen Radiohead perform live (and I'm still hoping that will one day happen for me - do you hear me, Thom?), I think the actual concert experience would be less tactile. And from the video clips of Radiohead shows that I have seen, there's a sea of heads, constant chatter, and a tiny speck on a stage a mile away that may be Mr Yorke.

So I maintain my viewpoint.

End rant.

Allison said...

One must never forgot to take their vitamins, they are robot protection, as Wayne Coyne has so lovingly warned us ;)

It is rather impressive to hear that the acoustics in the church were good, cushioned seats? Wow.

I would have loved to see Dan Bejar, and the "I started making them at 5:00 am. They were supposed to be mobiles, but I feel asleep" comment from Chad, hilarious.

I have heard a song from The Details, but would love to hear more, and really have not given Woodpigeon a descent enough listen, I love how you described their sound though, really makes me want to search out more of their stuff.

Hmm, maybe I should book a ticket for this fest next year! Lovely review, I feel like I almost have seen these bands in concert now :)

Will said...

You're a Constantines fan? I did not know that. I always thought you were referring to that Keanu Reeves flick, Constantine ...

Oh, I crack myself up sometimes. Anyhow, it just sounds like a spectacular time. I haven't really seen a show in a church but it sounds like a nice intimate atmosphere. Seems like a good way to go for a festival.

Destroyer is just great. I love Dan Bejar. There's always a great deal of uncertainty for me just how well an artist's work will translate live, but I think Bejar pulls it off quite well. There's just so much passion in that voice of his.

I'm really jealous of Canada for so, so many things - the amazing indie music, the healthcare, the national anthem, and now - music festivals. Maybe I'll have to move there someday.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's comforting to know that Wayne Coyne is looking out for my health, Al. Had I taken those vitamins, I would have been able to take in a lot more acts without becoming a robot myself. Next year I shall remember to do so.
There were many times when I thought of you - during Destroyer actually, and of course during the plaid shirt incident (henceforth known as the plaid shirt incident).
We'll have to make sure that you get to hear some more Details and Woodpigeon, posthaste.
Book your ticket now, Al. The spare room is waiting for you.

Standup comedy awaits you as your next career, Will.
I've been to a couple of churches to see shows now, and they have really impressive acoustics. The older ones were built to carry sound without the benefit of mics.
I read that Dan Bejar thinks that his voice is hilarious! But it is certainly immediately recognizable. He was really well received.
Let me know if you need someone to vouch for you in the immigration proceedings; if you already like our national anthem, you should be a shoe-in.

phlegmfatale said...

Wow - sounds fantastic. I'm having festival envy. Wish I could come up and go to that other one with you, too. Chad van Gaalen so totally rocks. Coolness!

Anonymous said...

Actually, I believe I called it "Borat-lite".

John Mutford said...

Sounds like you had a great time. I'm intrigued by the whole Church-as-concert venue too. I imagined there must have something sung, said, or done that the Sunday congregation would take issue with, wasn't there? Is it about revenue? Or are they just seriously hip churches?

mellowlee said...

Aw, that Chad is a really doll! I think I would get along with him like two peas in a pod. I've been known to paint anything not nailed down. It was a bit hard on my electronic equipment, so I had to stop. I love your reviews Barb. They really make me feel like I experienced the show with you. One day hopefully I CAN for real! I reaaallly want to see the Constantines play live now!

BeckEye said...

The Slut Festival sounds awesome.

I'm so glad we live in a world where Christmas and the Constantines are allowed to live side by side.

Beth said...

I need to check The Constantine's site to see if they're headed to this side of the world; I'd love to see them.

Excellent recap, Barbara! My biggest frustration with festivals is two great bands playing at the same time; it's a near-biblical decision to decide which band to see and which to skip.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Chad VanGaalen is the bomb, Phlegmfatale, no question. And it's only three more weeks to the Folk Festival, where your homegirl Neko Case is playing. You should really be plannng a trip.

Aaahhh, you are an even more clever wordsmith than I thought, Eva, er Anony. I stand corrected.

It's probably a little of both, as well as need, John. And yes, evertime I've been to a church concert, I've noticed songs with fuck in them, for instance. Destroyer dropped a few f-bombs, Geoff Berner who opened for Billy Bragg last year was really profane, and Hawksley Workman sang Striptease, which was pretty funny.

You arty types and your paint, you're menaces, Mel! I'd love to see some samples of your painted electronic gear.
Some day we have to make it to a Cons show (or a CVG show) together. That would be like Christmas AND Easter!

There's nothing like a good Slut festival, Beckeye, to make you appreciate an existence where you can have your Cons and still have some new socks under the tree every year. It boggles the mind really.

It's enough to make you gnaw your own arm off, Beth! I am told that the Boredoms show (also on Friday night) was legendary. Gaaaaa!
Although the Constantines generally tour extensively, I believe they are actually sticking close to home this summer to record, which is also a good thing. I really hope you get to see them sometime though.

Deb said...

Wow, I'm glad you got to preview heaven. I don't even know these bands but feel like I do because of your most excellent descriptions. So happy for you.

Toccata said...

Well, that cat picture at the start of your next post is just too cute for words.

I want to see Chad VanGaalen. I`m pretty sure he heads to Victoria after his Sledding. Someday the two of us will end up in the same city at the same time.

I have a friend that is obsessed with Woodpigeon. Woodpigeon and their lead singer.

Crap, I can`t think when the computer starts flashing its warning signs!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Preview heaven? Oh, did I give you the impression that I had a good time, Deb? It was pretty grand all right, and now I'm kicking myself for not making more of an effort to make it to everything. We can sleep when we're dead, right?

Get off this computer right NOW, Toccata!! Ahh, it doesn't have the same effect without the flashing lights.
How rude of Chad to go to Victoria while you are away. You may just have to come to Calgary to see him sometime then, and you could also see Woodpigeon and drive your friend crazy by talking about the time you met Mark Hamilton forever after that. Wouldn't that be fun?

justacoolcat said...

Fair enough. I may have to book it for next year. I wonder if there are cheap direct flights from MSP to CLG. Also, I wonder if CP would hook us up with some media passes.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oooh, media passes would be the way to go, Just A! Maybe Blogger would issue some special ones just for the occasion.