What did we do last week? We went to A LOT of shows. From rock n’ roll of the hard and fast variety to the sensory and psychedelic, Sled Island 2014 was indeed a musical journey. Regrettably, we couldn’t see everything—we wish that teleportation was an option—but here are a few highlights from some of the shows that we did take in.
Warning: there is strong language contained in this review.
Tee-Tahs showing Sled Islanders the art of having fun forever at Tubby Dog (Photo: Julijana Capone)
Tee-Tahs—Tubby Dog, Wednesday, 9:00 pm
Fresh off the heels of their 2014 recording, Buzzkill, Edmonton power-group the Tee-Tahs, comprised of Jessica Jalbert. Caity Fisher. Jenni Roberts, and Renny Wilson, make the kind of ramshackle pop that makes you want to get up and shout along. Playing for a full house at Tubby Dog, each track was fast and punchy, delivered with a casual intensity that stays true to the band’s adage of not caring about anything and having fun forever. With young show-goers falling over each other and raising their beers to the sky, it all seemed like a collective salute to never-ending fun, and that’s something we can all get behind.
Jerusalem In My Heart—National Music Centre, Wednesday, 11:00 pm
Returning to NMC after having to cancel their residency back in 2013 due to the flood, the Arabic-psych act provided a much-needed change of atmosphere to the raucous vibe of earlier shows. With a series of screens and projections displaying “light-based (de)constructions of space,” visual projectionist Charles-André Coderre maneuvered between a rolling rack adorned with strips of 16mm film and three projectors, working the machines like a DJ approaches his turntables. JIMH’s Radwan Ghazi Moumneh played a saz and incorporated electronics while singing in Arabic as the projections flickered on the screen. Contrasting the traditional with the modern while experimenting with sound and visuals, the set was a gorgeous sensory experience.
Bass Drum of Death—The #1 Legion, Wednesday, 12:00 am
Mississippi garage rockers Bass Drum of Death slayed through jams from their last two albums, awakening a sleepy pack of Wednesday’s late-night show-goers. Tracks, including the infectiously skuzzy “Nerve Jamming” and “GB City,” were met with a swell of energy from the first few rows as thick fuzz-riffs filled the room—and by set’s end the whole crowd had been thoroughly surfed. In true rock n’ roll fashion, frontman John Barrett played the whole set with his hair in his face, flailing his head along to each reverb-drenched song. Although the venue wasn’t as packed as it might have been on a Friday or Saturday, those present were super into it, and the energy was palpable.
Mark Mills showing off his power lunge at The Palomino (Photo: Brandon Wallis)
Mark Mills—The Palomino, Thursday, 6:30 pm
“We’re only a song away from a baby. This is baby-making music,” said Calgary’s Mark Mills, between singing “Irish French Immersion” at a crazy early evening set at the Palomino. Known for his own brand of sex-inflected lo-fi pop—and leaving his inhibitions at the door—Mills certainly doesn’t hold anything back during his live shows. Jumping onto a nearby stair railing, thrusting his hips and power lunging dangerously close to the edge—he’s a bit of a maniac live, but it’s all in good fun. This is, after all, the same guy who wrote an album—2014’s Triple Fire Sign—about “impregnating a cosmic mystical creature,” and started a spur-of-the-moment dance party on the CTrain for a video. Frantically moving around while belting out dance-ready synth jams such as “Body Break,” Mills is a pure-party performer, and if his shows don’t move you, I’m not sure what will.
Dead Soft—The Golden Age Club, Thursday, 7:30 pm
Having played Calgary just a few weeks prior at Luke’s Drug Mart, Vancouver’s Dead Soft were welcomed back again. This time, playing in the gym of a senior’s social centre, called the Golden Age Club (AMAZING!). In addition to the music, what’s great about Sled and other festivals alike—Pop Montreal, Halifax Pop Explosion, and Winnipeg’s Big Fun—is that they get people exploring their city and into venues they may otherwise never go to. Venues aside, Dead Soft is a band that strikes a beautiful balance, straddling penchants for both squalling riffs and super contagious pop hooks. Take for instance the band performing “Something for Nothing,” where the repeating ooo-ooo-ooos of frontman Nathaniel Epp are woven together with gorgeous harmonies, pummeling guitar blasts, and miles of distortion and feedback. Think Phil Spector’s wall of sound meets Steve Albini’s affinity for noise. Simply put: it’s a compelling combo.
