Sled Island (Day 3)

Yesterday was Team prairie dog Team’s third day in Calgary, and with all our various illnesses out of our various systems, we were feeling fit and ready for another long day of drinking at noon and waiting in vain for comedy at the Auburn.

Our first stop, not counting the Holy Grill—whose avocado burger is boss—and Starbucks, was the Palomino. We made it through the doors for a song and a half from a semi-nude Aunty Panty (Saskatoon). I’d seen them in Regina a few months earlier, and it was surprising how much they had tightened up from that show. I’d still like to seem them with a bass player, though. We stuck around for locals the Shematomas, who deal in urgent, garage-y punk rock. I’m always a sucker for drummers who simply shout, “One! Two! Three! Four!” to lead everyone in, so this set was a delight.

The last song was introduced by the Shematomas’s bassist, who explained that playing the festival this year was a personal challenge for her, following the tragic death of her boyfriend, Chris Reimer of Polaris Prize nominees Women, this February. The song is called “Sorry That Your Record Producer Died,” a line she was once consoled with, and surprisingly or not, it’s as ripping as anything else in their set. (An art exhibit is being held, in his honour and to benefit the Chris Reimer Legacy Fund, at the Museum of Contemporary Art for the duration of Sled Island. More info on the fund can be found here.)

From there, our party moved on to the Mint Records showcase at the Ship and Anchor. In accordance with some line-up shifts, the first set was played by Vancouver’s Watermelon, who quickly became my favourite new-to-me band of the festival. Their music was a lot darker and less sprightly than the summery name connotes, sounding more like Galaxie 500 or the Comsat Angels than anything else on Mint, except perhaps the Organ.

Not that Watermelon was a downer band, but the Evaporators sure did a ton to lift everyone’s spirits. Cultural institution Nardwuar the Human Serviette and his backing band donned their Evaporators track suits and led the wholly game crowd through history lessons (“Ripple Rock”), personal reflections (“I Don’t Need My Friends to Tell Me Who My Friends Are”), and whatever “Hot Dog High” is, all in his inimitable call-response style.

It wasn’t quite that simple, though—Nardwuar encounters never are. After a few minutes of leaping through the crowd, freely passing the microphone and his maraca (I ended up with the mic about once a song, which basically made my 2012), he put on his crash helmet, sent his Ace-Tone organ crowd-surfing, then went crowd-surfing himself to go catch up with it, ultimately riding it like a surfboard back to the stage. His final shenanigans involved directing everyone in the venue to crouch on the floor, up to what felt like three minutes at a time, and having everyone leap into the air on cue. Everyone was sweaty and surely cramping up, but no one was having less than a fantastic time.

Oh, and Andrew W.K. was there, having been summoned to help hold Nardwuar up on the organ, then called up to perform a few numbers with the Evaporators, including his own “Party Hard.” No big deal or anything.

From there, after being turned away from comedy at the Auburn Saloon for the second time, we stopped by the Palomino again for some food. As it happened, our food arrived just as the evening’s upstairs sets were beginning. The first to play, and the only band we caught there, were locals Stalwart Sons, who laid out some pretty great Touch and Go Records-style post-punk. The experience comes down to perspective: having a live band blast through your supper is pretty uncomfortable, but on the other hand, eating a bowl of delicious brisket stew in front of a live band is pretty awesome.

Team prairie dog Team splintered after our meals, with James and Rhiannon heading downstairs for Craig Finn and openers (who apparently were treated to a seriously disrespectful garbage crowd), and John and I heading to see Boris at the Distillery. First up over there, though, was Banff’s lost.book.found, who despite the awful stylization of their name, were great—especially considering that this was their first show ever. Their festival guide bio name-checks Shellac and Wooden Shjips, which is a decent indicator of their sound, though they are a bit more conventional than either. But it’s true that a band is only as good as their drummer, and lost.book.found has a serious powerhouse behind the kit (who, full disclosure, is a pal of mine and John’s)—it’s always a good sign when a drummer breaks a stick before the first song has technically started. It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here.

Next up were Black Mastiff and Ancients, and, to be frank, most stoner rock and metal isn’t in my wheelhouse, so I’m not too qualified to talk about either. However, each band was remarkably tight and appropriately riffy, and virtually everyone in the venue was into them. Plus, Black Mastiff adorned the stage with giant lighted pyramids, which is never a bad move.

Boris slayed, is the brilliant segue I’ll use here. Boris slayed. Not being sure what kind of set I’d be in for—drone-y stuff, electronic stuff, or a more trad “rock” set—I was pleasantly surprised to get a bit of each. There were way too backwards-hat bros in the crowd for my comfort, but seeing the puzzled looks on their faces during the drone interludes made sitting through the push-moshing all worthwhile. They closed their bone-crushingly loud set with the beauteous “Farewell”, which had one bro having a full-on religious experience, reveling with his hands in the air.

Stray observations:

– There are hard decisions, and there are harder decisions, and then there’s turning down an invite to a Mammoth Cave pool party.
– Dude behind us at the Evaporators was very excited to see “Nardwuar the Human Cigarette” that afternoon, and kept shouting “doot doola doot doo!” to prove it.
– My hand ended up on Nardwuar’s package during the crowd-surfing portion. No regrets.
– Not to be whiny, but they really, really could have organized the comedy sets a bit better this week. A bigger venue, or more sets in different venues—anything that keeps people who show up 45 minutes early, and are only perhaps the 15th to 20th people in line, from being turned away.
– Craig Finn showed up at the Palomino while we were having dinner. Rhiannon was extremely unhappy that no one was there to take his order at first. “Why won’t anyone serve the genius?” she remarked. She has an avowed thing for the man, though who doesn’t?
– I’m gonna get serious (and abuse my blogging privileges) for a little soapbox moment here. Prairie dog readers, if a band isn’t headlining, they don’t get an encore. Doesn’t matter how great their set was; it throws off the schedule, irritating the bands, venue staff, and anyone who needs to get up for work the next day. This shouldn’t be contentious, though I’ve nearly been jumped at local shows for suggesting it. Seriously, be courteous and sensible. Don’t fruitlessly scream “one more song” in people’s ears for six minutes, and if you’re in the band in question, don’t indulge those people.
– Best sighting of Sled Island: a man at the Boris show who looked exactly like Richard Riehle in Office Space but was wearing a Kasabian shirt. Godspeed, dude.

Today’s the last full day of Sled Island, so stay tuned for a final update tomorrow.

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.