By Matt Hume, Sebastian Buzzalino, Christine Leonard, Keeghan Rouleau, Michael Grondin, Mario Montes, and Liam Prost
June 21th, 2018, CALGARY —
Central United Church
Conversations with Bears
Conversations with Bears was brilliantly placed in the Central United Church for his Floyd-esque samples, always layering underneath the ever growing post-folk foreground. The crowd was scattered about the rows of pews, barely taking up half the space. But those who were there were attentive, perking up for the high notes, tuning their ears to the subtler tones of the band and Lucien Lahey’s vocal work. There was a constant connection between the audience and Lahey’s presence, all complimented by the echo that Central United Church surrounds its audiences with. Typically a solo endeadvor, Conversations with Bears was filled out as a full four-piece band, and was all the more racous for it. Lahey’s endearing falsetto anchored his sweet and thoughtful songs with an emphasis and punctuation not typical from his solo sets.
Ada Lea oscillates between being a brilliantly realized singer-songwriter project, and a capable indie-pop band. Ali Levy’s shivering voice and confident silver aesthetic sensibility was properly at home at one of Sled Island’s largest venues. There were a lot of Montreal artists on the bill for Sled Island 2018, and the collaborative artistic community there is apparent in every set, but Ada Lea’s caring songs and adorable band are truly singular, even within that highly diverse scene.
Wye Oak was one of this year’s guest curators Deerhoof’s picks, but they fit the festival so well we can’t believe this is the first time they have landed in old cowtown, and the gracious air with which they headlined Central United Church on Thursday was warm and welcoming, before becoming angular and momentous. The band is typically a duo with Andy Stack knocking out clicking drums with one hand, while playing synths with the other, all while frontwoman Jenn Wasner bleeds virtuosity out of her offset guitar and sings enigmatic stories with warmth and precision. On Thursday however they had a bassist in tow, which filled out the set into a full church-filling wall of sound. The band’s latest release, The Louder I call, the Faster it Runs, is heavy on tone and texture, and the extra set of hands gave more room for Stack to punch out harder rhythms and Wasner to wile out on guitar. The set was absolutely the loudest and most buzzing thing at Central United Church in 2018.
Part scathing feminist manifesto, part perfectly-timed stand-up comedy set and part scorching songwriting that won her the Polaris Prize last year, Lido Pimienta’s headlining set at Commonwealth for the National Indigenous Peoples Celebration Day was an hour-long instruction in resistance, radicalism and resilience. Pimienta’s genial spirits and cutting wit permeated a show that moved easily between tearing apart the bullshit games men play with women when they just want to get laid (“En Un Minuto”), calling out the emotional and physical oppression of non-cis-hetero white dudes under patriarchy (“La Capacidad”), and the tenderness and emancipation of self-love and friendship (“Jardines”). In between songs, as Pimienta caught her breath, she had the crowd howling and whistling with laughter as she meandered down the tangents that inspire her songs. Her first time in Calgary was a total banger and, in the short hour she shared with everyone on stage, she cemented herself not only as the best show at this year’s Sled, but as deserving of the recognition of one of the best artists in Canada. Absolutely essential.
It was time to switch to whiskey, or more properly gin, as Dickens opened its doors to a night of heavy hitters on Thursday. And who better to wrestle that beast to the ground than local grinders Chron Goblin? Welcoming a loose gaggle of guests to their own ‘private show,’ vocalist Josh Sandulak was in fine timbre as his powerful howls raked each track over the emotional coals. Soon the dancefloor began to fill as the nimble foursome pulled out a bevy of skate punk flavoured favourites and challenging new material that was as intricate as it was boogilicious. Bassist Richard ‘Big Red’ Hepp’s popsicle-headed Gibson provided a thrumming backbone for percussionist Brett Whittingham and guitarist Darty Purdy who were both on double-duty having played with their other band Gone Cosmic earlier in the week. Sounding even better than they do on their albums, the foursome, who closed out Desertfest in London this time last year, unleashed a full-throttle showcase of that eviscerated classic rock and used its skin for rolling papers.
The Radiation Flowers
Emerging from the pastel smoke-machine fog, dream-droners Radiation Flowers spread their shimmer rock across a sea of happy faces. The lithe quintet’s tone on tone layering of strings and synths offered up a soft-landing place for weary minds. All a-sparkle lead vocalist/guitarist Shelby Gaudet resembled the blue fairy of folklore as her ethereal vocals levitated over a bed of swirling keys and distorted strums. Conjuring a dust devil of lush reverb, The Radiation Flowers’ slow rodeo roundup saw the audience grow to capacity under their careful ministrations. Reminiscent of the ‘80s alt-rock phenoms like My Bloody Valentine, the Saskatoon-based band’s detached three-mile-stare saw them unwinding their tunes in a hazy, shoegazey fashion. Guitarist Chris Laramie, also of Shooting Guns and The Switching Yard hung back in his typical humble manner, but there are few who can approximate his knack for building walls of voodoo without drawing attention to the scaffolding. A revelation to many, the Radiation Flowers’ cyclical, prairie-tinged prog rock approximated the sweet hum of sticking one’s head in a hornet’s nest without the lumpy consequences.
