Sled Diaries Vol 1. - Sean Newton
I returned from Sled Island on Sunday evening with a renewed appreciation for the city of Calgary and an overwhelming amount of fantastic new music to check out. First stop after picking up my pass was at the Central United Church where I caught Edmonton mainstay Jom Comyn performing songs old and new with a larger than usual ensemble. I caught the tail end of Amy Nelson’s set upon entering the venue, and wish I would’ve caught more of it; her songwriting and vocal performance make her play on cowboy music immediately endearing. Our very own Cups N Cakes showcase on Wednesday night led to me discovering Intimacy, a Calgary punk outfit somehow only playing their first ever show. Paradise (fresh off of a European tour) raised the energy level sky-high for the Screaming Females to take over and really tear the roof off the place. Lead guitarist Marissa Paternoster can really play, and her ripping guitar solos were matched by a manic energy from the bassist and drummer that made the crowd at Dickens go wild. I fetched a slice of pizza from my soon to be best friends at Canadian Pizza Unlimited, and settled in for the night.
I missed the only two sets from Victoria based soul-pop group Bridal Party due to our showcase, but they quickly became one of my favourite discoveries of the festival after chatting with them on Thursday afternoon. They have a new record called Too Much that’s out August 23rd that I’m sure you’ll hear us talk about more leading up to that date. The record is a blast to listen to, and our conversation about its creation was enlightening. I ran to the Sloth Records showcase to catch DTSQ, a quartet from South Korea that land somewhere between riff-based punk and Todd Rundgren style space music, and ran to the Palomino immediately after to squeeze in a happy hour pint of Steamwhistle and a killer set from hometown favourites Astral Swans. I ate a quick meal while watching Old Apartments, and ran out to Studio Bell for an evening of contemporary classical music. The first act of this bill was the most emotionally compelling experience of Sled: flutist Jiajia Li displayed an amount of technical wizardry on her instrument and loop pedals, and was herself so completely immersed in her performance that it would be impossible for anyone in the room not to be completely mesmerized. To top this off, she played a version of Steve Reich’s Counterpoints (written for 10 flutes of varying ranges) entirely by herself, built layer by layer with loop pedals, that was a stunning way to end her set. Justin Wright followed, bringing the audience back to earth with a cello, violin, and synthesizer trio, while the venue filled up to capacity for Lubomyr Melnyk. His music is something completely unique; he played three pieces which spanned roughly 90 minutes and likely hundreds of thousands of individual notes. Each note flies by with a speed that is hard to grasp, and therefore creates a texture that is almost meditative even though the pieces are infinitely dense and complex. I walked home across the Bow River in heavy rain and a piano induced haze, and passed out.
Friday I spoke to Aron Zacharias of the perennial Cups N Cakes favourite Shirley & the Pyramids after a late rise and a stop at Boogie’s Burgers in Bridgeland. I dove back into their record from last June, called Pure Pain, to prep for the interview, and we talked about the EP they’re currently working on, to be released at some point in the later Summer/Fall. It’s their first EP with the full live lineup on the recording, and based on their show at the Palomino on Saturday, it’ll be a banger. I caught a little bit of the CFCR showcase at Tubby Dog (featuring The Garrys and The Sex Geckos) before meeting up with some old friends for dinner. After dinner, and a brief encounter with some police officers surrounding cannabis bylaws (apparently much less liberal in Calgary than Edmonton), I twisted some arms and dragged some pals to the Palace Theatre for Sled standouts housepanther, who played to a rapidly growing crowd. A combination of excellent stage patter and songwriting from an earnest and hilarious place made for a magnetic performance that surely earned a fair share of housepanther converts from the audience that night. Curator picks Bully and Hop Along (who I’ve been waiting to see for a while) were both high energy indie punk fun, if by comparison a little colder and less personable than the opener. We ran out near the end of Hop Along to catch DTSQ once again, who looked a little shocked to be playing to a full house in the upstairs of the #1 Legion. It was a rowdy crowd packed shoulder to shoulder, which made for an unforgettable experience when DTSQ really let loose. I stumbled home after catching a bit of Gym Tonic, to get some rest for my last full day at the festival.
Saturday had the single bill that I was most excited to see: after grabbing some lunch, while Cups N Cakes team member Jeff interviewed Snake River at my place, I went to the Broken City patio and caught Vancouver psych-twangers milk, the Portland, OR based Mujahedeen, and Motherhood, from New Brunswick. Motherhood and milk both released records in the past year that are some of my favourite things I’ve written about for Cups N Cakes, and their sets were both “can’t miss” picks for me going into the week. This absolutely paid off; milk was even more charming and laidback in person than on their record (which is saying something) and served as a perfect soundtrack to a sunny day on the rooftop patio. Motherhood meanwhile, summoned up seemingly unlimited reserves of energy to play the most fun and frenetic set I caught the whole week (in 25 degree heat, no less). Their record “Dear Bongo,” is my favourite record so far this year, and while it is also a crazy amount of fun, I realized while watching them play live the amount of technical ability that this trio has in order to not only be able to play the music they do, but also to write it. I walked with Jeff and the band back at the Dirt City Devils Airbnb to steal some of his beer and interview Motherhood. We discussed their record, and had an absolute blast talking about the nitty-gritty of editing work, concept albums, and East coast pizza joints. I bid them adieu, and ran to catch Shirley & the Pyramids before breaking for supper, and winding things down with Sister Ray, Tasha, and Julien Baker. As is almost to be expected at this point, Sister Ray blew them away; her semi-improvised work brings an amount of spontaneity and lack of handrails that make the style of intimate and confessional music on display seem so much more urgent and less guarded than you would initially think is possible. After the show, and after 4 straight days of festival going, I called it quits and went home to enjoy some much needed sleep before taking off the next morning.
2. Jiajia Li
5. Jom Comyn
- Sean Newton