Sled Island Day One One of the biggest quandaries with this year's Sled Island festival is the comedy. Sure, we've been blessed with an incredible lineup of musicians, but the comedy is also out of this world. And it's directly competing with the music.
With that in mind, I couldn't resist tonight's comedy lineup so I made it to the Auburn Saloon to check it out.
Opening up and hosting the evening was former local/current Torontonian Ryan Kukec, who has traded in his clean cut indie persona for a wild man beard and a sleeveless flannel. Despite the new jokes about his own appearance and an attempt at a slob persona, the sweetness of last year's set still crept through. Even the jokes from last year that he reused still stood up, particularly his edgy nap joke. Dude can write one hell of an edgy nap joke.
Following Kukec was still local comedian Chris Gordon, who has apparently made somewhat of a name for himself. Sure, he had the loudness and ability to command the crowd, but his set ultimately fell flat. Opening with an undoubtedly (and intentionally) racist asian character, he attempted to use the audience's discomfort to his advantage, but it didn't work when the rest of his set fell into the hyper delivery better suited to Family Guy fans. That weird grey area between anti-humour and mainstream appeal left a bitter taste, particularly when he attempted a date rape joke.
After some more from Kukec, Vancouver comedian and host of the Stop Podcasting Yourself podcast Graham Clark upped the ante significantly with his set, which was a nice change in that it felt entirely planned and worked through. Clark's jokes were top-notch, and he also interacted with the crowd just enough to prove that he wasn't just delivering a rehearsed set. Ultimately, he was the biggest surprise of the evening.
Following a brief intermission, former Brutal Knights frontman Nick Flanagan took the stage. It was hard to know what to expect from the frontman of an insanely energetic hardcore band, but Flanagan was far from energetic, instead embodying a frail, self-deprecating persona that was ultimately a huge success. Carrying himself like a goofy Daniel Clowes character, his jokes were rough around the edges but delivered in an informal and ultimately enjoyable manner.
Then, the moment we were all waiting for — the arrival of rising superstar Hannibal Buress.
The former 30 Rock writer and Eric Andre Show cohost immediately commanded the audience in a way that hadn't been experienced yet. Cracking jokes about Sled Island, the ridiculous length of the comedy night and the numerous photographers around him, it was hard to tell the difference between his improvised material and his rehearsed set. All of it was delivered impeccably, and it felt like a treat to witness a comedian who will undoubtedly only get bigger as years go on at a venue like the Auburn Saloon.
Of course, no evening at Sled Island ends until you feel like you're going to die, so we walked to the Bamboo Tiki Lounge to catch programming that included locals Sorry (who delivered a tight, well-rounded set) before the return of Vancouver greats Nü Sensae.
It didn't feel like a return though. Since this was Nü Sensae's first Calgary show with new recruit Brody McKnight, it felt like seeing them for the first time. With the addition of a guitar, the band's usually brain-damaging noise punk exploded in myriad directions, offering new depth and extreme heaviness unheard of from them before. If you can catch them tonight (Thursday, June 21), you most definitely should.
Up next, I'll be attending the stacked lineup for The Area's afternoon barbecue, including Ottawa sweethearts the Steve Adamyk Band and Halifax husband-and-wife duo Dog Day. That'll be followed by a lot of confused running around as I gear up to play a set at Bamboo with my own band, then Tim Hecker, then hopefully Shabazz Palaces or Hot Snakes. Or maybe I'll just pass out in a park somewhere.
— JOSIAH HUGHES
- No Sinner at Commonwealth.
Okay, christ, what just happened. Oh, right, Sled Island Day One. Good god.
The night started off slow, with a little local singer/songwriter action. No, wait. Let's back up. The night started with a pint at the Hop in Brew with a good friend. I walked down to the front of city hall with her so that we could bang pots and pans together in order to show support for the students and the ordinary citizens that are raising a justified stink in Quebec.
Sorry. Right. Okay, so the night started off with Jon Gant at the Ironwood. It was a mellow affair, with Gant taking the stage without his backing band. Straight-up solo singer/songwriter folk about roads and women and regrets proved to be a mellow way to get into the swing of things.
With the sun setting, it was a quick bike ride to Commonwealth, where No Sinner took the stage and belted out some of the most soulful and powerful melodies you'll ever hear. Again, the backing band was absent, save for the keyboard player. It proved to be an intimate and engaging set. This woman's voice is unbelievable.
Lou Barlow took the stage shortly thereafter and was, well, Lou Barlow. I'm not knocking the guy, he was good and all, but he was following a pretty impressive set of lungs.
And so I set out. Travelling a gruelling block-and-a-half, I arrived at Broken City to catch Basketball. But they didn't play. And then they didn't play. We listened to Bad Brilliance for a bit — which amounted to a guy in a stupid ballooon head costume and a woman pressing play on a laptop — and then we left for the Legion.
Walking through the art installation, Lying, we noticed a boardroom off the billiard area. Peaking in, a Legion woman told us to come in and have a look. Like all Legion women, she was sweet, but you could tell she wouldn't put up with any shit. It was nice of her to invite us in. The room was great. All vintage like you can't fake. Then some asshole who was volunteering for the festival agressively told us to get out. Dude was kind of pissy. He should work on being happier. Like the Legion lady, who was still in the room and wondering what was going on. She was nice.
