Published Jun 27, 2011Sled Island is brought to you by copious quantities of beer and BBQ. But the five-day Calgary festival is more than just gluttony and vice -- it's a veritable smorgasbord for the senses, offering up over 200 bands at 30 venues for as motley an assortment of music lovers you're likely to ever see within a five-kilometre radius. And while the international acts -- the Dandy Warhols, the Raveonettes, Of Montreal, Buzzcocks -- got the prime placement, it was the homegrown talent that stole the spotlight. Well, mostly.
Justin Townes Earle earned his headliner status at Republik on Wednesday night, but second-billed Jenn Grant of Halifax made for a confident, sassy lead-in. Grant has added some rock edge to her traditionally folk pop sound, bewitching the crowd so completely that a muscle-head jock ditched his loud crowd of idiot friends to stand solo, transfixed.
Collectively, Thursday night's set at the Gateway proved to be Canada's strongest showing. Vancouver's Rococode were the loudest act of the night, but there was nothing sloppy about the sound: it was tightly orchestrated, pure pop rock. Regina's Library Voices continued to threaten the Hold Steady's grip on the title of North America's bar band, with a particularly memorable closing number, a charming sing-along version of John Lennon's "Oh, Yoko." But the real discovery was Saskatoon's Slow Down, Molasses, a seven-piece indie folk band that surprised and soothed in equal measure, from trombone solos to a totally shredded mandolin.
Former Vancouverite Adaline, who now calls Toronto home, showed off her powerful indie-pop pipes at the Palomino on Friday to a mixed crowd of festivalgoers and bar regulars looking for a little TGIF release. Mode Moderne, also from Vancouver, followed with an entertaining set that owed its existence to the back catalogues of the Cure and No Order. Later that night, hometown hero Rae Spoon took the stage at the Marquee Room, his clear voice floating beautifully atop a variety of pop, folk and dance club grooves. He also previewed the new album he's currently recording in Calgary with "London Destroyer," one part thumping goth, one part sweet electronica.
Saturday's main stage at Olympic Plaza proved a curious comedown from the rest of the fest, despite a few great moments. Seattle's Minus the Bear offered instantly forgettable indie rock, while Danish indie pop band the Raveonettes continued to put on listless live shows despite some great songs. The Dandy Warhols picked up the pace, playing crowd favourites and previewing a new song, "Wild Flag," featuring pummelled drums and plenty of guitar flourishes. New York's Twin Shadow busted out their new wave grooves with sunny energy, and Calgary's other indie icon, Chad VanGaalen, brought it all home, working his eclectic repertoire of folk, pop, and rock gems.