Chances are high that you’ve never seen a duo quite as dynamic as New York’s White Hills, but there’s a reason their name precedes them. Smashing together glam dirge with death disco the unique twosome quickly won over the crowd with their pretty meets gritty intensity. Guitar and drums, black eyeliner and rhinestones, Love and Rockets; White Hills has it all covered. Simultaneously channeling Jim Morrison and Trent Reznor, while drawing obvious comparisons to Alice Cooper, singer/guitarist Dave W. didn’t need to pause for dramatic effect before waxing poetic over percussionist Ego Sensations assertive hammering. Crowned with a head-mic tiara and dressed in ringmaster red velvet, Ego threw herself into each track pursuing and propelling at every turn. Meanwhile, Dave’s austere vocals and dystopian lyrics primed the canvas for the full impact of White Hills art rock flourishes and noisy diatribes. Generating a thick atmosphere only to slice right through it with white hot flashes of inspiration, the twosome’s set built to a perfect synergistic climax of raw voltage and intuitive flesh.
Hailing from Tortona, Italy and armed with more effects pedals than a Deafheaven/My Bloody Valentine collab, psychedelic power-doom trio Ufomammut hypnotized a worshipful flock of head bangers in the Dickens Pub dungeon. Led by the haunting howls and metallic-green Rickenbacker bass of frontman Urlo, guitarist Poia and drummer Vita pummelled through droning behemoths of synth-saturated metal chronicles. Urlo and Poia’s thunderous riffs shook every bone in the venue — enhancing the atmosphere set by Vita belaboring the beat onward as an unsettling montage of psych-horror imagery was projected onstage. Despite the fact that the ear-splitting trio’s set was slated to end at 11:30 p.m., their instruments only found rest at 1 a.m. following a half-hour encore. When the epic ultimately concluded, the trio shook hands with every available doom disciple in the clearly thankful crowd. If Ufomammut’s goal was to melt the faces of Sled’s metal-minded, they’re truly masters of their merciless craft.
If John Hughes directed a movie about an inter-dimensional submarine, Melted Mirror would be the soundtrack. Their murky waves of nostalgic sound flowed front to back through the Royal Canadian Legion, causing a tsunami of respectful dancers reflecting the energy on stage with a noisy grace. Frontman Chris Zajko’s bizarre, yet fitting “dance” segments during each instrumental break were as inspiring as they were uncomforting. He has this certain ability to jerk his whole body in the most rhythmic way possible, starting with his hands and arms and moving to the ground until he himself is pinned to the floor, as if the pressure of the music is weighing down on him. It’s a sight that is entrancing from start to finish, a performance that lives outside of the confines of time and space. Melted Mirror live is a commanding live set that we cannot wait to see again.
Imagine a technicolour aneurysm exploding inside your brain. That’s John Maus. His intensely raw displays of emotion and character are as unparalleled as they are charmingly hilarious. While inducing a communal drug trip with a wall of synths, unrelenting bass grooves and a brand new live band, this PhD clad lo-fi philosopher kicked and screamed and head-banged right into the hearts of every happy sled goer at the fully packed Legion. This unassuming, unguarded, mind of one dives head first into a strange love of everything pop music has to offer in a fearless manner, and while looking like he’s going to spontaneously combust on stage, the legion danced and danced and danced along.
Nite Owl – Library
Fresh off the release of their ironically titled Jo Passed Their Prime. The Vancouver four piece and recent Sub Pop signees played an absolutely torrential set to a Library of only a few excited fans. It’s not entirely accurate to call the band Post Punk, but their muscular single-coil guitar flavours are tonally in the range, but with math-rock-worthy rythmic turns and stage energy that felt almost choreographed in its cohesion. It was a short, blistery set for one of the tightest guitar bands at the festival this year.
Deerhoof’s World Cup Live Score
Whoever thought it was a good idea to have Deerhoof do an improvisational live score of a soccer game is an evil genius (it was probably Greg from Deerhoof). For one, it was hilarious. Two, it was mind numbingly ridiculous. Two hours of of screeches and booms and skronks and whistles to a game so long the ordeal became this wonderful ear shattering soccer hell.
Hands down, Fountain are so impressively talented. They rip! Their avant-poppy-post-punky grooves are sharp as hell while simultaneously goofy and dancy within its peculiar precision. Though their Sled run is through this year, make sure you see this band at least once in your life.