Online Exclusive: Saturday at Sled: Three bands, three show reviews, one riotous day

By Laura Bardsley

Shannon and the Clams at Broken City

After a packed breakfast at Red’s Diner in the Beltline area, my friends and I headed to Broken City for the showcase presented by Vancouver publication Mongrel Zine and Roses Music Press. Outside the venue, the GoodLife Bike Shop offered DIY bike fix ups for no charge, and as the delightful scent of free pulled pork sandwiches wafted down from a rooftop patio, the wonders of Sled Island invaded my senses. Unable to suppress my excitement, I did a jig and headed inside to catch the Mandates, a local favourite. Their tasty riffs left a salty-sweet longing in my ears.

Heading upstairs after their brief set, I sank my chops into deliciously-seasoned pulled pork on a crisp white bun. Outside, people smoked cigarettes with grease-laden fingers and nodded, laughing at jokes as they discussed the bands they had seen so far during the festival. Then, Shannon and the Clams took the stage. The guitarist’s pencil moustache and kind eyes glinted as his fingers jogged up and down the fretboard, delivering very technical yet accessible strums and plucks. His vocals were high and surprising and the drummer added his own falsetto. The audience was silent, captivated by the lower belting voice of their bassist as she drummed out snappy and swingin’ bass lines and lyrics. As each song ended, the crowd snapped out of a daze and chanted for more with stomping feet and applause.

As more and more people gravitated inside, drawn by the applause and delightful blend of surf-rock and garage-punk, the three members of Shannon and the Clams stepped up their game, swaying and egging the crowd on. The variety between simple high and low vocals mixed with complex, melodic guitar and bass riffs worked absolutely wonderfully for this band, and by the end of their set, everyone flocked outside (after being denied an encore) to discuss how good it was. The entire venue was entranced, and for good reason: Shannon and the Clams rule.

Buy their tape, listen to them on the internet, order their hilarious merch– this band is everything cool you wish you’d thought of first.

Thee Oh Sees at Broken City

With the sun hanging low in the sky, I made my way back to Broken City to catch the Shrapnelles. A local girl band comprised of members from Friendo, PeAks and other local acts, their songs were perfectly constructed, usually under two minutes with catchy guitar riffs and bass lines. Their vocal melodies were well-placed, with every member of the band joining in. Their voices were full of grit and doo-wop, with crude girly attitudes emanating from every pore. After their set and a couple more beers came COUSINS, a three-piece band from Halifax. Their rowdy guitar and fast-paced build-ups rode and added to the dirty, garage-rock energy created by the Shrapnelles as Broken City accumulated more audience members. Then The Intelligence took the stage, proving to be a powerful five-piece that used their fuzzy guitar riffs and off-time beats to captivate those lucky enough to be inside the bar. Hips swayed uncontrollably, hands pumped vertically and horizontally, and then their set was over before the audience could comprehend what they had just witnessed.

Those going out for a cigarette were thankful for their earlier punctuality upon witnessing the line to get into the venue grow longer down the block. Even outside, static electricity raised arm hairs and goosebumps as everyone awaited Thee Oh Sees. Inside, the crowd sipped excitedly on their drinks, slurring their words and shifting weight as their patience was tested– but as the lights dimmed and John Dwyer opened his mouth to insist on “louder everything” for the sound check, the crowd erupted. Never before have I seen the entirety of Broken City so drunk and so happy. Every single person packed into the venue was on their feet dancing, swaying, shaking, sashaying, shimmying– movin’ and shakin’ all over. During their fourth or fifth song, as countless people were hoisted up above the crowd, a bar employee climbed the stage to control the chaos. Dwyer took one look at him and suggested, “Dude, go get a beer,” explaining to him that their shows usually turn out like this. The guy shrugged, got off stage, and more people spurted up from the audience to crowd-surf on top of the raised hands. Grinning, the band started the next song, screeching and chanting in that catchy, casual way they do.

Their encore was perfect, about four short songs long, and everyone’s energy levels clung to a plateau. At the end, a heavy communal sigh was let out by the audience, and as people filtered outside, the only conversations taking place were in the form of sweaty high fives, embraces and grins on every single face.

Chad VanGaalen at Olympic Plaza

Let’s be honest– although Chad VanGaalen lives in Calgary, has spent most of his musical career here and has a large local fan base, he doesn’t play here very often. So when Sled Island announced him as one of this year’s headliners, it’s obvious why people got excited. It was safe to assume that a large portion of the people at Olympic Plaza were there solely to catch such a rare performance from VanGaalen. This is why I ended up being so upset about it. Parts of his set were amazing, I’ll admit, but what I caught was somewhat lackluster and a big let-down. It’s understandable that right after releasing a new album an artist is expected to perform a lot of that new material. But really, just one-and-a-half of his older songs? I respect the fact that when VanGaalen attempted to play a crowd favourite on the ukulele and didn’t like the sound he refused to continue playing it, but come on! I had hoped to hear at least one track off his 2008 album B-Sides Soft Airplane.

I guess I’m not as mad as I am disappointed. Right after I arrived, he made a comment about how it wasn’t the right time of day to be playing, nor was he “playing in the right place.” Ultimately, I feel that if we’re so inclined to see him live, his fans should be perfectly fine with taking what they can get performance-wise. But Chad, if you read this, remember that Calgary loves you. We appreciate your music, your talent, your quirks and are proud to claim our city as your city. We miss you like we miss you, but we shouldn’t have to miss you in the first place.

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