For Two Brief Days, Calgary Festival Burned Brightly
This was a really difficult review to write.
On the morning of Friday, June 21, Sled Island festival promoters cancelled all remaining events as flood waters spilled from the Bow and Elbow Rivers and onto the streets.
The festival, which began on Wednesday, June 19, had just entered into it’s third day.
And while it goes without saying that Sled Island, and Canada’s music community, suffered huge losses that weekend, the damage to Calgary, High River, Canmore and other areas, is insurmountable.
With news outlets reporting that evacuation orders for most homes across Calgary have been lifted, Alberta Premier Alison Redford warned that the cleanup effort could take up to 10 years.
Stay strong Alberta.
But regardless of the tragedies of the past weekend, the line-ups were as solid as ever, the music just as good.
Stay strong Sled Island.
La Luna vs. The Ship & Anchor
For the record, I’ve always loved The Ship & Anchor. A must-visit homey pub with one of the best outdoor patios in Calgary, the Ship has a great selection of brews, a decent menu, and is typically packed with beautiful drunks that could make Shane MacGowan blush. But for whatever reason, the Ship just wasn’t floating my boat on Wednesday night. Maybe it was just the unnervingly creepy dude who said we were sitting in his spot.
Regardless, locals La Luna crushed it with their opening set. Playing spazzy hardcore with vocals reminiscent of ‘90s group Submission Hold, the four-piece tore through the Ship amidst a tightly packed crowd. The set culminated with the bassist climbing atop a precariously stacked amp stack and screaming. Awesome move, but I’m glad he didn’t fall.
Amy Hef, Christian Hansen and Hollerado at the Republik
The Sled Island band guide is, of course, total essential reading for those of us looking to see new talent. And Amy Hef’s write-up was mondo intrigue: “Amy was the first female musician ever to do an oil rig tour in Northern Alberta.” That’s sort of… ominous? Regardless, Hef put on a good show, along with a cover of a Calvin Harris song. Very Alberta.
On the other hand, I had never heard of Christian Hansen. Even weirder, my good buddy Doug Hoyer, whom I’ve seen perform many times, was rocking the bass. The band took to the stage wearing matching Misfits shirts and it only got better from there. A strange-but-sexy cross between Andrew WK and The B-52s, Hansen and co. put on a fun and energetic set, which resulted in a viciously tender dance party. Hugely charismatic, Christian Hansen was one of the most memorable acts of the festival.
Hollerado took the stage next. While I’ve never been much of a fan of their recordings, the four-piece know how to rock an audience. Confetti cannons exploded. Hearts melted. And when it was over all I could do was fistpump like a geriatric trying to ring the hanging cord on the bus that lets you off.
Iceage headline the Legion
The Legion is another great Calgary venue. Spacious with two floors and plenty of character, the main floor is one of those rooms where you can see everything no matter where you stand. Which was definitely a good thing considering that Denmark’s Iceage are absolutely not to be missed. Hardcore punk that’s only pegged down to the genre given their ferocious delivery, the four-piece shrugged and snarled through a rabid set that saw the audience take to the air. The band may have looked detached at times – a festival employee told me they were drunk as fuck – but it was still one of those nights for the ages.
Viet Cong are tense and drone-y not unlike the hull of a schooner
Bad omen or not, walking into Broken City was like stepping into the hull of a leaking schooner. The venue had buckets placed sporadically around the floor to catch drippings from the ceiling. Regardless, a decent-sized crowd had gathered to watch locals Viet Cong. Comprised of members of Lab Coast, Sharp Ends and Friendo, the group played tense, rhythmic post-indie rock that veered between jangly guitar and dissonant, drone-y jams. It might have been the precursor to a wet weekend, but Viet Cong managed to provide temporary relief for those willing to brave an afternoon of jagged guitar rock.
Superchunk leave no wire uncrossed at Flames Central
Flames Central is one of the strangest venues I have ever seen a rock show at. A shrine to Calgary’s hockey team, and opulence in general, the show’s original venue, The Republik, had been moved due to encroaching floodwater. About an hour after we arrived, reports starting coming in that lower downtown venues, such as The Ship & Anchor, were similarly shut down.
Amidst the hilarious background, openers Roaming Storms took to the stage. And while the group played a competent set they weren’t really all that spectacular in any way even with the dude from The Dudes on rhythm guitar. THEESatisfaction similarly put on a decent set, but lacked the wallop I was hoping for. The tandem dance moves were great, but it was off-putting watching the duo stop in between songs to change the music on the laptop behind them.
Superchunk, however, completely delivered the goods. Despite the noticeable absence of longtime bassist Laura Ballance, the four-piece ripped into a set that boasted the designation of “all hits”. Jon Wurster hammered on his set with vigour and vinegar while front man Mac McCaughan flew and flitted across the entirety of the stage. Song-wise, the band paid homage to their massive back catalogue, although another hour would have done their set proper justice.
The highlight, personally anyway, was “Crossed Wires” – I had been singing that song all fucking afternoon in the hotel room.
Suuns: the perfect precursor to the apocalypse
Word came down late Saturday night that the Palomino was stuffed up the wazoo – quelle surprise considering that the venue has garnered a reputation for being one of the premiere stages of Sled Island. After leaving Superchunk, we somehow managed to get inside in time to hear Montreal’s Suuns step up with the song “Arena”. Having been familiar with the band just as they began to garner buzz in their hometown, Suuns are a weird, but inspired balance between fuzzed out stoner indie jams and legit dance mayhem. Swaying amidst the insidious cocktail of beats and beers, it was the perfect end to the evening. Or the precursor to the apocalypse.
When we left the venue and towards the hotel the streets were already deserted, save for the black military tanks ominously prowling through the hood.
Flood waters take their toll on Sled Island and the city of Calgary
On Friday morning the city woke up to flooded streets and power outages. The worst had just hit Calgary. And it was heartbreaking.
The south side of the hotel, located near Victoria Park mere blocks from The Saddledome, was already submerged. The north was strangely dry. It was time to get to higher ground, and ultimately back to Saskatoon.
Over the course of the next few days, Calgary’s music community banded together, with impromptu shows popping up in the north end of the city, and venues such as Edmonton’s Wunderbar putting on fundraising concerts.
Despite the surreal scene of flooded streets and homes, it was truly amazing how far fans went to ensure that the show went on.