Bry Webb and The Providers soldier on despite the rain at Olympic Plaza (Photo: Julijana Capone)
Bry Webb—Olympic Plaza, Friday, 7:30 pm
Touring his latest solo album, Free Will, amid festival dates with the just-reunited Constantines, Bry Webb has been a busy man as of late. But Friday’s show wasn’t about his work with the Cons, it was a showcase of his mellower solo persona. Backed by his band The Providers, the singer-songwriter played a series of stripped-down numbers from his past two solo efforts, including Provider’s “Rivers of Gold,” and Free Will standouts “Positive People” and “AM Blues.” As a torrential downpour drenched Olympic Plaza and people ran for cover, Webb and his band played on. With soaking fans returning to the front of the stage after the rain let up, happily splashing through puddles, the show was a true demonstration of Sled Island’s 2014 slogan: “No one rains on our parade.” Despite the night’s challenges, the music defiantly went on.
Joel Plaskett Emergency—Flames Central, Friday, 12:00 am
“This is either a really long encore or my second show tonight,” Joel Plaskett joked, before beginning his set at Flames Central, the same venue he was slotted to play in 2013 when everything was shut down due to the flood. Last year, he was holed up at the Palliser Hotel for two days as the city’s core was devoured, trying to help out in any way he could, and even offering to play a show in the hotel ballroom without electricity. When Neko Case suddenly had to cancel her headlining slot at Olympic Plaza due to “travel issues,” Plaskett and crew offered to pitch in again, playing a fill-in set before their own gig later that night. When Plaskett hit the stage at Flames Central, the place was close to capacity, filled with die-hard fans—some having seen him only an hour earlier. It’s no secret, Calgary loves the guy. As jams such as “North Star” and “Through & Through & Through” rang throug the venue, a raucous bunch near the front pumped their fists and shouted the words to the songs. So it seems, there can never be too much Joel Plaskett.
Nashville’s Roman Polanski’s Baby at The #1 Legion (Photo: Julijana Capone)
Roman Polanski’s Baby—The #1 Legion, Saturday, 11:30 pm
Although feminist-punk icon Kathleen Hanna was not physically present at Saturday’s show, her spirit was felt in Nashville’s Roman Polanski’s Baby, hand-picked by Hanna to bring some riot grrrl energy to the festival—and that they did. Lead vocalist Katie Miller became totally unhinged during her performance, screaming, banging her head, and spinning and collapsing onto the ground. “You’re hot,” shouted a dude in the crowd. With the band thrashing through tracks about horrible boyfriends and creepy guys, that riot-grrrl vibe was especially felt in the song “C.R.E.E.P” with Miller furiously yelling the line: “You’re a creep…Don’t you ever touch me you asshole!”
Obits doing rock n’ roll right at The #1 Legion (Photo: Julijana Capone)
Obits—The #1 Legion, Saturday, 1:00 am
With Obits filling in for Kathleen Hanna’s band The Julie Ruin, who was scheduled to headline Saturday’s show, frontman Rick Froberg took a moment to wish Hanna well. (Her set was cancelled due to her ongoing battle with late-stage Lyme disease.) Formerly of seminal ‘90s post-hardcore band Drive Like Jehu, the 46-year-old Froberg was in prime form, blasting out jams from Moody, Standard and Poor, including the surf-laced “I Want Results” and “Spun Out” off 2013’s Bed & Bugs. Playing with more raw power and intensity than a band twice their junior, Obits’ live shows are a lesson in straight-ahead rock done well, and a testament to just how good the band remains after nearly 10 years of playing together. As the band closed their set, announcing “We have one more song before we set you loose on the night,” one could feel a universal sigh. The festival was nearly over—and all we wanted was just a little bit more.
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