Tonight! Shotgun Jimmie

Shotgun Jimmie.

I’ve long thought that Shotgun Jimmie would make a terrific host for a Mr. Rogers-/Fred Penner’s Place-style kids program. By that, I mean the idea popped into my head last year and I just remembered it now; I don’t devote a lot of time to pretending I’m a TV exec.

But really, as the friendliest and most earnest figure in Canadian indie rock, he’s the perfect candidate for the gig, especially having gotten a roundabout thumbs-up from Mr. Penner himself during a Regina Folk Festival workshop where they collaborated. (The compliment went, I believe, “Shotgun Jimmie, you are a strange man, but I like you.”)

That’s not to say his music is juvenile. In fact, his latest album, Everything Everything, is his most mature and fully fleshed out to date. It’s the result of his holing up in a Manitoba cabin to focus entirely on the record—a move that in the wrong hands could’ve turned into semi-interesting bearded blubbering, but in Jimmie’s, helped create an expansive yet intimate album, captured on everything from jankety tape machines to handheld voice recorders and featuring friends like Julie Doiron. And it’s not just fun and games—most of it is, sure, like his explosive ode to his peers in Ladyhawk, but songs like “I Will Climb Mountains” are downright dirge-like.

Shotgun Jimmie (in his one-man, guitar/kick drum/snare incarnation) is playing tonight, Thursday, May 9 at the Artful Dodger, along with Black Drink Crier.

Police Teeth Starts Fresh

You know a band is making a statement when they drop a self-titled album mid-career. Seattle rock curmudgeons Police Teeth recently released their fourth album, Police Teeth, and it’s hard not to see it as a kind of reboot. Only instead of a grittier storyline and appearances from Emma Stone, the LP offers a sparser, more live-off-the-floor sound. The tactic seems to have worked: they’ve seen a lot of action in the past year, from a lengthy tour to favourable Stranger review to a recent Radio K in-studio set.

Sure, perhaps they used to have a little, and now they have a lot, but no matter where they go, they know where they came from. Case in point: a little notice they just mailed out to previous Bandcamp customers.

This past Saturday, December 1st, marked the sixth anniversary of our first show. As a sign of appreciation, we’ve made our third album, “Awesomer Than The Devil”, available to download for free from our Bandcamp for a limited time. You can also still download our first two records for free from Bandcamp as well.

Feel free to hit up their Bandcamp page and take them up on their offer. There’s always the new self-titled as well, which contains certified Jams like “Bellingham Media Blackout” and “Emmanuelle in Renton,” the video for which is hanging out below here.

http://vimeo.com/49142825

(Full disclosure: Police Teeth are pals of prairie dog, in a sense, in that writer John Cameron and I have known them for a few years now. I think we even get an oblique shout-out on this LP’s “Chicago One Point Five”, which recounts the tiny ad-hoc Chicago music festival where we all met. They do love Canadians.)

Tonight: Julie Doiron

Julie Doiron
The Artful Dodger

As I speak with Julie Doiron near the beginning of her So Many Days tour, she’s in the middle of a one-day trip from Thunder Bay to Brandon. Driving a thousand kilometres straight is a bit of a task for almost anyone, but as a veteran of touring, she doesn’t seem fazed by anything other than the number of daylight hours left.

Her new album So Many Days reflects that diligence, showing how tumultuous the last few years of her personal life have been, but how she seems to have come out the other end of the rough patch. And even though songs like “The Gambler” and “Homeless” are as painfully confessional as ever, time and distance has made it easier for her to play them for crowds. “For the most part, I usually can pull it off and do a good version without getting too upset or anything,” she says.

But although she’s comfortable with the familiar, Doiron hasn’t let herself get caught in a rut. The last few years have seen lots of collaboration, from cutting records with her Eric’s Trip bandmate Rick White as producer, to her new band with Eamon McGrath and the Cancer Bats’ rhythm section. The band’s line-up may seem surprising, but Doiron says that, true to her form, it came together organically. “It was all just friends who were like, ‘You should play with these guys.’ And then I totally did, and it was awesome.” (For now, their records are credited to Julie Doiron and the Wrong Guys, but she’s not sold on having her name so plastered on it. “Maybe in the future, when we put out the album, I would strongly consider changing the name to an actual band name.”)

