By Sebastian Buzzalino, Matty Hume, Christine Leonard, Paul Mcaleer, Emilie Medland-Marchen, Liam Prost
June 20th, 2018, CALGARY —
Ship and Anchor
Canada’s first signee to the venerable Daptone Records, Michael Rault, took to the Ship and Anchor stage on the first night of Sled Island with all of the sauve his latest album, It’s a New Day Tonight, would suggest. The set focused on psych summer-ready jams as the Montreal-via-Edmonton five-piece soothed the crowd, providing plenty of opportunity for the packed audience to drink in the easy times. A beauty of a chilled-out set, it was an ideal cap to a sun-drunk and sweaty first day of Sled.
This Newfoundland four piece lives up to their name. Fun-loving jangle rock jams abound as BBQT lit up the Ship and Anchor stage. The set’s most memorable moment came from their admission that Sled Island headliner John Maus specifically abhors songs about Pepsi, and BBQT’s best and most danceable song just happens to be about everyone’s second-favorite soft drink. It may not have ended any standoffs with police last night, but we still have to side with BBQT on this one.
You’d have to be a right fool not to take advantage of free Sled shows. Wednesday night’s gem of a line-up at The Palomino Smokehouse and Social Club cut the ribbon for a collection of Sledders ready to do just that. Calgary-based astroprojectors Gone Cosmic delivered a roundhouse kick to the liver as they launched into their most dangerous set to date. Navigating Black Mastiff grooves, Sabbathy shakedowns and Black Thunder-esque technical manoeuvers, Abbie Thurgood’s heavy-lidded crooning and spiraling vocals broke-up the patio party like nobody’s business and drew listeners in to the packed barroom with a soulful siren song befitting of this erstwhile Lil Sister and the Holding Company.
Affirming that the quickest way to turn sweat stains into frost burn is to pour on an icy deluge of blackened heavy metal, Chieftain generated a very different vibe. Twisting the blade and pushing the crowd deeper into the heart of darkness, Chieftain’s five members took over the minimalist stage like a legion of medieval necromancers. The sturm and drang of their dueling strings overlaid with a torrent of tormented he-versus-she vocals provided the plus 25 degree proceedings with a much appreciated hair-raising chill session.
40 Watt Sun
There was simply no preparing for the warm solar glow of 40 Watt Sun. Bathing the basement venue in his broad honeyed tones, vocalist/guitarist Patrick Walker slowly guided band and audience through a forlorn but hopeful soundscape. Having spent the day strolling through Inglewood’s books and record stores and scrutinizing scenesters on the patio, the trio was prepared to deliver a memorable set before flying back to England the next morning. Instead, an arguably jaded Walker was forced to battle an inattentive crowd that talked loudly throughout 40 Watt Sun’s artfully poignant, but not necessarily foot-stomping, performance. Maybe you’ve seen the recent articles on bars that regularly “Shussssh!” their patrons when conversation volumes skyrocket. The Palomino has no such policy, and even if they did, Calgarians do not respond well to social shaming. “Please stop talking,” the increasingly irked Walker beseeched between tunes. Finally, the big bard Walker let loose with “Please! shut the fuck up!” Two thirds of the crowd cheered in agreement, but it was not to be. Perhaps Sledders should invite this thoughtful band back to perform on Sunday when everyone is too tired to yammer through the music they travelled 7,000 kms to share.
There’s no sugar-coating it, Vancouver’s Griefwalker is a macabre force of nature. With eight band members and a treasure trove of instrumentation, the experimental post-metal outfit created bone-humming doom that turned the Palomino’s basement into a catacomb.
Lap guitar, synth, electric xylophone and electric violin supported heavy bass and drop-tuned guitar without a moment of silence throughout the set. No matter where the crowd’s emotions stood before Griefwalker stepped onstage, the venue’s mood was theirs to enchant.
Central United Church
Two years ago, Phil Elverum tragically lost his wife Geneviève to cancer, leaving their infant daughter to grow up without a mother. The last two Mount Eerie records are autobiographical journeys through unfathomable grief and the tragedy of death. On the other hand, the idea of an afterlife, to Elverum at least, is a hope dragged down back to earth by the reality of grief. Mount Eerie’s past two albums are sparingly peppered with subtle optimism, ignorance and fleeting moments of divine symbolism. A full house at Central United Church was captivated by Mount Eerie’s elegiac acoustic set. The music was soul crushing as Elverum admitted he was singing directly to his wife rather than the audience, ad the crowd watched in respectful silence as Elverum kept his eyes planted to the floor. Thunderous applause filled the pews of the church between songs and Elverum awkwardly accepted praise for his grief before moving on to the next track. While Mount Eerie’s lyricism alluded to brief moments of optimism, the harsh inevitability of death overshadowed many of his songs. In the string of moments between songs, Elverum hovered over his own imperishable memories — immortal for as long as he and his audience stay breathing and remembering.
Ella Coyes hit the church in funeral black, a clean accompaniment to her reverb-laden electric folk songs, but her demeanor was friendly and self-deprecating. The enigmatic lyricism of her songs was decidedly more approachable in light of her wit and charm. The Edmonton songwriter writes and talks like a veteran — who knows how well realized her visions will be when she is one.
Justin Wright is hardly the first classical instrumentalist to underscore his compositions with electronics and synths, but the absence of beats or rhythms keeps his surreal and ambient compositions consistently pleasant. Wright manually pushes his synth arpeggios into the extreme sonic ranges, and the resulting pulsing bass adds viscerality to an otherwise light and airy set of textures. Bringing out an extra string player gave extra resonance to Wright’s fairly academic compositions.
One year after Flying Lotus shook the Palace Theatre with his avant-beats, close collaborator and force of cosmic groove Thundercat made the same stage his very own. Thundercat’s lightning-fast claws turned his six-string bass into an impossibly fast synth dynamo, placing complex fills and solos between wide-ranging vocals. Accompanied only by a drummer and keyboard player, the band collectively showed a wealth of jazz-riddled talent with no limit to their rapid tempos.
The sold-out crowd at The Palace Theatre was never disenchanted, with each head in the room bobbing to every funk jam Thundercat threw their way. If anyone at Sled had an itch for technically astounding jazz, Thundercat’s scratch was a flawless antidote.
Mount Kimbie are genre-erasing UK heavy hitters that take subtlety, experimentation, loose melodic meandering and gooey hooks to new heights. Through their interesting catalogue and history, they’ve always found themselves comfortably lost within the fabric of various electronic music styles with a distinct punk attitude. What they were able to display at Commonwealth on Wednesday night was an affirmation that musical boundaries aren’t necessary, all while keeping their catchy, dancy musical attitude alive. The once-upon-a-time “post-dubstep” duo — now a shoegazey four piece — blend synth-jubilance and splashy drums with total humble seriousness.