By Joel Dryden, Willow Grier, Christine Leonard, Jennie Orton, Gareth Watkins and Jenna Lee Williams
June 25, 2015
B I G | B R A V E, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Central United Church
The sun-blazed outside, but while many were still frolicking outside and getting sunburnt enjoying the East Village Block Party, others crammed into a blacked out Central United Church for B I G | B R A V E and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. What ensued in the coming few hours was nothing short of magic.
B I G | B R A V E opened the evening with their droning minimalist set, punctuated with chilling shared vocals. At this time it became apparent that the Central United Church was no doubt the best venue for the show. Despite the stifling heat that built up from the blacked out windows and countless steaming bodies, the acoustics of the building perfectly reverberated sound, creating a full body vibrational experience. As GY!BE took the stage, a powerful reverent hush fell over the crowd and the audience could be seen edging forward on their seats, as if to get as close as possible to the spectacle at hand. Bathing the room in spectral sound, the band created massive waves of thunderous noise, performing songs spanning their discography. The band’s accompanying projectionist created visuals on the backdrop that were reminiscent of dream sequences, uprisings and hazy memories, perfectly accenting their enigmatic style. Upon leaving the building at the end of the set, all that could be heard was the repeated refrain of “Wow” from the audience. What more could be said? (WG)
Mykki Blanco – East Village Block Party
New York rapper Mykki Blanco jumped off the stage right into the crowd at the East Village Block Party at Riverwalk Plaza. Blanco was topless, wearing a headscarf and hat, and opened with hit “Haze.Boogie.Life.” Earlier children were seen hula hooping on the tarmac, but as soon as the rapper took the stage, mothers took their kids and ran off for cover.
Blanco noted that her real show was tonight at Commonwealth, but she would perform a few songs, including new track “Shit Talking Creep.” Blanko burst through the crowd and back into the centre of the circle that had formed around the rapper. Blanco climbed to the top of the speakers and ended up on the stage, where she used the mic cord as a noose and the then wove the mic stand through her arms like shackles as she chanted “I’m getting money bitch!” Blanco is a true performer and couldn’t stop at three songs; she performed a few extra. (JLW)
Black Milk, Mykki Blanco – Commonwealth
Crossing the city to Commonwealth, a large crowd gathered for Black Milk and Mykki Blanco. The two artists were the definition of Black and White as their names suggested, with very different interpretations of rap. Mykki Blanco’s style revolves mainly around engrossing stage antics (table dancing, crowd surfing, etc.) and creates an I-can’t-look-away sort of magnetism that thrills crowds. For Black Milk’s first performance in Calgary, he humbly stated, “Many of you know me as a producer, but sometimes I just gotta get out and spit a few bars.” And he went above and beyond any expectations, with unbelievable, precise flow, dynamic stage presence, and charismatic direction of his amazing live band. He definitely lived up to his reputation as one of the best live hip-hop artists. Now if we could only get him to do a DJ set… (WG)
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll (Sled Island Film) at Theatre Junction GRAND
Mamiffer – National Music Centre
The summer weather reached that perfect level for jumping from venue to venue as Sled Island reached its midway point on day two – but the pale contingent of festival-goers chose instead to huddle inside the dark and cool Theatre Junction Grand Studio to catch the Alberta premiere of Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. Late-goers to the screening were guided through the dark to their seats and handed free popcorn – volunteers, as always at Sled, are more than accommodating.
The documentary, directed by John Pirozzi, is an illuminating look into the evolution and development of popular music in Cambodia. At times, when watching a documentary on another country’s history, one can often think, “did not know that” or “was ignorant to that” and this doc is full of those moments. Tracing the early rise of hugely popular Cambodian artists like Sinn Sisamouth, Pirozzi tracks the takeover of the country by the Khmer Rouge (led by Pol Pot) and the brutal extermination of nearly all prominent artists that followed. It’s a jarring turnaround – the documentary introduces you to a blossoming music scene evolving and unique to the country, then traces the bloody civil war and takeover that stamped nearly all of it out. The film is sad and engrossing, an extremely well-made and insightful work.
Down at the National Music Centre, CJSW presented an all-ages show to a sparse crowd – many who hugged the walls and sat on folding chairs organized seemingly at random. They were there, surely, for the setlist – including Seattle-based Mamiffer, a noise/dream-pop duo that – at least from this performance – leaned heavily towards the “noise” side of the spectrum (in the best possible way). One opening song sucked attendees into a large turbine engine for nine minutes until lead singer Faith Coloccia pulled them out. Though only 28-odd people saw the group play, it was a reminder of the intimate appeal of going to those less-hyped Sled shows. (JD)
DRI HIEV, Burnt Shrines, Christians, Oxbow, Lightning Bolt – #1 Canadian Legion
At the Legion, the top floor fills up quickly with a mix of the young and jaded and the old and highly enthusiastic. DRI HIEV, local boys, show what would happen if punk started in 2012 and we were only just getting around to making post-punk. They are discordant, anarchic and deeply funny (singer Carter Crough’s non sequiturs between songs are worth the price of admission alone.)
