By Keeghan Rouleau, Matty Hume, Christine Leonard, Michael Grondin, Mario Montes and Liam Prost
June 23rd, 2018, CALGARY —
The shocking and mystic retrofuturist stylings of this infamous Seattle experimental hip-hop project knows no bounds when it comes to left-field concepts and abstract sonic qualities. The duo, fronted by MC Ishmael Butler, have have always utilized stranger techniques when capturing their sound, which blends oddly mundane samples with heavy boom-bap beats and abstract lyricism that looks at the world through this afro-dystopian-alien lens. At the end of a night of experimental ambient and hip-hop, Shabazz Palaces closed out the Legion with uplifting prowess. Although somewhat stripped back due to only Butler being in attendance, Shabazz Palaces cast a calming tidal wave over the almost meditative yet eager crowd.
Hand-picked for this year’s festival by Sled Island’s guest-curator extraordinaire Deerhoof, the three-piece power-pop luminaries Cherry Glazerr capped-off Sled Saturday with clamorous jangle punk and pastel-drenched poise. The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at Dickens Pub reached capacity approximately two hours before their set, making even the most distant audience members from the stage a lucky handful of Sled Islands rock ‘n’ roll keeners. Vocalist and guitarist Clementine Creevy, bassist Devin O’Brien, and drummer Tabor Allen, all fed off the feverishly excited herd in front of them, growing increasingly animated as every driving punk jam zoomed full-speed into the wee hours of Sunday morning. Softer, poppier jams sat between power-pop anthems that were never scared of taking a bite out of metal’s territory, inciting an unexpected mosh pit whose warriors remained just as smiley as their overseer trio. Sled gave their hearts to Cherry Glazerr, and Cherry Glazerr gave it right back. Unfortunately, vocals will noticeably subdued, and celebrated high-octave points that give their studio tracks distinct appeal stayed lower to the ground. Nevertheless, this wasn’t enough to take even a lick of the buzzing good-times-only hysteria away from the audience, and another Sled Saturday energized Calgary souls for a year to come.
Jack Singer Concert Hall
Owen Pallett with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra
This wasn’t the Calgary Philharmonic’s first foray into the singer-songwriter-plus-orchestra ordeal, but it was by far the most interesting. Unlike the guitar-toting everyman songwriters like Corb Lund and Joel Plaskett (both of which have played with the Philharmonic in the last year), Owen Pallett is a classically trained musician and an composter to boot. All of the music on display at the Jack Singer was arranged by Pallett himself, and it shows in both the intricacy, and also the beautiful strangeness of it. Because Pallett’s typical live sets involve quite a bit of looping to achieve the baroque string compositions on the record, one might expect that all of that work would fall to the orchestra, but Pallett still does a huge amount of the heavy lifting with a loop pedal, even modulating the runaway loops into a noisy wall of sound with which he disguises transitions from song to song. Pallett even busted out a surprising amount of guitar, which also ended up being reeled into a perfectly messy loop spiral, accentuated by blasts from the orchestra. The orchestra wasn’t entirely for accentuation though, for a few tracks he put down the instruments and just sang atop the strings, showing off the academic precision of a professional orchestra. It’s a truly singular experience to see an ostensibly pop singer-songwriter command an orchestra. It takes gumption to stand in front of an orchestra to play your own songs, but even moreso to wile out on a violin, looping it like it’s the only one in the room. This was a seriously interesting set by one of Canada’s best songwriters.
Samantha Savage Smith
Joined by some new members, Samantha Savage Smith’s dynamic jangle pop boomed throughout the Palomino on Saturday afternoon. Her and her band’s impressive roster brought a unique depth to the live performance. Two guitars, a synth, drum kit, bass, two tumbadoras, and tambourines stacked into firm musical layers. Not to mention S.S.S.’s incredible voice, tying the whole show together like a shining bow. It’s still early days for the new band, but their energy is miles ahead of the curve.
The Beatroute annual hangover breakfast brings people to every table available at the Palomino, and like a casino in a hotel, Peach Pyramid fills every untouched corner with their sweet and dreamy jangle-pop vibes. Frontwoman Jen Severtson seems shy at first, making small talk with the crowd hiding behind her guitar. But once her and her band get in the zone it all melts away, and you see what a powerhouse she is. We are disappointed to no longer be Severtson’s full time home base, but that makes it all the more special when her and her band roll into Calgary.
Regina’s Trash Hawks pulled out a quick but blistering set upstairs at the Palomino. With a small stage and sunlight coming in from the skylight, it’s a weird spot to wile out to a major key rock band in the mid-afternoon, but Trash Hawks were a welcome dose of skate punk. The quick-riffing band is obviously green (and not just from the weirdly coloured facelight of the Palomino upstairs), but with youth also comes vigour, and they played their hearts out. The band busted out a few well-chosen covers to fill out the set including FIDLAR and Manchester Orchestra, both acts that Trash Hawks would sound great sharing the bill with.
