Sled Island Day 2: Ufomammut shatter brain cells, Wye Oak play a church, more
Well rested and no longer trapped in the throes of air travel hell, I was ready to take in the sites and sounds of Calgary. In addition to the bands below, I enjoyed a quick and delicious tour of Dandy Brewing, a gorgeous view from the Calgary Tower, and an absurdly large portion of Chinese food.
From Russia With Love (ARG vs CRO)
This improvised live score to the Argentina/Croatia match was Palomino's nod to World Cup fever, and featured members of the fest's 2018 curator Deerhoof. The performance, which straddled the line between free jazz and pure chaos, was a lot to take in at noon. Light streaming in from the restaurant's windows made it tough to make out the game's action on the projected screen, so I had to rely on the band's abstract play by play to follow along. Given that I know jack about soccer to begin with, the experience was akin to listening to a Looney Toons cartoon in another language. Totally perplexing, but points for creativity.
Although I didn't catch their full set, I found this punk band delightful. No frills, all fun. While the crowd was still filling out, singer Lauren Ray bounded across the room, climbing up to perch on the staircase above the audience. Jock Tears struck a great balance between mischievous and playful. Though overflowing with energy and unconcerned with your personal space, they were never openly antagonistic or mean-spirited. A wonderful way to kick off the evening.
The halls of Central United Church were exceptionally kind to Wye Oak's mix of electronic and acoustic instrumentation, but there's something ironic about having a band this syncopated play to an audience in pews. Though the natural reverb of the setting blurred some of the edges, Wye Oak's rhythmic command was infectious. I'm no expert on the band's material, but the set seemed to draw mostly from their poppier recent releases, which the packed room greeted with respectful admiration. Wye Oak reciprocated the adoration, asking the crowd to not "let us go back to our nightmare" in the states. I'd be happy to live in Wye Oak's dreamy and sophisticated pop a little longer myself.
The Radiation Flowers
Over at Dicken's Pup, things were less serene but no less dreamy. The Radiation Flowers, a psychedelic act from Saskatoon, played to a cadre of metalheads and modern day hippies who were more than happy to sway back and forth while waiting for Ufomammut to demolish them at the night's end. There's a misconception that psych rock is all heady texture, but The Radiation Flowers understand that the body high is just as important. Drummer Amber Ross drove the band forward with urgency, while 12-string guitar and organ filled out the set's upper registers. Though they operate on the sunnier end of the psych rock spectrum, The Radiation Flowers hit hard enough to keep the black shirts in the crowd entranced. If you're looking for psych rock aimed at moving hips as well as bending minds, The Radiation Flowers should be on your radar.
Some bands sound like sludge, but few bands turn their audience into slime the way Ufomammut do. The Italian trio play at a volume and intensity designed to obliterate brain cells. Trying to pinpoint exactly which instrument is making what sound happen is a fool's errand. Are there songs beneath the layers of deep-fried distortion? Does it matter? Legibility isn't one of Ufomammut's primary concerns. They are meant to be experienced, not understood. If you weren't swept up in the tidal wave of sound, you could pick some minor nits about how much the mix favored the bass guitar above all else, but to complain about frequencies is to miss the point of their effect. Ufomammut have honed the exact skills that they need to reduce rooms to dust.
Elsewhere, people were checking out The Flaming Lips:
Sled Island continues through the weekend. Check out our recap of Day One.