Sled Island (Day Last)

This update will be breezy because we’ve got to be out of our hotel by 11 a.m. These have been too long anyway, and besides, my brain’s too tired from a week of six-hour sleeps on sofa bed to write coherently for that long. Zip zop zoom!

We got our latest start at festival-ing on Saturday, the final full day of Sled Island, since we all decided to go on some shopping runs at stores Regina doesn’t have. It meant that we missed a bunch of Weird Canada’s Tubby Dog showcase, unfortunately. What we did catch was stellar, though.

None of us had ever been to Tubby Dog, Calgary’s legendary hot dog joint/show space, so we were all taken slightly aback with what a great space it is (and how unexpectedly tasty a peanut butter, jelly, and Cap’n Crunch hot dog sounds). We gruffled our respective dogs and made it over for California’s Dirty Ghosts, who play yelpy post-punk doused in some ’80s chorus pedals. We weren’t in a great position for photos during this set, but (a) I’ve got a feeling their bass is homemade, and (b) they played under a projection of Mr. Dressup on DVD. Both of these details are great details.

The Wicked Awesomes were up next, closing the showcase and playing one of their last shows ever (the true finale is July 13th). As their singer was in Taiwan, Mammoth Cave mogul Paul Lawton filled in on vocals, tambourine, and sunglasses. They played a quick, energetic set of reverb-soaked ’50s garage jams that had the crowd basically throwing punches and virtually tearing the place apart. Not a bad way to end the afternoon.

Since it was getting quite late in the day, because we’re really rather bad at getting to the shows we all paid to see, we headed over to Olympic Plaza to catch some of the larger acts of the festival. We showed up at different times; I got there in time to catch the tail end of the Dudes, who played straightforward Dude rock the way the Dudes do. We were all there in time for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, however. Seeing Malkmus in the real for the first time was a huge treat for me, made that much sweeter by the fact that they were terrific. I have a very low “jam” tolerance, so their last song kind of lost me, but the majority of the set was the perfect exhibit for Malkmus’s glorious nonsense lyrics, glorious nonsense guitar solos, and exquisite hair.

The Hold Steady played the last Plaza set of the evening, and went on a fair bit earlier than expected, the MC’s two-minute warning leaving Team prairie dog Team dashing from the beer gardens to the stage through inch-deep puddles. The Hold Steady made standing in freezing water for an hour and a half worth it, though, especially for those of us who hadn’t seen them before. Craig Finn is a charming little goober of a man, repeating lyrics to himself off-mic and emphasizing every word by flipping his hands around at the wrist. It made the set a serious joy, despite sound issues so bad they almost rendered songs unrecognizable.

From there, the prairie dog contingent split up a little, with James and Rhiannon heading to Ladyhawk at the Palomino, and John and I heading to Archers of Loaf at the Republik. Like Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet and Hot Snakes, Archers were one of those long-beloved bands I just assumed I’d never get to see live, so I (and surely everyone in attendance) jumped at the chance.

Archers were basically on fire. Despite a lost keyboard that made them resort to a hastily-downloaded iPad app, every note was perfect and everyone in the venue—the average age being 38—was jumping and hollering along with every song. I wish they had dipped more into All the Nations Airports, but it’s not like I didn’t lose my voice for the third time this week during “Web in Front” or closer “Plumb Line”. All in all, it was a fantastic set that sounded exactly like their records, making me wish very deep down that I’d somehow caught them live during their original run. Incidentally, “Nostalgia” takes on a whole new meaning when you see it performed during a 2012 reunion tour.

Stray observations:
– I really wish I had a time machine, or that time gem or whatever from the third Harry Potter, so I could catch the Blind Shake, Ladyhawk, B.A. Johnston, Reigning Sound, every Cannon Bros. performance, and the Planet S showcase at Tubby Dog. Too many tough decisions were made this weekend.
– The singer from the Soft Option, who we missed opening for Hot Snakes the other night, took a brief turn on vocals during the Wicked Awesomes’s set. In that context at least, his penetrating stare and dry baritone worked well—very Ian Curtis-esque, but not seeming like a put-on. Maybe I should have caught their set too.
– We ran into Regina theatre genius Judy Wensel at the Plaza, which was a delight. She really should teach classes in gently dealing with rowdy fans who won’t stop pogoing and bumping into people.
– It’s weird that with three, and sometimes four, guitarists, this line-up of the Hold Steady can’t or won’t do anything to fill the gaps left by Franz Nicolay’s departed keyboard parts. Their prerogative, I guess.
– Seeing Archers live reminded me that Eric Bachmann moves the high E string of his guitar to the bottom, then shifts the other strings up a spot. This is part of why he’s the best.
– I spoke briefly with bassist Matt Gentling after Archers’s set, wishing him a happy birthday and discussing the message board we both post on. I complimented his bass, at which point he practically leaped over to his amp to grab it and present it to me to try out. A very nice gesture from a very nice dude (with a very nice bass—if you ever have $2200 to drop on an aluminum guitar, do give Kevin at the Electrical Guitar Company a shout).

So this wasn’t a brief post after all. At any rate, this concludes prairie dog‘s Sled Island 2012 coverage. Hope it didn’t make you unsubscribe from our RSS feed!

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.