By Jodi Brak
CALGARY – Well, it’s that time of year again. Whether it’s an excuse to brush off the dust that’s been collecting on your cowboy boots and big, ridiculous hats, or you’re just looking to join in on one of Calgary’s biggest summer parties, the Stampede is here again. Outside of the rodeo, the rides, the decadent midway food and the (many) beer gardens, Stampede also brings a full week of music. The 2017 concert lineup brings Canadian acts to Calgary, along with a host of others who have made the journey across borders to get rowdy in our little home on the Canadian prairie. Here are a few picks from the Rockpile editor for concerts to check out at Stampede, whether you’re already a fan or just looking for some new acts to obsess over.
Hailing from the GTA (that’s Toronto, for the uneducated), USS is a duo whose music ranges from lighthearted affirmations of life’s comical hypocrisy to perhaps-too-honest admissions of the insecurities that can creep up on you all too unexpectedly. They combine lo-fi, at times grungy, guitar riffs with the driving force of drum and bass beat, pairing the song structure of a rock tune with the sonic capabilities of electronic music to create music that falls on so many sides of the genre spectrum it is difficult to pin down. The variety in their songs alone makes it a good chance they’ll play something you’ll like, but at the very least it’s hard to not appreciate the poetry of their lyrics, whether it be for the biting cynicism, colorful metaphor or simply the honesty displayed in some of their more toned down tracks. Oh, they also call themselves Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker (try saying that five times fast). They will be playing the Coke Stage on Friday, July 7 at 9:00 p.m.
Another group out of Toronto, The Strumbellas shot to the forefront of Canadian folk music in 2016 with the release of their first single, “Spirits,” which supported their latest offering Hope. They bring to the stage a familiar folk sound punctuated with techniques of the modern era. With huge buildups, drums augmented by clapping and subtle tambourine, rhythmic electric guitar, gang harmonies that will be sure to have you singing along with your friends, and lyrics that leave you uplifted even though they tackle demons, The Strumbellas put it all out there on stage. In the midst of the Springsteen-meets-Dylan soundscape are clear influences from modern pop music, some beat drops here and a few catchy hooks there, but they act as an accent to the folk songwriting, not as a crutch to carry the song ahead. The group is no stranger to Calgary, playing here a few times in 2016 as part of JUNOfest and the Calgary Folk Fest, and you can catch them on the Coke Stage Wednesday, July 12 at 9:00 p.m.
Whitehorse began as something of a folk duo, but as the story goes with most, if not all, prolific Canadian rock acts, they quickly outgrew that box and proved that genre is just a box record stores like to put music in. They are one of those rare bands whose musicianship and creativity are both cranked to 10, who thrive on a resistance of expectations and a willingness to believe that art still has a place in the rock music of 2017. Whitehorse is equal parts space cowboy twang, electric blues, high velocity rock ‘n’ roll, airy folk-pop and toned-down singer songwriter. With their new single, “Boys Like You,” Whitehorse is mixing things up again, adding hip-hop producers and processed beats, expanding their studio sound with samplers, vintage drum-machines and more. The result is a song that fuses ‘90s guitar rock riffs and Brit pop-inspired swells with a cinematic production. With lethal riffs, high-voltage guitar solos and songwriting skills that rival the legends, Whitehorse is not a band to miss. They will be playing the Coke Stage on Saturday, July 15 at 9:15 p.m.
Whether you’re experiencing it in a dingy basement dive or a massive festival field, a July Talk show provides a special kind of feeling, equal parts like being at a prohibition-era speakeasy, or in the midst of some kind of exclusive cult gathering. Their music evokes something primal, through both their lyrics and the way they are presented in the music. The deep growls of Peter Dreimanis speak to the animal instincts all humans share, his loud and ragged voice the perfect contrast to the hushed whispers that are Leah Fay’s vocals. A full-hearted cry to embrace what makes us human, presented alongside a soft and sensual admission of the insecurities that prevent us from doing so. Just as their lyrics and vocals offer a stark contrast, the music provided as a backdrop ranges from soft, stripped-down melodies laced with some of the trappings of pop music, to mile-a-minute, heavily distorted rock anthems that pound through to the very heart of you. For such a fresh-faced group of artists, their music truly has an old soul with its focus on low-key melodies, simple, driving rhythms, and a healthy dose of criticism about the information technology that has become ubiquitous in the modern day. They will be playing the Coke Stage on Sunday, July 16 at 9:00 p.m.
THE HARPOONIST AND THE AXE MURDERER
Framed by psychedelic landscapes and play-it-like-the-world-is-ending mid concert jam sessions, The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer ignite the gritty, blues-rock grooves that sent dance halls across the world into a frenzy once upon a time. They are relentless touring artists known for high-energy, sweaty, dance-floor-boogying music, which makes them a great fit for the glorified week-long party that is Stampede season. You can hear a desire for togetherness in the very core of their music, a longing for every single person on the dancefloor to turn to the one next to them and acknowledge their existence. Their lyrics are less fraught with cynicism about the world around us, and more simply acknowledging that connection is somewhat of a rare commodity, something that should be cherished and cultivated. This thoughtful lyrical style is delivered alongside uplifting and up-tempo music, warm acoustic guitars, breezy keyboard melodies and transcendental guitar solos which seem to tear right out of the song and become an experience all their own. This group are some true up and comers in the Canadian music scene, and you can catch them on the Coke Stage on Saturday, July 15 at 7:00 p.m.