[Read Part 1 of our coverage of Calgary's Sled Island Festival here.]

Before embarking to Sled Island, I asked friends what they knew of Calgary.

"It's called the Texas of Canada," one said. "It's in the middle of nowhere and it's flush with oil money."

While they're certainly familiar with the comparison, locals are of two minds—some are accepting, while others brush it off as an insult. Regardless of accuracy, Calgary is full of country-and-western imagery. It starts in the airport, where you'll see ads for big trucks and information officers wearing cowboy hats. Downtown is full of steakhouses, and barbecue appears to be a regional dish. Windows everywhere are painted with horses and riders in celebration of the upcoming Stampede, the summer's biggest annual event. Shops are prepared, hocking hats and boots. Bars boast hay-bale seating. Hell, the hotel bar where I'm writing this has two old-timey photos of riders on horseback right in front of me.

But for all the western iconography, I find Calgary to more akin to Denver—another sprawling city in the middle of nowhere, teeming with old-resource money and burgeoning snippets of bicycling, tattooed, bearded, arts-minded youth culture.

Also like Denver, a greenbelt river-walk cuts through the center of the city, and Friday afternoon it was hot so I went for a swim. The banks were dotted with young couples and passed-out hobos. After two nights of blaring bands, the cool and quiet waters were a refreshing oasis.

I began Friday evening at a comedy show. Everyone on the bill, including Calgary up-and-comers Derek Adams and Amy Bugg, was delightful. As I gathered from his set, Mark Little is part of the cast of a Canadian network sitcom, which he admitted wasn't very good. So, unbridled, he seemed to relish the opportunity to let loose, to follow his own muse. His senses of relief and freedom were palpable.

INSIDE: Photos of Television, Yo La Tengo, King Tuff and Videos of Iceage and Juan Wauters, plus so much more.

But the evening belonged to headliner Bridget Everett, a New Yorker of indomitable largess. At maybe 6 foot 3, she came out to a blaring song about "fucking shit up." She shook her gigantic tits out of a low-cut dress and swigged from a bottle in a brown bag. She frightened the audience, purposefully. "I want to give you an unshakeable experience," Everett said. Indeed, she did.

She picked on audience members, one in particular named Timmy, telling the nervous man about how soft her pussy is and how they were going to spend the holidays together. She sang songs about her tits and motorboated audience members. He voice was powerful. She drank and over-shared, and while the character was heightened, there was some truth to the line: "I'm working out my trauma."

Bridget Everett

Everett changed dresses and seemed to show an older member of the audience the lower half of her lady parts. She climbed on chairs, grabbed tits, led sing-alongs, and returned again and again to fuck with Timmy. By the end she had him onstage, clearly nervous as hell. She finished the set by having her give him a superman ride, and finally laying him down prone and sitting on his face. All in mostly good fun, Everett gave the audience a wicked cage-rattling, and indeed left them with an indelible experience that was more deranged, aggravated burlesque and performance art than stand-up. Coming from someone who detests traditional burlesque, her version was much more my speed.

I took a cab over to 17th, a bustling strip of more modern restaurants and bars outside of central downtown. Along with Fred and Toody Cole, who were seated just to the side of the stage, I saw Faith Healer, a dandelion pop group led by Jessica Jalbert. Over some easy, in-the-pocket grooves, her voice swung smoothly above, cool, mellow, assured, and controlled. Fred and Toody agreed, heads and boots bobbing to the beat. Between sets I went over to say hello, and to ask them about Sled Island.

"It's kind of like a little SXSW," Toody said. "We played it before a few years ago and really liked the feel. We like doing these kinds of things because it's one of the only times we get out to see new bands."

The couple also relayed how busy they've been. This young summer they've played festivals in Europe, across Canada and dipped into New York, playing as Pierced Arrows, Dead Moon, and, as they would later that evening for their Sled Island set, as Fred and Toody. They'll be in Austin, Texas for the Fourth of July.

Almost as soon as I left them, others took my spot. It continued like this until the next band began, fans approaching with hats in hand, a pilgrimage of sorts, as Fred and Toody held court. They chatted, took photos, shook hands, and so on. And each time one of the pilgrims walked away they did so with wide-eyes and toothy smiles. All the while, Portland's beloved couple were inspiringly gracious. Toody acted more as ambassador, fielding questions that Fred seemingly could rarely hear. Fred mostly sat and nodded, a broad grin on his face all the while.

