When I got to the Palomino at 10 p.m. on the last Saturday night in March, I was immediately turned away at the door for showing a temporary driver's license as identification. The bouncer turned out to be a sensitive guy -- he was discussing his PhD with an equally biker-looking buddy while interrupting himself to reject each card in my wallet in a blase manner: Alberta Health card, no; student ID, no; old paystub, no; Lake Louise card -- go home and get your passport, dude. So home I went, and then was back to the Palomino by 11 p.m., passport in hand.
Luckily, I hadn't missed any of the sold-out show. Actually, Calgary's own opening act Hot Sweet Noise was just getting into their energetic set when I walked into the crowded bar basement. The bill: Hot Sweet Noise followed by the Sunparlour Players, nightcapped with the Wooden Sky.
I counted minutes in my head. I saw my friend Mike in front of me, a tall guy, taller than me, and I resented in my head that he's a) taller than me, and b) standing in front of me. But he turned around and invited me to drink a beer in the alley with him and a friend, who happens to be Dan Vacon, local rock hero and frontman of the Dudes, standing stage right and looking badass in a beard and tattoos. Although Vacon didn't end up coming, consider my resentment melted away.
By that time, the Sunparlour Players were done, and the Wooden Sky were finally tinkering with their amps onstage, getting ready to play. They just released their third full-length album, Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun, and the audience knew their songs, cheering at the start and sometimes singing along.
Like any good alt-country band, they looked the part: scuffed jeans, leather boots and denim jackets. And they can play. It was all there: catchy songwriting, apt instrumentation, strong harmonies and an arresting presence on stage. Lead singer Gavin Gardiner was big -- in music terms, Win Butler big. When he wasn't strumming his guitar, one hand was rested comfortably on the ceiling, supporting his weight against leans into (or really, over top of) the microphone.
At the end of the set, the band stepped offstage, and Gardiner made a move offstage too. A few people shouted for an encore. He stepped back and grinned into the microphone: "We're gonna play a few more . . . it doesn't take much to get us to play more songs." The band took the stage again and the crowd cheered, eager for more.