Jo Passed, Holding Hands, Jay Arner, Vulva Culture, Suuns, Sightlines @ Sled Island 6/25/2016

Sled Island: My Garage Afternoon

I like to think that my taste in music is fairly eclectic, but given my preference for raw sounds over heavily polished studio fare – plus my interest in lesser known bands and emerging talent — I do find myself gravitating to the smaller venues when I go to festivals. Oh, plus there were several downpours on Saturday afternoon and I am too wimpy to stand out in the rain for very long watching outdoor shows. And so it was that I spent the daylight hours bouncing between places like Broken City, Palomino and Tubby Dog.

First up was Jo Passed at Broken City. Centering around the voice and guitar of Vancouver’s Joseph Hirabayashi (formerly with Spring) the band filled the air with swirling garage/pysch. Although there was the occasional jangly dreampop number, for the most part the sound was meaty and heavy, but it was a very pleasant mind-groove nevertheless.

Next I caught the tail-end of Holding Hands at Palomino. I regret missing most of their set because the Montreal trio was pleasing the crowd with some lively, good-times garage rock. I had little time to mope, however, as pretty soon Jay Arner and his band jumped up. Arner is a highly regarded producer as well as a performer, and his knack for crafting perfect pop songs was in full evidence. With an excellent backing band (bass, keys and drums) the music was tight, bouncy and playful, but with a touch of garage rock grit. Arner displayed some of his off-beat humour when he sat back drinking a beer and casually checked out the wall art while the rest of the band played feverishly through an instrumental passage.

Then came the day’s most surreal moment — Halifax’s Vulva Culture performing at Tubby Dog, a hot dog joint. Yes, a hot dog shop, complete with arcade machines lined up against one wall. Amy Vinnedge and crew had to wedge themselves rather awkwardly into a corner to perform. Despite the odd location the acoustics were perfect. Vinnedge crooned her deliciously mournful slowcore and her voice was never once lost in the mix. You have to realize that Vulva Culture are not exactly a quiet band – the pace may be slow and dreamy but the guitars drone and the rhythm section pounds (especially those drums!). Fortunately, no one drowned out anyone else as they kept the crowd entranced with their trippy haze. The smell of wieners all-dressed-up did start making me hungry though.

I finally decided I should check out the outdoor scene at Olympic Plaza, even though the rain was not letting up. As I was hopping over puddles in the street there was no mistaking who was playing – the ominous bellow of Suuns’ dark music was reverberating through the concrete corridors of downtown Calgary. A surprisingly large number of stalwarts were braving the soggy conditions and being treated to one of Canada’s premier post-rock acts in peak form. The Montreal band can be experimental but throughout their performance they maintained a tangible groove that had the crowd rooted. Benjamin Shemie may have created feedback and distortion with his guitar and there may have been the wildest howls emanating from Max Henry’s keys, but the band never lost the crowd. They just kept thrilling them.

I beat a path back to the cosy (and dry) confines of Palomino to catch a set by Sightlines. They provided a fitting end to my “garage afternoon” (OK, so Suuns aren’t exactly garage) by playing some infectious and frisky punk pop. Everyone in the bar was delighted as the Vancouver trio delivered helping after helping of powerful but melodic music that kept our bodies bopping and our mouths grinning.