I stayed to watch another set from Juan Wauters, which he pulled off sweetly despite a myriad of technical difficulties. But rather than stay for Fred and Toody, I had to see another of rock's most storied and envious couples, Yo La Tengo, a band I've listened to for ages and even interviewed, yet somehow never seen.

Yo La Tengo

They didn't disappoint. I arrived late, so I can't speak to the early portion of the set, but by the time I got there Georgia, Ira, and James were definitely doing the electric thing. They played songs from throughout the catalog, from new drones to the classic "Autumn Sweater," whose structure they toyed with a bit.

Indeed, unlike so many groups that have bested the three-decade mark, Yo La Tengo remain vital and vibrant. Part of this is because they have so many modes, from the soft lilting odes, to the poppy buzzers, to the dissonant noise explorations.

I've long believed—and still do—that Yo La Tengo don't quite get the credit and respect they deserve; that we take them for granted. I imagine it's because they've been so stalwart, so productive, never really breaking up or going on hiatus. But Jesus, when they're gone, we'll miss 'em.

I also can't help wondering how many degrees removed Yo La Tengo's influence might stretch? Ira's bounding, noisy guitar work is akin to a playbook for so many. At let's be clear: 99 out of 100 players going for feedback, dissonance and feel couldn't carry his guitar strap.

Yo La Tengo

And my, he is a joy to watch, such a physical connection to the instrument, to feel, to the mood. He's not so much trying to put on a show as embodying the sound. At one point he handed his guitar to the audience, none of whom had any idea what to do with it, but enjoyed it all the same. Dutifully, they passed it down, one by one taking quick turns, joyously overwhelmed.

From that sweetness I hopped a cab to a scene of pure misanthropy. Long I'd been curious about Denmark's Iceage, and I had to see up close what all the fuss was about.

Certainly, it was wild. In a sweltering underground venue, the pit was packed with sweat-drenched 20-something boys. They treated singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt like a demigod as he hovered above them, foot on the monitor, jutting out into the airspace above the pit, clenched fists pumping.

It was heavy and it was dark and it was nihilistic and misanthropic. The drummer was sharp, tight and pounding, the band's overlooked backbone. The set, made up of songs almost exclusively made of minor chords, was shouted, screamed and full of hate.

And I couldn't shake the feeling that it was a little bit of a put-on. In a way, Rønnenfelt seems more like an actor than a real madman. The gestures were there, but stopped short of true sociopathy. I've seen and known truly wild frontmen, and that extra step was missing—more coveting of danger that interested in its actualization. Then again, I was reminded, too, of the tone and posture of punk bands of my youth that tiptoed towards fascist bullshit. But who knows... maybe that's exactly the thing that makes Iceage exciting, that they're flirting with the sick and wrong. And that the waifish, almost androgynously delicate Rønnenfelt is so good-looking surely helps square that circle—the kid gives good photo.

Iceage's set was unceasing in its brutal heaviness, but only in the closing ballad, "Plowing into the Field of Love," was I struck by the songwriting—it's a wicked, creeping beast.

On the way out I overheard a sweat-soaked, oafishly geeky 20-something boasting to a friend. "Elias kicked me in the face and kneed me in the face," he said, proudly. I asked the kid if that was something like a proud scar. "Yeah," he said. "I guess it is."

And therein lies my disconnect with Iceage. They stalk and loom above the audience, rather than with them. Maybe that dominant-submissive relationship works for some, but I got no room for superiority complexes—real or acted.

I returned to the festival's center, hoping to find Guantanamo Baywatch, who had played earlier. But along the way, the sounds drifting from another venue pulled me in. The band was the WPP, a four-piece from Vancouver, BC. They were loud and gnarled and they thrashed. The three vocalists all screamed, in tandem and call-and-response. Here, too, was an unleashing of self, an explosion of pent-up aggression. But unlike Iceage, there was populism, humility, and a lack of self-righteousness.

They wrapped quicker than I was ready for them to, so I made the way down to the Legion, where King Tuff was playing to a packed audience, and where I found Guantanamo Baywatch. Drummer and homie Chris Scott shared with me his water bottle of tequila and we compared notes. Sled Island had been treating them well, too. Tuff finished his set, and as the place cleared out, we marveled at the cute septuagenarian grandma, a Legion member no doubt, cleaning the place with a wide smile and pink cat shirt.

I returned to hotel, and got into bed around 3 am. Above me I could hear after-partiers still at it, clanking along outside on the metal fire-escapes.

