With Day 1 of Sled Island having been a slow warm up, I say my goodbyes to Lou Barlow on the morning of Day 2 and vow to take over Calgary today with both vim AND vigour. Terrified of eating in that town due the day before’s disastrous attempts with Lou (though, funnily enough, one restaurant we walk into is playing Dinosaur Jr.), I think I sort of skip lunch and instead head into Bloody Caesar territory. (Folks not from Canada – a Caesar is like a Bloody Mary but made with Clamato, a CLAMmy TOMATO juice that sounds disgusting but is awesome.) I check out the AudioBlood showcase at Palomino’s, and watch these fellers. It’s We are the City, from Vancouver doing accessible indie rock! I approve.
Same background, different band… behold below the rather also-accessible indie popsters The Zolas. Here’s Zachary Gray being cool. Zolas R good.
Soon it’s time to wander off-piste to a weird little room in the National Music Centre, to see my great buddies in Vancouver’s Beekeeper. Helmed by Devon Lougheed, who also plays in (eek) popband Hey Ocean, Beekeeper are a quirky math-rocky trio whose live shows are framed by Devon’s over-caffeinated banter and (gasp!) the band members’ actual musicianship.
Bassist Brandi (who herself heads up the band Sidney York) and drummer Luke look on while Devon invites the audience to text his ex-girlfriend (he gives out a phone number), and then later, invites them to dance on stage (they do). I love Devon. Which is a good thing because he later crashes on the spare in my hotel room, after his own crashpad plans go a screwy. Yay for sleeping with musicians! Okay, next to/nearby musicians.
One of the best things about festivals is meeting new people. One of the awesome things about LIFE is meeting new people from Twitter, which is where I tend to live (@backstagerider). The Aforementioned Aaron Vanimere shows up to the Beekeeper gig, as does Michael Senchuk, a great indie music blogger from Edmonton. Michael’s blog is NewMusicMichael.com and he’s rad. I’d never met him properly before but we feel like old friends. We all sit watching Beekeeper being beekeeper-y and winning the small crowd in a weird room, then co-ordinate where we’re next going to meet up. Aaron and I opt for some sunshine and wander down to Calgary’s newest development area, the East Village, where there’s an outdoor party happening.
East Village looks to be the city’s next “hip” area, possibly. Yunno, once they build stuff there. But for now, it’s filled with dancers and bikers and skateboarders and a whole (count ‘em) three food trucks, all with enormo-queues. This is not good. I haven’t eaten if you don’t count the booze. Lunch of gelato (they had the shortest line!) it is!
DJ/producer Max Ulis hails from Vancouver, too, and cranks out the mellow sunshiney dance grooves for the Village people. He nails the vibe – light and buzzy electronica, shoe-shakers. Ie, CHOON(s)! Meanwhile, Aaron and I wander and take pics of the dancing fiends in the crowd. I loved this gyt. His cape had “PEACE” and other words written on it and his get-down-ing attracted other dancers to his little circle.
After Max – today really was quite the Vancouver-band invasion day – came my mates Peter (l) and Robbie (r) in electro outfit Humans. (Read more about them in my confusing intro to the band here, and dig the awesome pics). Das Humans? Dey nailed it. Crowd was rammed, grinning, getting down in the evening sun. Love love love these guys. Watch their new video for “Horizon” or their old video (my fave) for “Bike Home“. IT HAS DRUNK POLICE PUPPETS.
After Humans, it’s about 8:30pm and Aaron and I walk the loooong trek to the Inglewood neighbourhood of Calgary, to the Ironwood Bar & Grill, that also has a stage. Why leave the comforting bosom of the downtown core? Because the guy who put on possibly the best performance I’ve seen this past year so far, Willis Earl Beal, is going to be playing. Here, get acquainted with WHY I LOVE WILLIS EARL BEAL. But first! Get acquainted with BABY DEE.
Baby Dee is a fab transgendered cabaret artist (who also happens to have played harp on Antony & The Johnsons‘ debut album). My fave songs? The “Big Titty Bee Girl from Dino Town” and one about what happens when Mormons go camping. She’s rad. But not as rad as this GUY….
GAHHHHHHHHHH. Willis Earl Beal comes on stage, and the air leaves the room. It goes silent. He’s wrapped in a painted fleece, has a toothpick in his teeth, gloved hands and whiskey in a glass. AND THEN HE BELTS. “I normally start by reading Bukowski,” Beal says to the rapt crowd. “But I didn’t feel like it.” Then he starts with an a-capella burst, like the shot heard ’round the world.
I adore shooting pics of Willis. You never take a bad one. He’s incredible to watch, incredible to listen to. Check out the faces on the audience below. THIS is why I love music and people who love music…
Do yourself a favour and get to know this weird, lo-fi guy with an ENORMOUS VOICE.
But time’s a’ticking! It’s 11pm and we’ve got to hop a cab BECAUSE HOT SNAKES ARE PLAYING IN A TINY BASEMENT BAR! And yeah, yeah, yeah, we were told to get there early so we are going an hour in advance. But this proves to be a problem. There’s a big queue outside of Dicken’s for Hot Snakes, total chaos, and a snowball’s chance in hell to see the former Drive Like Jehu/Rocket from the Crypt guys. WAHHH.
This is the BIG SHOW, folks, tipped across all mouths at the festival, and the one we should have showed up for hours ago. The one we WOULD have shown up for hours ago if Willis hadn’t have been on. Aaron’s hellbent on staying in the line until the set is over, just in case we get in for a few songs. I admire his tenacity. Devon from Beekeeper texts and joins us in the line. We make friends with other agitated folks who just desperately want to get in and see Hot Snakes’ petrol-fuelled rockpunk.
We ask the doormen, frantically, “How many have to leave before we can go in?” and then literally start counting people as they head out the door. ALL WE NEED NOW IS FOR SIX DRUNK CHICKS WHO NEVER WANTED TO BE THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE AND WHO DON’T GIVE A FUCK, TO LEAVE! It’s halfway through the Snakes’ set and then it happens…
SIX DRUNK CHICKS WHO NEVER WANTED TO BE THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE, LEAVE!
WE GET IN! VICTOREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
And it’s totally worth it. The crowd is going insane, there’s sweat dripping off of Rick Froberg (above) and John Freis (below), and the ceiling.
But this does not deter the fans from attempting flight. AWESOME AWESOME GIG and well-worth the wait.
And soon, all good things, like a Thursday, must come to an end. Aaron tries his hand at a Shabazz Palaces show (filled with tech glitches, but ends well, apparently), while Devon Beekeeper and I head over to the Legion to wrap up the night to watch Toronto’s Good brothers in The Sadies, as they do the thing they’ve been doing for 100 years: sorta rockabilly. DID I MENTION I LOVE LEGIONS? Yes, yes I did. And at this Legion, we once again buy beer from little old ladies and wrap the night, safe in the knowledge that we’d actually done Sled Day 2, proper-like! \m/