Strange bedfellows make folk fest sing, Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald, July 25, 2009

Posted by on 27 July 2009

Pastoral-folk concept rock --with a baroque bent.


It's not something one comes across, well, almost ever, but that's just what Portland's the decemberists were set to serve up Friday night at the 30th annual Calgary Folk music Festival as day two's headlining act.

That sort of strange, gothic offering made perfect sense to cap the evening, however, because if you were looking to pinpoint a day that defies your traditional folky stereotypes, you probably couldn't have picked a better one than Friday at Prince's Island Park.

Prior to the decemberists' set, which was scheduled to take place after press time, the sellout crowd eagerly anticipated the peaceful, easy hip-hop of arrested development and the political folk-punk of the mekons.

Of course, every day at the Calgary folk fest pushes those old-folk boundaries to varying degrees. But on Friday the richness and variety of flavours that the festival offered was on particularly fine display.

Opening the mainstage show was lee Harvey osmond, the latest gritty offering from ontario singer-songwriter tom wilson, best known for his work with '90s rockers Junkhouse and roots trio Blackie&the rodeo Kings.

Looking like a mountain-dwelling hermit adopted by a good family, Wilson indulged the darker, trippier side of his muse with Osmond. It kicked the festivities off with a grim but fairly engaging rumble.

Meanwhile, on a smaller stage at the far end of the park, scenester favourite Chad Vangaalen attracted a sizable crowd with a set that was both sweet and dissonant. with that very delivery, and his quivery voice, Calgary's Vangaalen often brings to mind neil young --that is, if ol' shakey had opted for a life of isolation and disconnect, like Brian wilson. It's an odd combo but clearly it's working for Vangaalen.

Another treat on the smaller stage was the sultry jazz of trip-hopper esthero who performed beautifully stripped of her usual electronic trappings.

Back on the mainstage, acclaimed U. K. indie rockers gomez got the first notable rise of the evening with a set that was one of the night's highlights. the band delivered a groovy, nicely driving set that touched on Britpop, blues rock and psychedelia.

Folk-punk pioneers the mekons were another big hit of the evening. led by the revered Jon langford and sally timms, the band fully vented its rootsy side with a raw and poignant set of hillbilly folk and country music that coursed with the left wing piss and vinegar of their punk beginnings.

At press time the Grammy award winning Arrested Development had just taken the stage with afro-centric world beats bouncing up wonderfully against hip-hop beats, inspiring hundreds of festivalgoers to get up and dance.

One couldn't help but wonder if the decemberists' grim gothic folk visions might be a bit anticlimactic. But a park full of folk festies seemed eager to find out.