Sled Island (Day 2)

Wednesday was a hard thing to top, Sled Island-wise, but although Wednesday’s Shadowy Men set immediately became one of my top three favourite shows of all time, Thursday’s offerings were certainly no letdown in comparison.

As James mentioned yesterday, it’s really hard to pass up something called “B.A.’s Hot Dog BBQ and Extravaganza”, much less if you’re familiar with B.A. Johnston (and his love and presumed mastery of crappy food). So our first destination was the Area, which the prairie dog contingent all agreed was one of the best ad-hoc art spaces around. B.A. was slanging dogs from a propane barbecue in front of the space, while lead Mammoth Cave Recording Co. guy Paul Lawton doled out warm cans of Lucky and Brava all afternoon. That, and obviously the band line-up, made for an extremely enjoyable afternoon.

We missed the first band or two, and were stuck outside the space for another set. We were able to make our way in for a set from Halifax’s Cousins, who rattled off some very decent garage-pop, awash in reverb and boy-girl vocals. As John remarked, “It’s like they took everything I like and ran it through a computer, and it spit out this band.”

Next up was maybe my favourite surprise of the festival: Shotgun Jimmie took the stage roughly as scheduled, but with Winnipeg’s Cannon Bros. backing him on drums and baritone guitar. I love Shotgun Jimmie’s typical touring set-up—playing guitar and foot-operated drums all by his lonesome—but he clearly thrives in a full-band situation, being freed up for guitar solos and, you know, standing up. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Cannon Bros. work as the perfect backing band for Jimmie, who later switched to baritone and backed the Bros. up on a few of their songs. It was like a vortex of charming up there.

The heat was unfortunately getting to a few of us, so we ended up leaving before Haunted Souls and B.A. Johnston. But after some seriously correct Mexican food, as well as some rest and Gatorade, we were all relatively good to go for the evening. (By “we” I mostly mean “I”. I don’t cotton well to summer weather, even at rad BBQ extravaganzas.)

Our party splintered a bit for the evening, though I can say with assurance that Johnny and I ended up at the Dickens Pub for Hot Snakes. We missed the first two bands of the evening there, though a friend of ours told us through text message that the Soft Option sounded like “Kevin Spacey doing an Ian Curtis impression”, which could either be awful or glorious. We did catch locals Night Committee, who were occasionally good in an ’80s R.E.M./Let’s Active kind of way, but largely felt out of place at Sled Island. The highlight of their set was certainly their keyboardist, renowned Calgary musician Lorrie Mattheson, who expertly rocked not only an Ace-Tone organ but a Pointed Sticks shirt.

Of course, it was Hot Snakes who’d ultimately make everyone’s night. They stormed through a nearly gapless set, playing much of Suicide Invoice before drawing from their other two LPs, and basically scorching the stage in the process. Not that I’d seen them during their initial run, but it was clear that they were playing as tight as they ever had. (Perhaps they’ve just got good memories—guitarist John Reis easily rattled off the names of Calgary venues he’d been to, though he hadn’t been here since 1981.) And despite the oldies-only nature of this tour, they all seemed to be truly enjoying themselves, which leads folks like me to daydream of an eventual fourth album. But in any event, last night was more than enough to satisfy the crowd, if the constant stage-diving was any indication.

Following a brief bit of waffling as to what show to catch, we headed to the Legion for the last half hour of the Sadies’s set. Unsurprisingly, the band was in excellent form, and the crowd sure recognized it. They even did the play-each-other’s-guitar bit—a parlour trick, sure, but easily the best parlour trick around. The prairie dog contingent agrees that regardless of your musical taste, there’s essentially something wrong with you if you can’t enjoy a Sadies show. I’m the stodgiest, crossed-arm-iest dude around, and even I found myself square dancing with a stranger or two. And Dallas Good’s now two for two as far as awesome Legion sets go.

Stray observations:

– Some scotch company had set up a booth at the Hot Dog Extravaganza, offering free scotch caesars to any and all comers. Now, it’s probably debatable whether or not scotch in a caesar is an abomination (I’m more on the “why does my caesar taste like moss?” side of the fence), but in no way is it reasonable to rim said caesars with—I kid you not—that hydrolyzed Montreal steak spice. At any rate, I had like five of them out in the hot sun, along with Paul’s beers, and was somehow surprised when I succumbed to heat exhaustion. Intelligence!
– Lots of covers last night! Hot Snakes closed their encore with Big Boys’ “Red/Green” (with Rick Froberg handling vocals only), while the Sadies closed with their requisite covers medley, including Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and Spinal Tap’s “Gimme Some Money”.
– Here’s a blurry photo of John Reis having just sort of kicked a stage-diver directly in the ass. (I’m using “sort of” as a legal hedge, of course.)

Stay tuned for more updates through the week, assuming we don’t get our stage-diving asses kicked too hard.

Author: Mason Pitzel

One of only a few MLB players to have his number retired by more than one club (Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers). Contributes to Prairie Dog and to the rock band These Estates, and is generally floundering otherwise.

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