She’s even got a collaboration to-do list. “I’d still like to try and do something with Chad VanGaalen, I think that would be really fun.” She’s got another in mind, but the name escapes her for the moment. Ultimately, she says, “I just like working with my friends.”

Not that she minds working on her own. Since her first solo effort came out in ’93, she’s been able to shed her shyness and come to enjoy her time on stage. “I’m definitely way more confident,” she says. “I try not to take it too seriously. If I fuck up a part then I don’t really worry about it. I guess those are the things I’ve learned: how to be more sure of myself, and also just have fun.”

Julie Doiron is playing tonight, November 20, at the Artful Dodger. Doors are at 7:00 and tickets are $15 at said doors.

BreakOut West: #YXE Edition

Since yesterday afternoon, Regina’s downtown, like the Dog Blog, has been abuzz with BreakOut West action. Sadly, the festivities end Saturday evening. So here are three acts you should check out tonight, all of whom I picked before realizing they were all from Saskatoon. Really earning my blog privileges with my attention to detail here.

SMOKEKILLER, or John Antoniuk as his driver’s license would say, namechecks Teenage Fanclub, Neil Young, and Weezer in his BOW2012 bio, which is enough to warrant your interest right there. What’s more, Smokekiller has been awarded a Rawlco 10k20 grant and been selected as a finalist in the Radiostar Songwriting Competition, which reflects how nicely he packages those sounds together. Check him out at 8:00 at O’Hanlons.

JEANS BOOTS, or Jeanette Stewart, writes for Bridges in Saskatoon and QC in Regina. Which is like saying she’s from alt-paper Shelbyville. Inherent rivalry aside, her Jeans Boots project is too good to pass over, if you’re into sludgey, Moncton-style rock n’ roll. They’ll be playing at 10:00 at O’Hanlon’s.

SLOW DOWN, MOLASSES really do the “Canadian collective” thing right. They’re a six-piece at the moment, one member being Jeans Boots herself, but nothing in their sound feels bloated or redundant. Right before their (excellent) My Bloody Valentine cover last night, they set out an up-for-grabs pile of their new flexi-disc single. You can probably grab one tonight, too, during their 1 a.m. set at McNally’s. Remember, if your flexi keeps slipping on your turntable, place a toonie on it to weigh it down.

I wonder why those things ever fell out of favour and became the butt of jokes.

Sic Alps’ “Glyphs”

I’d sort of slept on this band previously*, but after hearing their eponymous new album, I realized that was a mistake. Props to prairie dog‘s James for sliding me a copy.

Some hastily researched background info: Sic Alps has dealt in the same psych-soaked garage rock as folks like the Oh Sees and Ty Segall, both of whom have collaborated with the band in the past. Until lately they’ve favoured home recording and a fairly abrasive aesthetic. But Sic Alps saw them enter a legitimate studio for the first time, which had the ultimate effect of feathering their sound a bit, as well as giving them a chance to branch out, as proven by the discordant strings and Beatles ’67 vibe of opener “Glyphs”, whose video is hanging out above.

If you want to ride out the next few warm weeks under the impression that summer could last forever, playing Sic Alps every night at dusk might be a decent August placebo**.

*<groucho> but I found a mattress was more comfortable.
** Would not see August Placebo at the Exchange.

Screaming Females Are Only Happy When It Rains

I usually think the zombie “thing” has played itself out, pop-culture-wise, but Screaming Females handle the concept deftly in the video for their single “It All Means Nothing,” streaming now at Rolling Stone‘s website. Picking up where their “Leave It All Up to Me” video left off, with the death of singer-shredder Marissa Paternoster, “It All Means Nothing” features some overzealous goths, a resurrected Paternoster, and what could be lightly termed “intra-band conflict.”

Further exploring their interest in the worryingly undead, Screaming Females will be hitting the road with ’90s rockers Garbage this autumn. Apparently, they were Paternoster’s “first favourite band”, so this tour is sort of a touching idea—not that the band I’m in is now clamouring to tour with these guys. And though it’s not official yet, but it’s likely that Screaming Females will be coming through Regina in late September. Garbage won’t be in tow for that show, though, to the disappointment of any comers wanting to hear “Push It”, or just give Butch Vig a big ol’ noogie.