The next best thing to calling your band Jock Tears, Saskatoon’s Man Meat were likely smokin’ in the girls’ room just prior to mounting the stage with their raw rawk swagger. Tripling down on vocals and their angry reputation, they made their mark on the afternoon’s proceedings like a Sharpie in the washing machine. Not afraid to ugly cry in public, they kicked the ol’ L7 torn-stockings-and-smeared-lipstick schtick to the curb and emptied its wallet. Smiling through melodic freefalls and crippling guitar-driven crushes alike, Man Meat delivered a three-pronged attack of quick-to-temper angularity. Don’t you forget about these summer school rejects. They’re waiting for you at the Sled Island bike racks.
Manifesting in an explosion of adolescent exuberance, Blue Youth blew the roof off a soggy Saturday afternoon. The wooden floorboards of the Palomino soon grew thick with Sledders looking to escape the rain and recharge their batteries with a complimentary breakfast and a barrage of punk rock angst. Ranting vocals and bludgeoning percussion pushed back the gloom as the outfit demonstrated their sheer force of will. Backed by screeching guitar tantrums and motivated by an almost frantic sense of frustration, Blue Youth rarely slowed to catch a breath. But when they did, the exploratory instrumental breaks that followed parted the clouds and offered a glimpse inside their tiny bedroom universe.
Vinyl-gloved hands down, Calgary’s own Cabaret Voltaire easily stole the show on Saturday night. You’d almost swear that the thick veil of smoke that filled the basement venue was rising straight off their strings and keys, and most prominently the readily exposed luminescent skin of vocalist Carter Crough. Channeling his inner Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Crough oozed sensuality as his band of skinny puppies slammed industrial beats and performative art together much to a responsive crowd’s delight. Machine and flesh became one and sax and violence prevailed as a viciously delicious Crough, who’s candor would hold up on stages from Berlin to San Francisco, blew the audience away with his candy kisses. Bela Lugosi may be dead, but DRI HIEV lives and has the keys to his wine cellar.
From their Pink Party Desert to the base of the Calgary Tower, it’s been a long strange trip for Cherubs. Indie rock’s big brothers, the Austin-based trio launched into their headlining set with a roaring tide that rose and fell all along the watchtower. Recalling the seething fury of The Jesus Lizard and the disposition on an unhinged NoMeansNo, Cherubs provided a clinic in breaking the mould and all of the unconventional and irreverent innovation that comes with it. A short band with a tall audience, their post-hardcore set saw the veterans digging deep to deliver their take on reckless noise done right. Sharing the appearance of Melvins’ drummer Dave Crover to the third power, the threesome’s distilled filler confirmed their unwavering commitment to their sonic wager. Taking five songs to really loosen up, their serpentine constructs wove through hollered admonitions and tumbleweed percussion that could throw the most determined observer off their trail. Stuff the south in your mouth and cotton in your ears, cuz these squeaky wheels are like muddy water to a man dying of thirst. You know you’re going to take it in anyways.
The Palace Theatre
Dirty Projectors have seen a lot of changes since they last graced Calgary with their presence. It’s an altogether different band, but what makes their avant-garde guitar pop so dynamic is absolutely still present. The staccato hocketing that typified their late aughts work has been reworked into a smoother harmony, with three voices working together instead of two playing against each other. This effect really helps bring out the unique nasally quality of frontman Dave Longstreth’s voice, which is more traditionally impressive in the live setting than on the record. Specifically on songs like “Keep Your Name” which are marred with effect on the album, are nakedly beautiful live. Standout member Felicia Douglas, who spent much of the first half of the set rocking some electronic percussion came forward near the end with a seriously impressive vocal performance and dance moves. Longstreth as well put down the guitar in an interesting turn and both sang mic-in-hand, and also sat down on a guitar amp to bust out some synth melodies. It was an excellent pop set by a new and improved Dirty Projectors with a chance to preview some interesting new material for an album we should be seeing in just a few weeks.
Despite a delayed start due to technical difficulties in the Studio Bell Performance Hall, Yuka Honda’s solo performance as Eucademix enraptured a curious group of Sledders. With a handful of synthesizers at the ready, Honda plucked complex beats and drone out of thin air through constant layering and crescendo. Her primary noise-maker of choice was a tablet-sized synth whose visuals appeared on the backside of the unit for the crowd to see. Enthralled audience members rushed to the stage to learn about Honda’s gear the moment the set closed out, proving that the shortened set put no damper on the vibers with a taste for experimentation
While the Performance Hall at Studio Bell is certainly a smaller, contained space, a wide-eyed audience was transported to a void with no boundaries by Tyondai Braxton’s sonics and otherworldly energy. In this newly created void, Braxton’s collection of wire-crossed machines and the massive projector screen to his rear were a beacon of light and excitement. His hands worked tirelessly, altering connections between synthesizers and molding tempos as he saw fit. Minimal high-end loops danced and battled with low-end drone, constantly evolving into electronic soundscapes for the crowd to discover. The constant evolution ensured no audible moment was the same, commanding onlookers’ attention with so much presence that the audience would never lose sight of the digital composer in the void. Massive projected visuals similarly evolved behind Braxton, which ranged from minimalist white lines on black to distorted flying views of desert landscapes. Between the dimension-hopping projections and ever-expanding digital modulations, Braxton’s set was a mystifying discovery that served to feed a curiosity of the unknown while never venturing into the unsettling.