Pinball between gigs at Pin-Bar, Calgary during the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival on June 19, 2019. © J. Ashley Nixon
Put music and pinball together and what do you get? Almost certainly, The Who’s Pinball Wizard from the Rock Opera Tommy (1969). Work a bit harder and you might come up with the syncopated Danny’s All Star Joint by Ricky Lee Jones (1979) for its pinball lyrics. Or maybe, Pinball by the English-French Avante-pop band, Stereolab, although your French will need to be good to follow along with that one.
Put Sled Island music and the silver ball machines together at Pin-Bar, Calgary and you got four bands putting out some heavy Wednesday night wizardry. Pin-Bar opened its pinball-focused bar and kitchen on 17th Avenue in April last year but this was the first time the venue has been featured in the annual Sled Island Music & Arts Festival. The owner, Arlen Smith is well-versed in sledding given his business interests in the Palomino Smokehouse which has featured prominently in the festival for years.
Calgary’s Sawlung got the gig going in Pin-Bar’s front room as the late spring light continued to pour in from the street. Their post-metal blasts pulled in a good crowd to get their ears rung by vocalist Alexi, guitarist Jesse and Connor on drums as the trio rendered through their set including Nothing Left, Vile +Base, and Hollowing Hate from their 2016 album, S/T.
The two psyching-syncing guitars of Denimachine’s Brady Side and Trenton Bullard geared through Tornado, Mountains, and other heaviness in their rock/stoner set with overdrive coming from bass player/vocalist Scott Charles and drummer, Kevin Ross.
Third up was Taro, a trio from Medicine Hat whose new album Arcana (Wasted Wax Records) was up for grabs at the back between the pinball tables. Connor Day grabbed the audience by the trachea with his energetic, pedal-switching guitar and voice, while Connor Thompson pounded the bass while permanently hidden under a stream of hair, and Zach Doble was loving it to pieces under his hat on the drums.
Sci-fi rock from Calgary’s Woodhawk closed out the gig as Wednesday time-shifted into Thursday. There was riffing, rocking wizardry in Turner Midzain’s guitar and Mike Madmington’s bass. The drums were driving with some nice pausing and acrobatic stick movements from Kevin Nelson. The vocal harmonies displayed on their 2017 album Beyond the Sun were, frankly, hard to pick up in their heavily-mortared wall of sound so I am still left wondering if Living in the Sand is referencing Planet Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi saga that began with Dune in 1965 or The Martian by Andy Weir? The beautiful Mars-red graphics on the front cover would support Dune and, make no mistake, the dead astronaut lying there looks absolutely nothing like Matt Damon.
More photographs from Sled Island 2019
Please visit J. Ashley Nixon Photography for more featured images from Sled Island 2019, and other years.