Anyway, dude wasn't enough to bring the night down. Freak Heat Waves were playing upstairs and were a great surprise. Tight and dirty at the same time (wait, that sounds wrong), it was a highlight of the evening. At least until the ultra-Canadiana kicked in.
Donwstairs, the Legion stage proved to be the perfect backdrop to Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. If you don't know these guys, just think of the Kids in the Hall theme song. That's them. All surfy and nostalgic, this was one of those classic Canadian moments that you could never explain to a Yank. Great music, a grandfatherly setting and CBC memories all mingled into a perfect end to the first night.
Thursday brings a whole new set of dilemmas. Fortunately B.A. Johnston's afternoon hot dog party at the Area is a no-brainer to start off the day. From there there's the Roses MP party on the Broken City patio, possibly Calamalka at the East Village Block Party, before an insane mix of possibilities including Bitter Fictions, Basketball (who I still really want to see), The British Columbians, Hot Snakes, Nate Young, Prince Rama, Shabazz Palaces and maybe more.
— DREW ANDERSON
And, some photos. First up was Jon Gant at the Ironwood.
And then over to the Blus Can for Reuben and the Dark. It's always a great show with these local guys, and this time they brought a handful of new, and heavier, songs.
And then back to the Ironwood for the lovely Samantha Savage Smith, who also played a bunch of new songs.
Joe Pernice closed things off nicely with a laid-back but engaging set.
Lou Barlow doing his interactive thing at Commonwealth.
And Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet close off the night for a packed room at the Legion.
— JOSH NAUD
So much for making an itinerary.... I had planned on the following for the first night of my inaugural Sled Island: CFCF and Timbre Timbre, followed by a wild card slot, then Russian Circles before capping off the evening with Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. As I quickly learned, it's best to treat this whole fest like one big wild card.
Things were thrown off the rails from the word go — arriving 15 minutes late for CFCF at Theatre Junction Grand, I was told that the evening's performances were "theatre style," meaning that once they began the doors were closed and no one else would be admitted. Furthermore, as a number of signs and one very officious offical informed: NO PHOTOGRAPHY.
Pffft. Not very rock 'n' roll. Off then to the much more welcoming confines of the Legion. I love that place and could have stayed all night — not even the fact that there was no one there yet seemed to deter from the ambience.
Anyway, after perusing a schedule and seeing that on old friend, Ted Wright, and his fellow hard-rock believers in Edmonton's The Get Down were slated to make some ears bleed at the New Black, I headed to Inglewood.
The boys were true to form as always, making heads ring and worshipping at the altar of bands like the MC5 to a sparse but appreciative all-ages crowd. The volume was punishing though.
From there, I checked out the Blues Can. The official Sled guide promised that the next act, a Vancouver alt-country group called Two Towns, would "make you want to settle down and buy a place away from the city."
Um. Yeah, no. Turns out their hook-free brand of super earnest beardo-rock had quite the opposite effect — it made you want to high tail it back to the core, post haste. Off to the Legion again.
Once there, I somehow managed to not see anything — at least not musically: a small crowd had gathered around a person laid out on the ground outside as someone frantically called 911. Not sure what happened, but hope you're okay, whoever you are. Before heading off, I had a conversation with one of the guys from Recordland about Steely Dan, so that was kind of music related, no?
Arriving at Dickens shortly thereafter in the hopes of seeing Russian Circles, only to find a line-up snaking around the sidewalk, I adhered to my rule not to queue for any band I had heard for the first time that day on YouTube. Instead, I paid a visit to the burger stand up the block, where the proprieter promised a feast "just like Harvey's... only better." Um. I'd call it a tie.
Heading back to — you guessed it — the Legion, my companion and I were semi-accosted by a group of drunk ruffians and the corner of 8th and 8th. They mocked our blue wristbands and made semi-intelligable remarks about Shadowy Men. My sassy compadre rejoined that this crew were still in diapers when that band first started. A noble attempt at a comeback, but they were unfazed, with one of them commenting that he still liked to throw on a pair of depends now and then. Damn kids.
By the time we got back, the Legion was hopping as local punks Fist City created a sonic punch-up for a large and voluble crowd.
This was clearly the place to be, especially for the old guard, as the room swelled with ranks of alumni from the city's '90s garage rock scene. Shadowy Men didn't disappoint either, rocking the joint with their tight, durable brand of surf and twang. Drummer Don Pyle, visibly and vocally appreciative of the warm response for what was only their second show in 17 years, recounted how the Toronto band actually met each other in Calgary 35 years ago. Then he asked for a toast to their late bassist, Reid Diamond, who passed away in 2001 (The Sadies' Dallas Good is his replacement), and was met with a fullhouse of longnecks raised in repose.
Finally the festive part of the festival felt like it was in full effect.
Tonight, the plan calls Boris, Willis Earl Beal, Shabazz Palaces and Hot Snakes, but if this first night is anything to go by, it could just as easily be a bunch of other stuff.
In the meantime, enjoy this photo of Beatroute publisher Brad Simm enjoying his favourite brand...
— ZOLTAN VARADI
Here's some more photos of last night's fun by Trevor Hatter:
And So I Watch You From Afar