New Ladyhawk! New Ladyhawk! NEw LAdhyabb!!!

Vancouver’s Ladyhawk aren’t the most prolific band in the world. Their last record, Shots, dropped in 2008, and since then it’s okay screw it the point is there’s a brand new Ladyhawk track (via the Killbeat Music SoundCloud page) and it’s gonna make you flip tables.

Seriously, for fans who’ve been waiting ages for new output from Duffy and co., this is straight-up money. It’s as scuzzy-sounding as the rest of their home recordings, but it’s as hooky as their greatest, grabbiest tracks. That chorus makes me want to punch someone in the back of the head (in a friendly, exuberant way) It’s logged about fifty hundred plays in my iThing already.

Rumour has it they’ll be dropping a full-length in the fall—not via longtime partner Jagjaguwar, but rather through Duffy’s Triple Crown Audio imprint. I’ll be waiting with bated wanting-to-flip-stuff.

Architects and Builders’ Last Holiday

[Self-promo herein. James made me.]

Matthew Blackwell, of Regina’s dearly missed Polymaths, started writing and recording under the name Architects and Builders in 2008. Since then, Architects has grown into a real-ass band, lately featuring John Cameron (These Estates, Polymaths) and myself (eating entire bags of Tostitos for breakfast). It’s been a slice, but alas, Blackwell is moving to Edmonton at the end of summer, so we’re gonna call it a just-under-a-half-decade.

So, two cool Architects-related things are happening tomorrow. The first is that we’re releasing our final record, the Joy of Cooking LP, which came together from July 30 to August 1 in a mortality-fueled blitz of arranging and recording. It’s coming out as a download on our Bandcamp page, and it’ll be absolutely free.

The second thing is that we’re playing our last show ever, which will also be free. We’ll be playing at O’Hanlon’s around 10 p.m.; BC’s Oh Village will be up afterward. (It seems that our set conflicts a bit with the Fainting Goat’s sure-to-be-great ’90s party, but as Blackwell puts it, “our set is already just a ’90s party,” so conflicted comers are good either way.) I suppose a third cool thing is that we’ll have some extremely rare Architects and Builders box sets available only at this show: both albums and both EPs, plus some bonus tracks and liner notes, for five dollars.

We can’t promise that both The Joy of Cooking and our final set aren’t just 40 minutes of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”. But again, neither will cost you a dime, so you’ve no reason to not find out.

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!

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.

Sled Island (Day 2)

Wednesday was a hard thing to top, Sled Island-wise, but although Wednesday’s Shadowy Men set immediately became one of my top three favourite shows of all time, Thursday’s offerings were certainly no letdown in comparison.

As James mentioned yesterday, it’s really hard to pass up something called “B.A.’s Hot Dog BBQ and Extravaganza”, much less if you’re familiar with B.A. Johnston (and his love and presumed mastery of crappy food). So our first destination was the Area, which the prairie dog contingent all agreed was one of the best ad-hoc art spaces around. B.A. was slanging dogs from a propane barbecue in front of the space, while lead Mammoth Cave Recording Co. guy Paul Lawton doled out warm cans of Lucky and Brava all afternoon. That, and obviously the band line-up, made for an extremely enjoyable afternoon.

We missed the first band or two, and were stuck outside the space for another set. We were able to make our way in for a set from Halifax’s Cousins, who rattled off some very decent garage-pop, awash in reverb and boy-girl vocals. As John remarked, “It’s like they took everything I like and ran it through a computer, and it spit out this band.”

Next up was maybe my favourite surprise of the festival: Shotgun Jimmie took the stage roughly as scheduled, but with Winnipeg’s Cannon Bros. backing him on drums and baritone guitar. I love Shotgun Jimmie’s typical touring set-up—playing guitar and foot-operated drums all by his lonesome—but he clearly thrives in a full-band situation, being freed up for guitar solos and, you know, standing up. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Cannon Bros. work as the perfect backing band for Jimmie, who later switched to baritone and backed the Bros. up on a few of their songs. It was like a vortex of charming up there.