Downstairs, Burnt Shrines are already playing. They have a purist take on post-punk, more adult and sophisticated, not that it’s a bad thing.
“The Burnt Shrines are like if I was a cab driver and I was driving Andre the Giant, Chris Farley and Cassius Clay before he became Muhammad Ali to go witness the murder of Mike Tyson,” says Jeff McCleod, 36, a “professional alcoholic.”
Christians are close in spirit and sound to the headliners, a doom-metal acid-jazz two-piece turning on a dime between heaviness and beauty. Where else but Sled could a band like this not only cause a room to erupt in cheers but be called back for an encore?
Art-rock veterans Oxbow take the stage next. Vocalist Eugene S. Robinson is truly, truly one of alternative rock’s great frontmen, shedding a smartly tailored black suit and doing James Brown moves over a Nick Cave voice. Fun fact: he has also published a book about how much he loves fighting.
There’s a line out the door by the time Lightning Bolt take the stage. Then… technical problems. Infuriating, but brief, and when Brian Gibson’s bass guitar comes back it’s like finding out that your childhood pet never really died. They mix up older tracks like Wonderful Rainbow‘s “Assassins” and new insta-classics like Fantasy Empire‘s “The Metal East.” They don’t play in the audience, as they have before, there’s no need when the music is this loud- not just in terms of raw decibels, although there’s plenty, but because of a kind of platonic ideal of loudness that the ‘Bolt have captured.
DRI HIEV’s Carter Crough sums up the experience: “Fuck, it’s hard to be as abrasive, and as much as you try to be a fucking asshole you’ll never be as asshole as Lightning Bolt.” (GW)
Chron Goblin, Dead Ranch, Fu Manchu – Dickens
This festival’s worst kept secret? Local bands rule! After all, who could resist the “Dry Summer” bonfire allure of Chron Goblin’s rock solid hooks and compressed metal breakdowns? A big Sled Island “Namaste!” to lead singer Josh Sandulak, who took to the stage just four short hours after touching down from an excursion to Nepal; antibiotics and inhaler in hand.
Just when you thought those fresh-faced reprobates had brought the sexy back, Dead Ranch dissolved the room in a maelstrom of heavy harmonics and harsh verbal rebukes. Not sure when Dave Navarro and Dapper Dan Auerbach sold their souls to these combed-forward lock-and-load assailants, but their animated corpses are really tearing shit up. Buy the vinyl.
The cobalt blue boogie van, complete with tinted diamond window, and “Fu Manchu” emblazoned on the hood was the first clue that the true Kings of the Road were in attendance. Long in the tooth and the hair, but still rocking the golf Ts, Fu Manchu was a sound for sore ears on Thursday night. Parting the black sea of noise that inundated the room, Scott Hill and company were chomping at the bit to unleash their definitive Sunshine Coast riffs upon a Vitamin-D-deprived crowd. Diving right into their beloved surf rock standards, they cast an “Evil Eye” upon the audience before delivering some “Push Button Magic,” hair whippin’ through new grooves like “Invaders on My Back,” and jumping atop the monstrous “Godzilla.” (CL)
Daniel Lanois – Republik
Daniel Lanois and his storied Midas touch gave us all a much-needed break from the death rattle of the Republik as it stares down its closure next week and it was a fitting hurrah. Lanois is a surgeon with the pedal steel, conjuring subtle delays with a flick of a pinky and bringing that lost longing moan we all know and love to the venue. When standing, Lanois delivers a signature tone with his modified Les Paul that is both alien and traditional, off centre and precise, a truly unique voice for a classic model. It was drummer Kyle Crane that won the 80 per cent sausage fest crowd however; Crane, young and astoundingly proficient, would release steam and the music would just launch. During “Opera,” the “grab you by the face and slap you around a bit” big finish, Crane vanished into drummer nirvana. Backed by bass pedals mounted at eye level, being tapped and pawed at by hand, and Lanois tweaking the mixer, the extravagant timing became overwhelming. It swelled to its conclusion, cerebral yet surreal projections turning inside-out behind them, bass throbbing through the chest cavities of those standing agape and shoulder to shoulder, Crane’s hands a blur of drum sticks firing sound like a machine gun, a fully formed creation of electronic music and live rhythm roaring onstage like Frankenstein’s monster come to life; moaning with rapid heartbeat and electricity crackling from its fingers. It was a vibrant display of musical mastery, a fitting injection into the Republik’s veins as it closes its eyes for good. (JO)
#1 Royal Canadian Legion, B I G | B R A V E, Black Milk, Burnt Shrines, Central United Church, Christians, Chron Goblin, Commonwealth, Daniel Lanois, Dead Ranch, Dickens, Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll, DRI HIEV, East Village Block Party, Fu Manchu, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Lightning Bolt, Mamiffer, Mykki Blanco, National Music Centre, Oxbow, Republik, Sled Island, Sled Island 2015, Sled Island Film, Theatre Junction GRAND