By Axel Matfin
CALGARY — I woke up in the basement of a Calgary house crammed inside a pizza box of two sofas pushed together while disco balls and programmed lighting peppered the room. Gutturally snoring next to me was Devon Motz, acerbic lead singer of BRASS, the East Van punk band I’d been travelling with for the past three days. We had come to Calgary for Sled Island Music & Arts Festival and the night previous BRASS had been hosted at a house party by a contact in a Calgary-based band, notably All Hands on Jane, for a lineup featuring Vancouver’s Swim Team and Jo Passed. The party had been called Dirtbag Island. I clawed my way to an upright position and guzzled some water from an errant bottle before dropping it on Motz and hauling myself out of the makeshift bed to locate the rest of the Band. I almost missed Eric Campbell, the band’s bassist and frontman of Eric Campbell and The Dirt, curled up in a blanket nest in the corner, sleeping like a handsome modern Pan. I climbed the stairs to the kitchen where a small group of our hosts and stragglers pick over the remains of a large pot of fungi based tea and chattered away. The backyard, complete with hammock and fire pit, was still littered with an assortment of band members, kids and the type of drug-fiending layabouts that congregate in morning mists, all nursing a collection of half finished warm beers. Rory Troughton, the drummer, was laid out in our rental Van. He’d crashed out earlier than the rest of the boys but he’d also been on a tour across Canada for the past month with his other band Devil in the Woodshack, and had gained an essential tour skill of knowing when to say when. Tristan Milne, the guitar player, was passed out on a couch inside a side garage with his girlfriend and had little more than a thinning blanket covering his dignity when I came to wake him up. He grinned and put a smoke in his mouth, nodding while I lit the dart and told him we needed to get rolling before he put on the same pair of “white” painter’s pants, sans underwear, that he’d been wearing since we left Vancouver. We loaded the gear and collected the remaining members of our convoy, including the partnering band of our modest #nosleeptilsled tour HEDKS, who had played the night before as well. We left the smoldering embers of the house party a few faint locals waving us goodbye.
Twelve hours, a visit to the Sled Island Artist Lounge, TV Ugly’s set at Broken City and 60 beers later we were at The Palomino, a BBQ joint with an open upstairs stage and a contained downstairs metal dungeon. We watched Vancouver metal band Astrakhan’s heavy-balled set at the basement stage along with recently arrived Mitch Ray of Studio Vostok. In the radioactive hour that followed BRASS caused a nuclear meltdown on the upstairs stage of The Palomino. No doubt that everyone present had their faces peeled back and their reproductive organs made sterile as the members of BRASS indulged their talents and generated musical fission. Tristan spat out sheet lightning on guitar while Rory rolled thunder on the drums and Eric and Devon flew through the air surfing on the hands of fans old and new. After three days of middling shows that had taken them from 333 in Vancouver to a townie infested Legion Hall in Penticton, the very solid Buckingham in Edmonton, then house party the night before, BRASS had tightened and hardened together into fresh form, their presentation of music all at once cohesive, catchy and dangerously caustic. I watch as a letching middle age white man’s mouth falls agape before encouraging his buddies to stumble into the fray of beautiful hard rocking women, staggering to re-live their youth only to have their beer’s slapped from their hands before being ceremoniously dumped on their asses by the frothing tesseract of a mosh pit bleeding across the room, everyone shaking their shit. Even the cooks in the kitchen were rocking out. At the end of the set, as the delirious and sweat soaked band unplugged, they were pressed upon by the audience offering cheers as if they welcoming home a viking raiding party delivering spoils of war.
While New Orleans road warriors Pears played their set, BRASS roamed through the crowd passing out free buttons and receiving more praise from the public. After an hour, they rolled up their sizeable entourage, made promises to return and left The Palomino with a cacophony of laughter and appetites whet for a night with their friends and each other that would be almost as memorable as their set.AB, Alberta, BC, BRASS, British Columbia, Sled Island 2016, tour diary