After several days of experiencing some of the most exciting music on the planet, you tend to get a little blaise. So you allow yourself to sleep in a bit on the final day of the outdoor segment of the Sled Island Festival and consequently, you miss seeing Jose Gonzalez, Women, and the Secret Machines, and you are not even particularly bothered about it because you know you still have a full day and night of performances to enjoy.
The Mewata Armouries on the west end of downtown boasts a huge field, slightly rising in elevation, which offers a superb view of the stages regardless of where you happen to be. It's easily accessible by public transit and within walking distance of all the other Sled Island venues. Plus it's right beside the Science Centre in case you need a biology break. What it doesn't offer, though, is shade, and that made for a tough day on this 28C, absolutely cloudless Saturday. From what I witnessed, there are going to be a lot of indie kids suffering today.
Some random highlights from the day:
Best hackeysack player - Spiderman dude who was called up on stage by High Flyin'
Best use of glitter - Of Montreal
Most humanitarian touch - free water all day, cheerfully dispensed
Most Dr Suess-like performance - Jonathan Richman
Most needed but unavailable commodity - ice cream
Personal fame-whore moment - being informed by the Alberta Views staff that they had published my abysmal festival poem in the June issue of the magazine
Happiest discovery - Ombrelle SPF 60 actually works
Here is a summary of the day's performances that I gleaned from yesterday's sun-screen smeared notes:
Still Flyin': ska band from San Francisco, they actually played three sets yesterday, two of them at the outdoor stage alone, as they stepped up to fill in after Scout Niblet cancelled. Bar none the most energetic band I have ever seen. The dude in the red gym shorts and tee was doing high kicks and jumping jacks, and the rest of the band was clapping and jumping up and down the whole time. I tried counting the members, and kept getting somewhere between 12 and 14, as they wouldn't stay still for the count. Between sets they played beach volleyball over by the toilets. Methinks they'd been nipping into the Red Bull a wee bit too much.
The music was infectious and upbeat and reflected the energy that the band personified. Alas though, when I went to go buy their cd, they were sold out.
Drive By Truckers: Southern rockers with a conscience, they played a hard-driving politically-charged straight rock set. Think Steve Earle with a rock agenda.
Hot Little Rocket: A Calgary institution, they offered a happy and irreverent post-punk set, plus they gave away a commemorative plate from a drunken ebay spree, which they had personalized with philosophical musings. Always a crowd favourite.
Gutter Twins: Although the Resident Offspring maintains that they looked like they stepped right out of a Neil Gaimen novel, there is no denying that Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan are an inspired musical pairing. With a set that was dark and hypnotic (some would say too much so for such a sun-filled outdoor festival), they completely drew me into the grooves that they laid down, and held me spellbound.
Jane Vain and the Dark Matter: I was starving by this point, and had seen them perform fairly recently, so instead I checked out the festival fare on offer. Sled Island has a ways to go to compete with the likes of the Folk Festival in terms of food vendors, but the three vendors did offer the likes of burgers and dogs, fries and meatball subs, tacos and corn on the cob. Nothing too inspiring, but the pop was cold.
From what I could hear of Jane Vain and the Dark Matter, their atmospheric and broody basement music was well received.
Jonathan Richman: Anyone expecting a Modern Lovers set was surprised (although he did play Pablo Picasso). Anyone expecting a rehashing of the former glories that made him a punk visionary, was certainly surprised by Richman's reinvention of himself as an avant garde storyteller, an intimate acoustic oddity. From tales of dealing with an unhappy girlfriend (and the subtle differences of same in several languages) to a radical stand against cell phones (man after my own heart) to dancing in a lesbian bar, he kept us puzzled and amused and scratching our heads. And oh, how that man can dance. He was really utterly charming.
Of Montreal: Like everyone else, we were expecting a great deal of spectacle from Of Montreal. And they did not disappoint. Resplendent with fox heads and glitter guns, hot pants paired with paisley leggings, mysteriously masked figures parading balloons on poles throughout the crowd, and on-stage dramatic reenactments of something that looked to be a cross between Little Red Riding Hood and Phantom of the Paradise, Of Montreal somehow still managed to find time to belt out their sassy and criminally catchy songs. Definitely a highlight of the festival.
The Fellas: Okay, I'll admit it, the sun was starting to wear me out so I wandered the booths in search of relief during their set. I did hear them play their hit single though.
Wire: How often does one see two seminally influential rock acts perform in one day? I tell you, I am not going to hold my breath waiting for the next time.
We suspect that the female guitarist with the mass of hair was not an original member of this 70's British punk band turned art rockers, but the rest of the quartet, who took the stage as the sun started to dip, were certainly the real thing. In their signature all-blacks, they launched into a lengthy set, heavy on the experimental art theme. Consummate musicians, Wire were tight and focussed, edgy and creative, and unrelenting powerful. It may have been a better choice had they worked a bit more of their infectious punk back catalogue into the set, as the audience's energy was beginning to flag at this point after too many hours under the brutal sun, but nobody can deny the importance of what they witnessed.
The Dodos: Sadly, by the end of Wire's set, the Resident Offspring was complaining of feeling ill, so we decided it was time we packed up and dragged our sorry asses home. I confess I packed as slowly as I could, because I was really liking what I was hearing from the Dodos, a guitar and drum duo. Their soaring vocals and complex drumming made me want to hear more from this San Francisco band.
And I still can't quite believe that I missed Mogwai!
And when I think back in awe and increasing disbelief about all the fabulousness that the Sled Island Festival has brought this city in the past four days, and in only its second year of existence, well it all but brings a little tear of gratitude to my eyes.
Well done, you Sled Islanders, well done.