By Gareth Watkins, Christine Leonard, Alec Warkentin, Jodi Brak
June 21st, 2017
Soft Cure, Lonely Parade – Palomino (Main Floor)
For a three piece group decked out in pastel colors and surrounded by floating balloons, like something out of a bizarre 90’s kids show, Soft Cure can seriously bring the noise. The guitar ranges from huge, fuzzy walls of sound to sharp, twangy melodies and carries the weight of both rhythm and lead without lagging behind in either category. They bring a mix of short, powerful instrumental tracks that leave a listener wanting more, with a few toned down songs that feature a lilting melody layered with soft-spoken, angst-ridden vocals that crawl under the skin. They have a diverse sound and an interesting visual presentation, definitely worth checking out.
A punk trio from the far-off land of Peterborough, Ontario, Lonely Parade drops a little bit of Canadiana into the crowded post-punk genre, creating a sound that is airy, melodic and soft-spoken while at the same time prepared to dive into a driving, distorted breakdown at the turn of a phrase. Clean, full-bodied guitar riffs narrate lyrics that contemplate wasted youth, one-sided relationships and the existential crisis of realizing adulthood is just around the corner. It’s all wrapped in a veil of sarcasm and wit that feels like a trademark of Canadian songwriters, with an ability to take something totally unremarkable, like smelling of Old Spice deodorant, and through a little poetry, turn it into something which sends a shiver down the spine. Their live show was a little bit heavier, with more distorted guitar than the recorded versions of their tunes, but has a punk fan ever complained about more distortion?
The Weir, Annunaki, Pinkish Black – Broken City (Main Floor)
It’s a weird experience going from the ultra-opulent Fairmont Palliser, where I picked up my press pass, to the none-more-dive-bar Broken City. Most people would probably think it equally weird to listen to, and enjoy, a set of twenty-minute-long post-sludge jams flowing out of the four quite intense young men of The Weir, but nobody’s at a show headlined by Pinkish Black because they’re Most People.
From my vantage point, so close to the guy in front of me’s shoulder hair that I could floss with it, I could see The Weir‘s front line perform their synchronized three-way vocals and may-as-well-be-synchronized headbanging (the 30bpm drums don’t allow for a lot of improvisation). Sonically, they’re close to Seattle’s Bell Witch, who I will always have time for, but stick a little close to the big-heavy-beatdown-to-quiet-reverbed-guitar-part blueprint…Which is post-sludge, so I can hardly fault them for that, but I wonder what post-post-sludge would sound like.
One half of Annunaki is in Wolf Parade so… that’s a thing. Their thing is psychedelic doom “for the initiated” (read: ‘fucking hippies’), and their songs are as long as The Weir’s, but meander into heaviness like Hobbits crossing the border into Isengard (I feel that they would appreciate this reference, much as they would appreciate Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Anger, and crystal deodorants). Anything on the psychedelic spectrum is going to freak out as many people as it turns on, but this reviewer at least appreciates psych when it’s more Manson than Wavy-Gravy; when it can admit that there might be a dark side to eating a bunch of drugs and reading up on Gnosticism.
Pinkish Black have a whole other set of cultural touchstones. Though they have some kraut-rock sympathies and there was plenty of cross-chatter between psychedelia and that scene, post-punk and noise-rock are the real linchpins of their sound. There’s shades of The Jesus Lizard and Shellac in their earlier songs like “Kites and Vultures” (from 2013’s Razed To The Ground), but their later work, from 2015’s Bottom of the Morning, is calmer, almost poppy. Still capable of falling into waves of noise, but equally capable of pulling itself back into a recognisable melody girded by sci-fi synths. There aren’t too many bands making what was briefly referred to as ‘pigfuck’ music by music journos in the late eighties and early nineties. Music that is ugly, but doesn’t achieve that ugliness by simply turning everything up to 12; ugly like Picasso, not Pollack.
Faith Healer, Weyes Blood, Low – Central United Church
Following the spirited sounds of Edmonton’s Faith Healer and the ephemeral masterwork of the velour-suited Weyes Blood, the arrival of alt-rock legends Low to the Central United Church stage was met with an atmosphere of solemn reverence and brimming anticipation.
Playing to a nearly-packed house whose audience included members of Cloud Nothings (set to play later that night at the Royal Canadian Legion), Low met the crowd with the same bristling slow-builds and patient rhythms on which the group has built their now almost 25-year career.
Peppering their setlist with tracks from their latest album, 2015’s Ones and Sixes, it was their inclusion of songs from their earlier works that roused the crowd such as the slow-burn of “Sunflower” from Things We Lost in the Fire (2001), a choice favourite when combined with the live-set dissonance resonating through the floorboards of a hundred-year-old church.
