Sled Island begins (We caught 40 Watt Sun, missed Mount Eerie)
My first missive from Calgary's Sled Island (co-curated by Deerhoof this year) will be a short one. After a series of mishaps, I arrived at my hotel at 11pm local time. This only gave me enough time to run down to the Palomino, a steakhouse/bar that featured two floors of performance, to catch two acts before crashing. This means that I missed a great deal of the activities on Wednesday night, including a much anticipated set from Mount Eerie. Please direct any complaints about the lack of coverage to the drivers of New York City, Delta Airlines, and JFK airport. For a more comprehensive look at the festivities, which span several venues across Calgary's downtown area, check back in the next few days.
A model of Canadian metal collectivism. Featuring nine instruments played by seven members, and that isn't even counting the guest vocalist who showed up for their finale, Griefwalker demonstrated that it's easier to sound massive when everyone chips in. The Vancouver band's songs are long, restrained, and absorbing. Though they don't change much to the post-metal idiom in their songwriting, the use of electric violin, pedal steel, and some kind of synthesized marimba gives Griefwalker a unique sonic character. The effect is something like Neurosis's A Sun That Never Sets, without the psychedelic faux-tribal influences. It's clear that the group have a firm grip on texture and dynamics, hopefully their next few releases will develop their songwriting skills to match.
40 Watt Sun
Context matters. A band as measured and reserved as 40 Watt Sun requires the audience to buy in, slow down, and shut the fuck up. This was apparently too much to ask of the midnight crowd at Palomino. The downstairs room had a batch of dedicated fans by the stage, including one dude who flew in all the way from China to see the band, and a ring of chatty Cathys by the bar that could be heard even when 40 Watt Sun were playing at full volume. This visibly vexed singer Patrick Walker, adding to his already Eeyore-ish disposition. In between songs, Walker did his best to quiet the crowd, discourage cell phone use, and fielded a bizarre request for a sip from the bottle of honey that he had brought on stage. It took until the last moments of the set, during an encore where Walker performed a truncated version of "Stages" solo, for the crowd to finally keep it down. Chalk it up to bad booking, maybe a slowcore band isn't the right fit for the last call crowd in a subterranean bar. Despite the noise, 40 Watt Sun played beautifully, drawing from their 2016's Wider Than The Sky for a set both melancholy and meditative. Though their songs routinely stretch to ten minutes and beyond, their steady playing forces your ear to hang on every note as it drifts into silence. A shame that the silence was overshadowed by the barroom ambiance.
40 Watt Sun's short tour also stopped at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, Austin Terror Fest and Reggies in Chicago.
Sled Island continues through the weekend with Dirty Projectors, Wye Oak, John Maus, Shabazz Palaces, Cherry Glazerr, Lido Pimienta, Wand, Grouper, Tyondai Braxton, Kari Faux, Bat Fangs and more. Check out the schedule.