Boom. And another exhaustive (and exhausting) episode of Stag & Dagger comes and goes. This year, the replacement of Broadcast for The Captain’s Rest and the limiting of Stereo to the afters club had a couple of effects – first that the festival felt a little smaller (a feeling compounded by the impression that there were more local acts on the bill than before and fewer acts, I think, in total) and second, that it consequently felt more doable. There was no venue you couldn’t get to from any other within five minutes, which opened up all sorts of options for spur of the moment choices.
Of course, there was a plan. Let’s call it a map. A trail plotted up and down Suachiehall St. There were bands I was really interested in seeing but, once the stage times were announced it was clear that, even with improved localisation of the venues, there was no way we’d get to see them all. Regretted especially missing out on Fake Major, but hopefully will catch them soon. And even though there was a plan, it was equally obvious we’d deviate from it at some point. Didn’t matter, there was a lot of good stuff on display. A lot. So, here’s how we joined the dots.
You come to Stag & Dagger for the start and, as far as choice goes, you’re locked in for the first few acts. This is by no means a bad thing because it guarantees some of the less well known bands a decent audience and there are often some quality choices that far down the bill (Zeus and Hot Panda of previous years). This time round Donald MacDonald & The Islands kicked us off with bags of enthusiasm (although perhaps a little less energy and a little more care with presenting the songs would have served them better). They were followed by Blindfolds, presenting a convincing 60s greaser act complete with attitude, strops about gear and some especially authentic rock and roll (just missing someone’s girlfriend coming on dressed as Rita Tushingham). Third up was French Wives who I’ve known about for ages but never seen before, and I was well impressed by their tunes. This far it had been all local talent, so the appearance of Seattle’s Seapony was welcome, as was the down-change of tempo and mood. Bright guitar, sweet vocals and some lovely melodies, if rendered just a little one dimensional by the drum machine.
This was where the went off piste. The plan was to head to the ABC for the opening bands up there, but we were snagged by the prospect of Widowspeak and stayed at Broadcast for their set instead. In many ways they were like Seapony’s big sister – with a bigger band, more dynamic guitars, a real (and excellent) drummer all working to the service more subtle and complex songs. Well worth hanging out for.
Made it up to ABC in good time to catch my pre-festival pick, Filthy Boy. Been addicted to their wonderfully depraved Smile That Won’t Go Down album for the last three weeks, and they didn’t disappoint live. Great selection of tracks from the album, all delivered with an extra helping of sleazy grunt. The day was motoring well, so missing out on Eugene Twist at the Art School due to a late start and then the somewhat disjointed performance by Brooklyn’s Phosphorescent came as a bit of a kick in the nads. Matthew Houck had assembled an excellent band, and the songs came over well but there was clearly some personal disharmony in play and the discomfort transmitted to the audience. A shame.
Back to Broadcast then to get the road trip back on track with Temples. A bit glittery and a bit glam, there’s more than a bit of Bolan about these midlanders. There’s a touch of stomp and psychedelia to these guys too, and every tune was a killer.
And it got better. Next on stage is Mac DeMarco who takes an already bouncing room and lifts it with his sweet, infectious songs and irrepressible slacker banter. DeMarco appeared to be the musos’ pick, with members of Filthy Boy and Widowspeak spotted among the crowd who lapped up every second of DeMarco’s set. For this reason Mac DeMarco (and Peter, Piers and Lance) win this year’s Hot Panda award for getting on stage and doing the thing right. Canada seems to have cornered the market in this regard.
DeMarco would have been an excellent way to end the night, but we had one more act in store. I was interested to see how Wolf People would pull off live the folk / metal balance that makes them such an intriguing listen. I’d pitched them as somewhere between Jethro Tull, Circulus and Spinal Tap, and in the end they eschewed the flutes for the fuzz. A really good set, that on another night would have been an absorbing watch, but with my head still full of Mac’s bright jangle, it all just felt a little too much. One step too many.
We’d had enough music for one day. But what a day.
Stag & Dagger 2013: done. Last dot on the map: home.