On Saturday I returned to 17th Ave for some daytime shows. In a parking lot behind a bar, thankfully covered by a tent, I saw Cy Dune, the latest project from Akron/Family's Seth Olinsky. His duo was blistering, with Olinsky's overdriven African-inspired guitar patterns jutting every which way. There were quiet passages too, with Olinksy treading lightly, or singing verses with no accompaniment. But mostly Cy Dune was mostly blasting, the guitar chunky and the drummer swinging so hard as if wielding kettle bells.

Juan Wauters

I remained for yet another set by Juan Wauters, my Sled Island crush (along with Birdstriking, who only played once). As he had before, Wauters' charm and sweet melody were light and unburdened. So earnest, so joyful, he played the entire set with his fly unzipped and it seemed in perfect form. I saw a few other bands on 17th, none of whom are worth mentioning. I ate, and returned to downtown.

Sled Island's penultimate—or at least largest—show took place in Olympic Plaza, a public park with striking similarity to Pioneer Square, only with a little more grass and fewer steps.

I watched some of Viet Cong, a Calgary hometown favorite. I'm sure there was an emotional component for a lot of locals, as the band who used were formerly members of Women, were still mourning guitarist Christopher Reimer, who died suddenly in 2012. Even in my short time in Calgary I happened upon numerous people who knew him.

But I had no ties. And Viet Cong, like Women before them, do nothing for me. Standing with a fellow journalist as the set began, I remarked, "You know, I've been playing guitar for almost 20 years and I love it, but I'm getting a little sick of it here."

And that's a huge, huge part of Sled Island: guitar. It's predominantly traditional bands—guitar, bass, drums. Not a lot of modern twists, not a lot rap, not a lot of anything else, save for a few pockets and tokens. Indeed, the majority of Sled Island's booking was guitar rock—either indie, post-punk, or more mangled. That's the tone. Along with Canadian hospitality, guitar is what colors the festival. To wit, the lineup of the big final outdoor show: Shaani Cage, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Ex Hex, King Tuff, Viet Cong, Drive Like Jehu and Television. Five of those seven (and the final five) are all guitar rock of varying prickliness.

The crowd for Television in Olympic Plaza

Unmoved by Viet Cong, and uninterested in Drive Like Jehu, I returned to the hotel to recharge. I swam some laps, ate, had a cocktail, and felt immeasurably better. I returned to the park for Television, who I was curious about, albeit dubiously.

As a general rule, I'm unclear why we try to replicate or relive bygone eras. The payoffs never match the perceived memories. Television were a band from the '70s—a seminal band, no doubt, but a bygone one just the same.

At Sled Island Television fielded three-fourths of the group responsible for Marquee Moon (Richard Lloyd left in 2007), and they stuck mostly to it—the first non-Moon track came in the encore. But there was really no reason for an encore, as the group closed the set with "Marquee Moon," their absolute pinnacle.

Televisions Tom Verlaine looks into the air, seemingly searching for lyrics
  • Andrew R Tonry
  • Television's Tom Verlaine looks into the air, seemingly searching for lyrics

Indeed, Tom Verlaine & Co. knew to play the hits, and the band did so with remarkable and almost effortless poise. While the tempos might have slowed a bit, and Verlaine's voice lacked the bite and ability to hit the high wails, the songs were performed almost note-for-note. Drummer Billy Ficca was precise, groovy, and slamming. He really killed it.

Still, a languid nature mostly prevailed. These were old dudes attuned more to faithfully executing the songs than putting on any sort of vibrant or vital performance. It sounded great, but it wasn't much to witness.

In the grass circling the park a young man lay prone, eyes closed, feet lightly tapping. I felt like he got it right—at this juncture Television was a band to kick back and let wash over, rather than salivate for.

Televisions Tom Verlaine

When the jabbing first chords of "Marquee Moon" kicked in, they acted like an electromagnet—from all over the park fans flocked from the outskirts towards the stage. The lying man was approached by his (apparent) boyfriend, tried to rouse him into joining the dance. But the lying man balked and tried to pull the agitator towards him, to rather stay there and melt. They caressed, but the lying man remained stretched out on the grass. He had the right idea.

By this point, just before 11:00 pm on Saturday night, Sled Island reached its soft peak. There were still a handful of shows, but the prevailing winds whispered a lilting exhaustion. That was, in part, because four days of countless bands will do that to a person.

It was also because the festival's headliner lacked combustable vitality. In their current iteration, Television are a lot like Canada itself—safe, peaceful, relaxing and polite.