The heat was unfortunately getting to a few of us, so we ended up leaving before Haunted Souls and B.A. Johnston. But after some seriously correct Mexican food, as well as some rest and Gatorade, we were all relatively good to go for the evening. (By “we” I mostly mean “I”. I don’t cotton well to summer weather, even at rad BBQ extravaganzas.)

Our party splintered a bit for the evening, though I can say with assurance that Johnny and I ended up at the Dickens Pub for Hot Snakes. We missed the first two bands of the evening there, though a friend of ours told us through text message that the Soft Option sounded like “Kevin Spacey doing an Ian Curtis impression”, which could either be awful or glorious. We did catch locals Night Committee, who were occasionally good in an ’80s R.E.M./Let’s Active kind of way, but largely felt out of place at Sled Island. The highlight of their set was certainly their keyboardist, renowned Calgary musician Lorrie Mattheson, who expertly rocked not only an Ace-Tone organ but a Pointed Sticks shirt.

Of course, it was Hot Snakes who’d ultimately make everyone’s night. They stormed through a nearly gapless set, playing much of Suicide Invoice before drawing from their other two LPs, and basically scorching the stage in the process. Not that I’d seen them during their initial run, but it was clear that they were playing as tight as they ever had. (Perhaps they’ve just got good memories—guitarist John Reis easily rattled off the names of Calgary venues he’d been to, though he hadn’t been here since 1981.) And despite the oldies-only nature of this tour, they all seemed to be truly enjoying themselves, which leads folks like me to daydream of an eventual fourth album. But in any event, last night was more than enough to satisfy the crowd, if the constant stage-diving was any indication.

Following a brief bit of waffling as to what show to catch, we headed to the Legion for the last half hour of the Sadies’s set. Unsurprisingly, the band was in excellent form, and the crowd sure recognized it. They even did the play-each-other’s-guitar bit—a parlour trick, sure, but easily the best parlour trick around. The prairie dog contingent agrees that regardless of your musical taste, there’s essentially something wrong with you if you can’t enjoy a Sadies show. I’m the stodgiest, crossed-arm-iest dude around, and even I found myself square dancing with a stranger or two. And Dallas Good’s now two for two as far as awesome Legion sets go.

Stray observations:

– Some scotch company had set up a booth at the Hot Dog Extravaganza, offering free scotch caesars to any and all comers. Now, it’s probably debatable whether or not scotch in a caesar is an abomination (I’m more on the “why does my caesar taste like moss?” side of the fence), but in no way is it reasonable to rim said caesars with—I kid you not—that hydrolyzed Montreal steak spice. At any rate, I had like five of them out in the hot sun, along with Paul’s beers, and was somehow surprised when I succumbed to heat exhaustion. Intelligence!
– Lots of covers last night! Hot Snakes closed their encore with Big Boys’ “Red/Green” (with Rick Froberg handling vocals only), while the Sadies closed with their requisite covers medley, including Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and Spinal Tap’s “Gimme Some Money”.
– Here’s a blurry photo of John Reis having just sort of kicked a stage-diver directly in the ass. (I’m using “sort of” as a legal hedge, of course.)

Stay tuned for more updates through the week, assuming we don’t get our stage-diving asses kicked too hard.

Sled Island (Day 1)

Prairie dog‘s somewhat-official Sled Island contingent—myself, actual prairie dog writers James Brotheridge and John Cameron, and James’s wonderful Rhiannon friend—set off for the Calgary festival Wednesday morning. None of us had been before, but judging from the line-ups we were guaranteed a terrific time. Plus, the festival’s diffuse network of shows, as opposed to having one or two outdoor stages, meant there’d be less time and frustration spent waiting, having heat strokes, etc.

We rolled in around 5 p.m., got to our hotel, set off to collect our wristbands (our GPS refused to believe that the stated venue for Discovery passes even existed, though in its defence, “Confluence Road” sounds completely made-up), and set off for some beer cocktails and our first real meals of the day at the Unicorn Pub downtown.

Our first official festival stop was supposed to be the Auburn Saloon for their comedy showcase, featuring the likes of Hannibal Buress and Graham Clark, but the Auburn had hit capacity by the time we arrived. Instead, we hoofed it to the Commonwealth, to make sure we got ourselves a decent spot for Lou Barlow later in the evening.

