Sled Island is one of the best music festivals in Canada. A number of Vancouverites made the journey inland to see it and among them were three of our reporters. Check out what they saw and their interview with festival curator and Wire frontman, Colin Newman.
Thursday, June 25
Japandroids at the Royal Canadian Legion #1
Coming from Vancouver, I already knew what Japandroids were capable of live, but after all the dust that Pitchfork kicked up had settled, it was intriguing to see just what kind of crowd would greet Brian King and Dave Prowse after playing last year’s festival to a handful of show goers. This time around, they almost filled Sled Island’s largest indoor venue, performing to a crowd that was intent on shouting all the words to songs like “Sovereignty” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire” back at the duo.
Mount Eerie at the Central United Church
The music of Sled Island ran the gamut from Final Fantasy to Andrew W.K. In spite of this diversity and the volume of shows, Mount Eerie’s performance achieved singularity. It was, in my experience, the only show that bordered on spiritual. The stunning Central United Church provided echoing acoustics and an impressive venue for the moving lo-fi performance. Sitting in pews felt appropriate. On stage, Anacortes resident Phil Elverum exhibited awkward candour and endearing sincerity. His show was a charming juxtaposition. The music was gentle and poignant, punctuated with self-conscious questions to the audience about set length. Then, in contrast, he cracked jokes about the death of Michael Jackson—which happened the day of the show—which were met at first with discomfort from the audience, followed closely by laughter and relief.
“So I hear Michael Jackson died. It’s about time. It’s a relief, merciful, really. This one’s for him,” he ventured. With that, Elverum once again began to play, and offered touching, intimate music fit for both an elegy and a church.
King Khan & BBQ at the Royal Canadian Legion #1
“This show could never happen in Vancouver!” Pro-Fun City chief Kalin Harvey shouted at me during the raucous King Khan & BBQ show in the packed upper room of the Legion downtown. King Khan & BBQ set up and played on the floor with wavering stacks of amps as their only protection from the heaving crowd. In a style decidedly un-Monotonix, [ed. if you don’t know what that means skip ahead and read the Monotonix review] Khan voiced his discomfort at the prospect of the “stage” becoming overrun by the audience. With a group that rowdy, however, I would have been wary, too. Typical of Khan & BBQ performances, they played almost every song from their eponymous album. “Waddlin’ Around” was one of the best, and I will confess to waddling along as I danced atop a speaker. Unfortunately what is also typical of Khan was the liberal use of backing tracks to support the live show. Although this ensured consistency with the album and allowed the crowd their enthusiastic sing-along, the result was a little artificial after the festival’s many impressive live performances. I will, however, venture to say that not a single person left disappointed, including the volunteers who were crowd surfing as a means of transportation. Overly loud, over capacity and with people standing on every surface, the show was a treat for any visiting Vancouverite, and a nightmare for any bylaw officer.
Coathangers at the Tiki Room
Apparently, earlier in the day, this Atlanta quartet’s set went off the rails after the ladies took offense when a heckler let everyone know that he’d like them to lift their shirts up. At the Tiki Room, the boys in the audience were more gentlemanly, letting the band focus on delivering a set of rambunctious post-punk that sounded like Bratmobile doing a reading of a “Fairytale in the Supermarket.”
Friday June 26
Monotonix at Tubby Dogg
Monotonix have songs. I’ve heard them. They’ve got verses and choruses and audible lyrics. At least, they do on record. Live, the band pumps out the same riffs over the same back beat for an hour straight. Of course, it’s hard to notice the musical redundancy when those “songs” are sound tracking what can only be described as complete chaos. The Israeli rockers started off crammed into a notorious Calgary hot dog joint, but rewarded the sizable crowd that had gathered outside the tiny “venue” by dragging their gear outside to play on the sidewalk. I can say, with confidence, that it’s the first time I’ve seen someone stagedive off of a mailbox.
HEALTH at the Marquee
With the release of last year’s remix album, HEALTH Disco, HEALTH solidified a fact that they hinted at on their self-titled debut: they can’t seem to decide if they want to be a noise band or a dance act. Happily, the resulting schizophrenia of skittering beats and cacophonic blasts of sound is heaven for anyone who has trouble deciding between “weird punk” and Daft Punk. Coupling that unique combination with the L.A. band’s boundless live energy made this one of the highlights of the entire festival.
Saturday June 27
Githead at Local 510
If you’ve heard of Githead, it’s probably because they share their singer/guitarist, Colin Newman, with a little band called Wire. In addition to Newman’s vocals, both bands share a less-is-more approach to songwriting. But while Wire’s compositions are economically cold and calculated, Githead opens things up to warmer textures that, during this early afternoon show, helped shake off the hangover caused by the previous night. Apparently, the festival organizers are keen on having more of these afternoon showcases next year, which is a welcome addition, especially if the bands that play early are this good.
Liars at Dicken’s
There’s something about Liars that doesn’t suit a large stage, but while their claustrophobic guitars and tribal beats were a bit lost when they played the mainstage earlier in the evening, they sounded right at home on the tiny stage at Dicken’s. The band stuck mostly to the post lineup change part of their catalogue, splitting the difference between their punky latest, the droney tunes from Drums Not Dead, and the witching hour anthems from They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, throwing in one treat for their oldest fans—a rare performance of “Loose Nights on the Veladrome.”