By Therese Schultz
August 30-31, 2014
CALGARY — As I approached the gates to Fort Calgary and X-Fest this year, I was a bit skeptical of whether or not this year’s performances would overshadow my experience of Weezer, The Weakerthans and Dan Mangan last year. Once I was privy to the exuberant performances by July Talk, Cage the Elephant, Tegan and Sara, and Fitz and the Tantrums, I quickly changed my stance. This year’s fest was a veritable mish-mash of fantastic randomness and bizarre little quirks; like the July Talk themed engagement proposal (I’ll get to this); a fan’s Adventure Time Finn plush being passed around by a huge number of artists for signatures; fans dressed as Pikachu, skunks and Fred Flintstone while walking about the grounds; and Fitz and the Tantrums playing a stellar cover of, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”
With each passing performance, you’d notice the crowd-draw change from younger pubescent teens while bands like The Mowgli’s played, to a pastiche of 20/30-somethings and even a few seasoned/semi-retired burnout fans for The Smalls and Ben Gibbard’s band, Death Cab for Cutie. The sun, despite the overall mild temperature – ideal for this year’s festival – beamed down at points drenching the crowd closest to the stage in heat and later, rampant perspiration. This was alleviated once security decided to blast us down with the water sprinkler as we danced feverishly along to Fitz and the Tantrum’s and Foster the People’s impressive set lists. Occasionally, the sun was eclipsed by a short burst of rain cloud, one which constantly threatened to inundate us with water, but instead just gave the crowds a short reprieve from the heat – a welcome atmosphere for the crowd to explode during The Airborne Toxic Event’s set list, one which included a cover of The Clash’s popular hit, “I Fought the Law.”
With a beverage or two percolating in my stomach, I decided – much to my later chagrin – to witness the performance of the Toronto-based band, Stars. Unfortunately for Stars, whoever was in charge of their sound quality seemed to be asleep. Torquil Campbell, lead singer of the Toronto indie-pop collective, was visibly frustrated while on stage and threw his hands around restlessly as he attempted to find a slight bit of balance in his vocals. While the instrumental quality was there, it was near impossible to hear either Campbell or his fellow band mate, Amy Millan. After attempting their track, “Take Me To The Riot,” Campbell could be seen running backstage to figure out the problem. I took my leave and waited for Alberta-based grunge-punk heavyweights The Smalls to later make their appearance. For their first performance in over a decade, they were welcomed into open arms by their Calgary posse, to which they appeased their long absence with their hits, “My Dear Little Angle,” and “Pity the Man with the Fast Right Hand.” Saturday mellowed with Death Cab, but went out with a bang once Jack White began playing his hits, especially “Lazaretto,” which was accompanied by a killer drum solo against a set backdrop of old organs, a television and random sound equipment, an eccentric mongrel of which Jack White is famous for.
Sunday’s performances provided a worthy close to the fest, including an engagement proposal during July Talk’s set. The band’s lead singers, Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay, welcomed two fans onstage to do whiskey shots with their guitarist, Ian Docherty, who was celebrating his birthday. Once the mic and the bottle was passed around, the fan, David, proposed to his girlfriend, Robin, which pushed the cute factor new heights – especially for a band as gritty and seemingly dysfunctional as July Talk. As the grit-rockers continued their whiskey-soaked set, the crowd went wild in anticipation for the upcoming Cage the Elephant show. Cage the Elephant drew one of the largest crowds next to Jack White and the Arctic Monkeys, and their energy was apparent as they flew through their hits while the crowdsurfing and dancing never stopped.
Tegan and Sara’s homecoming show was surprisingly fantastic, as their live shows have been hit-and-miss in the past, but their YYC set was lively, spunky and heartfelt. Despite my excitement for the more “mainstream” bands/artists like Arctic Monkeys or Jack White (which were good in their own right), the most impressive, or perhaps more memorable shows, were best put on by the bands with the most energy, of which Fitz and the Tantrums and Tegan and Sara were the most capable of. Overall, the lineup this year was unbeatable, and, at this rate, if X92.9 continues to bring a nice mixture of big names and local acts, every X-Fest to come should be just as outstanding.Cage the Elephant, Death Cab for Cutie, Fitz, Fort Calgary, Foster the People, July Talk, MS MR, Sleeper Agent, tegan and sara, The Arctic Monkeys, The Mowgoli's, X-Fest 2014