We showed up about halfway through a set from Edmonton’s Field & Stream, whose festival bio references Will Oldham, Jason Molina, and “hot dogs that taste of Muskol.” There were traces of those, but they sounded mostly like a sleepier Baby Eagle (though I could see Bonnie Prince Billy taking a crack at their final song of the evening).

Following them were Vancouver’s No Sinner, who seem to be a vehicle for vocalist Colleen Rennison and who performed with a modified line-up of piano and voice. The set felt really out of place at Sled Island—our party agreed she sounded a lot like KT Tunstall or Natasha Bedingfield—but Rennison is a hell of a singer at any rate. Frankly, I spent most of these sets considering the Commonwealth’s fine cocktails. There were definitely flames involved in prepping my Old Fashioned—resident booze dork John Cameron tells me that lighting the orange peel “expresses the oils.” Knowledge!

Lou Barlow was up next, and while I had always planned to stop by for his set, I grew more and more excited for it throughout the day, to the point that seeing Barlow standing by the entrance earlier in the evening literally made me squeal and clamp my hand over my mouth (sorry, folks, I’m taken). The set certainly wasn’t a letdown. Equipped with a nylon-string guitar, he moved quickly through his extensive catalog, from Deep Wound up through some soon-to-be-released Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr tracks.

Having never seen him before, I hadn’t expected him to be as outgoing onstage, but his banter showed him to be a warm, charming guy. His humour showed through his banter (“[J. and Murph] are like my older brothers. … I feel so sorry with anyone here with older brothers.”) as well as his setlist (a cover of Bryan Adams’s “Run to You” because he loves Canada; a medley of Smog’s “A Hit” and Folk Implosion’s non-hit “Natural One”). His voice was in top form as well—his name probably doesn’t come up first when you envision a great singer, but he has a foggy, pitch-perfect baritone that works so well with the nylon guitar. He set the bar pretty high for the rest of Sled Island, basically.

But, as anyone might expect, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet further raised the bar so high it’s no longer visible. We headed to the Legion following Barlow’s set, to catch the remainder of the Mammoth Cave showcase there. Regrettably, we were too late to catch Fist City, but we were right on time for the most historic set of Sled Island (and the one I was personally most excited for): the first Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet performance since 1996.

With Dallas Good of the Sadies filling in for the late Reid Diamond, who was honoured with a mid-set glass-raising, the men of Shadowy Men ripped into their set without a word of introduction. Pausing maybe twice to tune and chat, they played nigh on two hours of classic material, from “Bennett Cerf” to “They Don’t Call Them Chihuahuas Anymore” to “You Spin Me Round”, the latter replete with delightfully cheesy organ. They of course played “Having an Average Weekend”—you know it; it’s the Kids in the Hall theme song—at which point the crowd, already shoulder-to-shoulder, started a bona-fide pit. Honestly, I’ve seen less movement at an SNFU show. The band seemed overjoyed at it, though they insisted they’d basically been dragged to the festival. They couldn’t have played more tightly, their tone couldn’t have been more impeccable, and the set couldn’t have been more delightful. Two hours wasn’t enough.

Stray observations:

– Lou Barlow takes requests. He won’t play “Mary Hair” by his one-off group Belt Buckle, because “it’s a shitty song”, though he’ll commend you, “That’s a deep cut!” He will play “Brand New Love”, though, and it’ll make your night. He won’t play “Lou’s Anxiety Song” (“I wish!” was the response) but he’ll happily take on one of J’s Deep Wound songs instead.
– There was some seriously poor settiquette during Shadowy Men. If you come to a show 30 minutes late, you don’t get to elbow your way to the front of the stage. About eighty hundred people tried this, though.
– I managed to lose my voice within the duration of “Shadowy Countdown”, which is about 45 seconds long and consists of counting down from ten to zero twice.
– Shadowy Men closed their encore with “16 Encores”, their classic medley of the first four bars of conceivably every song that’s ever been popular, from “Rock Lobster” through “The Boys Are Back in Town” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It’s realistically around 60 encores, which only drew out the fun.
– Wikipedia told me this morning that Dallas Good is more than familiar with the Shadowy dudes: he spent time in Don and Reid’s post-Shadowy band Phono-Comb. Knowledge!

Stay tuned for more Sled Island updates through the week. Maybe I’ll even figure out what blogging is along the way.