While Low may be best known for their slow rollick and patient approach to songwriting, the show was met with some left-field antics: vocalist Alan Sparhawk at one point tore through a particularly boisterous guitar section with his teeth, while bassist Steve Garrington ripped through distorted bass, and drummer Mimi Parker’s perfect-tempo drum-strikes punctured the wall of sound.
Ending their set to a standing ovation, those in crowd and lucky enough to witness knew that the feeling of seeing Low, even if it had not been in a church, was akin to a religious experience.
Les Filles De Illighadad – King Eddy
It was standing room only at the King Eddy, adjacent to the National Music Centre, last night with an abundance of attendees putting the hallowed venue at capacity by 10pm. Already drained from a few hours of Sledding, a good number of guests at the Day 1 event opted to camp out on the floor in front of the stage, backpacks and legs akimbo. Unflustered by this miming of the Prince’s Island tarpies, the lovely and demure Les Filles de Illighadad methodically built their Saharan atmosphere one melodic incantation at a time.
Couched in the age-old tradition of women’s ritual healing songs, the West African troupe layered Alamnou Akrouni’s compelling Tuareg vocal refrains with the airy chords of Fatou Seidi Ghali’s ishumar acoustic guitars. The repetitive simplicity of the lyrical structures and polytonal harmonies cast a hypnotic yet lively spell that eventually prompted even the weariest of hand-clappers to rise to their feet. This elevated reverie permitted the rest of the crowd to move in, as electric guitars introduced a heightened energy to the room. Honouring the uniqueness and authenticity of these highly-focused performers, Calgary’s Home of the Blues was soon pulsating to the beat of a very different drum. The Sahel sounds of Talamnou Akrouni’s tende drum, with its throaty, worry-dulling throb, was improvised in the most inventive way: by replacing the large wooden mortar and wetted goatskin with what appeared to be a halved basketball floating in a tub of water. So, you think you’re pretty DIY, punk? You ain’t got nothing on these talented ladies of Tahoua.
Crystal Eyes – #1 Royal Canadian Legion (Upstairs)
At times an experimental experience in capturing ambience, at times a soft-spoken and melodic basement jam session. Crystal Eyes played a set at the #1 Royal Canadian Legion that seemed an exercise in making colors, shapes and patterns jump to the rhythm of their music.
In a dark room, tightly packed with friends and fans, both new and old, the group showcased how diverse their sound is even in the space of a short set. It’s hard to pin a genre onto Crystal Eyes, but that is certainly not a criticism. With the breadth of their different sounds, from ambient electronic droning and complex beats to driving, distorted melodies and simple, straightforward rhythms, they merge dream pop and indie rock in a surreal way. Making listeners feel somehow at home on the dancefloor, swaying slowly from side to side, Crystal Eyes narrates a waking dream state.
Maria Takeuchi – Commonwealth (Main Floor)
A close encounter with a utopian future, Sled Island Day 1 had a late night set by Maria Takeuchi (aka ÉMU aka Maria Japyellow) that released a cascade of light and sound that spread through Commonwealth like the mercurial white rabbits of Izumo. Twisting dials and crooning softly into her microphone, the multi-instrumentalist, who makes her home in Brooklyn, New York having moved from small town Japan, fused modal loops and quavering beats while imaginary birds chirped from their metallic branches. Perched before a screen of shapeshifting animated faces and fronted by a sinuous chrome mannequin, Takeuchi’s inward-gazing creations conjured the multifaceted gateway god, Janus. Surreal yet intuitively laid-out, her delicate, feathery vocalizations combined with the careful tending of her digital dreamscapes made for a Zen-like yet visually Blade Runner-esque listening experience.
Wares, Cloud Nothings – #1 Royal Canadian Legion (Main Floor)
Taking the helm of the main floor at the Legion after a frenetic set by Edmonton’s Wares, enigmatic noise-rockers Cloud Nothings were met with a damn-near palpable atmosphere of pent-up energy, bristling excitement, and Steam Whistle Pilsner as the band began their first-ever show in Calgary.
Opening with tracks from their latest album, Life Without Sound, the crowd fervently and immediately descended into a tangle of movement; limbs and beer flying indiscriminately as vocalist Dylan Baldi sang and shrieked through the groups whirlwind discography.
But all were nearly shadowed by drummer Jayson Gerycz, who fantastically pounded away through the set carrying a sense of urgency that served to both rally and ignite the packed floor of the Legion.
While the set itself was what was expected (and then some), it was the rousing inclusion of crowd-favourites “I’m Not Part of Me” and the full seven-and-a-half minute “Pattern Walks” from 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else.
“I thought I would be more than this,” Baldi roared to the still-flailing throng as Cloud Nothings closed their set with the sprawling “Wasted Days” from Attack on Memory (2012), and while the plea may have hit home for many, after a killer show from such a phenomenal band, anything more would just be greedy.
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