FESTIVAL WRAP-UP: Sled Island in Calgary feat. Wild Flag, Blonde Redhead, Man Man, Neil Hamburger, more
by Sam Sutherland
June 27, 2011
Photo by midwinterphoto.
Our first day on the ground in Calgary was a blur. We were whisked from an airport full of people in cowboy hats (they’re serious about this stuff) to our hotel, to dinner at the Palomino, Calgary’s most righteous BBQ joint. A sort of Frankenstein of Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto, Stubb’s in Austin, and a Steeler’s sports bar anywhere in Pittsburgh, the Palomino basement was also the site of some the week’s best shows. After eating our weight in bacon-wrapped corn on the cob and Jack Daniel’s apples (again, very serious), we ventured out into the midweek Calgary night. Our first encounter was with Grown-Ups at Broken City, where our Sled Island virginity was lost amidst the energy of the trio’s unrelentingly noisy punk jams. They closed their set with a smirking, sloppy, super-fun cover of Blink 182’s “Dick Lips,” but we pretended to not recognize the song and stayed at the back wall, mostly because we were tired.
Next up was an attempt at a Montreal hesher double-bill of Trigger Effect and Barn Burner at Ship and Anchor; we had yet to learn the intricacies of the Sled Island schedule (subtleties that indicate if a show is starting on the hour or the half-hour), and so spent the last few songs of Trigger Effect’s set being too polite to bud the line, despite the fancy wristband that we had been given for that exact purpose (don’t worry, we got pushy eventually). While missing Trigger Effect was a bummer, catching a batch of new Barn Burner songs from their recent sophomore full-length, Bangers II: Scum of the Earth, numbed the pain considerably. The band was in top form and the crowd went appropriately ape-shit. After TO-celeb-spotting the members of Quest for Fire and enduring an arguably deserved ribbing for the wearing of shorts, we returned to our hotel for what amounted to a cute, brief nap before an onslaught of interviews and performances on day two.
We woke to interviews with Blonde Redhead, Man Man, Bison b.c., and Barn Burner (more on those later). We’ll let you guess, but one of those interviews involved the discussion of how many cigarettes it’s possible to smoke in a single ten hour drive, and another started with the band asking for on-site approval of what we shot, suggesting we add a “Super 8” filter to the clip (since we were making a first year film school project, obviously).
That night we managed to squeeze in an amazing Man Man performance, and, at the other end of the musical spectrum, an inspired blast of noise from Bison b.c. Both shows were full to the gills and impressively energetic; clearly the coming big weekend of shows was going to hold some serious shit.
Day three gave us a chance to talk to the Sword, as well as Steve Diggle from the Buzzcocks; naturally, it was just the best. This was shaping up to be the festival’s strongest day yet, thanks to a mind-blowingly great open-air bill at the main Olympic Plaza stage, starting with Toronto rock disciples C’mon, leading into Vancouver heavyweights Bison b.c., followed by punk legends the Buzzcocks, then doom metal throwback kings the Sword, and, finally, finally finally finally, stoner rock pioneers Sleep, playing so loud it was probably illegal. But seriously, because there was a decibel limit and there is just no way that were inside it. I mean, just absolutely no way. They were brilliant and confrontational and slow and heavy and loud. So, so loud.
After losing some of our hearing forever, we cabbed out to a bar we had never been to in order to catch Wild Flag. Turns out the bar (Twisted Element) was a gay bar, and that night’s show was the first one they had hosted in seven years. It made for a refreshingly different show; a drag queen at the door accused us of bringing in camera equipment to film up-skirts, and floating amongst the hipsters were busboys with no shirts. When the final chord of Wild Flag’s (amazing, transcendent) set rang out, pulsing dance music immediately picked up from a separate PA. Before the hipster contingent could file out for their drag queen mocking and cab-hailing, a dance party had taken over the space directly behind the audience.
Continuing with the evening’s Portland obsession, we took to the Palomino basement for Red Fang. Besides providing an incredible set of dynamic, heavy tunes, the band also managed to draw the biggest crowd we saw during the entire week; a line-up snaked up the venue stairs as soon as they started, and members of the Buzzcocks and Sleep could be seen downing Kokanee with the locals.
On our final day of interviews, we managed to talk with C’mon, Thee Oh Sees, Bare Wires, the BellRays, and, most personally triumphantly, Neil Hamburger (we’re fans). The evening before our interview, Hamburger had been pretty viciously attacked mid-performance by a female non-fan he had mocked as she left the venue; despite the increased security presence at the Saturday evening performance (again, Calgary is a serious place), Hamburger was in as good spirits as Neil Hamburger can possibly be.
After enjoying (as much as one enjoys throat-clearing and bungled punch-lines) Hamburger’s set, we darted across town to try and catch Adebisi Shank, an Irish band that a friend had recommended as a cross between Death from Above (“but waaaay better”) and Battles. They ended up sounding more like an instrumental Blood Brothers or terrifyingly unhinged Fang Island, but the effect was the same: total brain meltage. In a few songs, they immediately became the best thing we had seen at the whole festival. If there is justice or goodness in the world, this band will own mansions in two years. Or, at least, tour with Past Lives or something, whatever the punk version of a mansion is.
Times New Viking followed the underage Irishmen, and suffered greatly by comparison. Some good songs can’t make up for a dull live performance, and unfortunately, such was the case with this set.
Cursive closed out the night, and succeeded in fighting to bring the room’s energy back up. A lot of “you are all beautiful motherfuckers” seemed to escape Tim Kasher’s mouth as the band deftly moved between divergent eras of their career. Cursive’s massive back catalogue can be daunting, but the band seemed to be enjoying themselves as they teased out total kinda-hits like “Gentleman Caller” and “Big Bang.”
In the end, there were too many bands missed, but such is the nature of any great festival. There’s always more that you wish you could have done, but there’s nothing you could have given up. Except that Times New Viking set. We’d trade that for thirty more seconds of Adebisi Shank (or Tubby Dog).
Stay tuned for exclusive interviews from Sled Island.