If I hadn’t gone to Graywhale Entertainment to check out some new records, then I probably never would’ve known that Alex Calder was coming to Salt Lake City. But, there was his name in all of its glory on Graywhale’s whiteboard, nestled in a list chock-full of upcoming shows.
Alex Calder @ Kilby Court 06.15 with Lemon & Le Mule, Grand Rapids
If I hadn’t gone to Graywhale Entertainment to check out some new records, then I probably never would’ve known that Alex Calder was coming to Salt Lake City. But, there was his name in all of its glory on Graywhale’s whiteboard, nestled in a list chock-full of upcoming shows. Alex Calder was an important show to me for one key reason: Calder played alongside Mac DeMarco in their former band, Makeout Videotape. DeMarco is one of my all-time favorite musicians. A chance to see Calder was going to be the closest thing I’d get to seeing and hearing DeMarco play anytime soon.
From his debut album, Time, to his recent release, Strange Dreams, Calder’s music had piqued my interest despite his connection to DeMarco. Calder and DeMarco share a similar guitar style, but Calder’s music is trippier with less attention to vocals. These two Canadian rockers just have a way with noisy rhythms that are light-hearted and catchy as can be.
Calder’s band is touring solo, which meant that a few random local bands would be opening, and that night it was Grand Rapids and Lemon & Le Mule. Grand Rapids have been playing together for about a year, and still seem to be figuring out their sound, as is evident from their Instagram description. Then again, maybe they enjoy sounding like a different band on each song.
Lemon & Le Mule, on the other hand, were very comfortable onstage and grooved right along with their tunes. Initially, I was really impressed with their psychedelic presence. They started off with a smooth surf-rock sound that transitioned into psych-rock riffs strong enough to remind me of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I was thinking that they might give Max Pain and the Groovies a run for their money, but I still think the Groovies are my favorite local psych band. Lemon & Le Mule began singing full verses a few songs into their set, and the vocalist sounded a lot like Brooks Nielsen, lead vocalist for The Growlers. Nielsen has a very distinct, gruff voice that sounds like a rugged, young sailor singing the blues. That’s definitely not a bad voice for Lemon & Le Mule to emulate, but after a while, it sounded more forced than natural. Aside from the vocals, Lemon & Le Mule was a really positive and comfortable band to rock with.
I was more than ready to hear Calder steal the show when the time came. Calder carried a funny presence with him as he began setting up onstage. He’s a really mellow dude, but initially I couldn’t tell if he was bored or just chilling out. His bassist was all smiles, though, and represented the ’90s with his light-denim pants and white tennis shoes. Their drummer was quiet like Calder, and sat down with bleached hair sticking up as if he’d been electrocuted moments earlier. As the show began, Calder gave the crowd a friendly greeting and ripped right into his signature groovy rhythms. Once Calder’s guitar and the bassist aligned, the atmosphere began to change. Everything was right and a little hip shaking felt good. After three songs, the band had a quick disagreement about what song to play next. Calder just laughed, asked how the crowd was doing, and launched into another song. Everyone was really enjoying themselves until Calder called the set after a few more songs. There was no static between the band members or anyone in the crowd, but apparently the band only knew how to play a handful of songs together. Calder’s attempt to leave the stage sent the crowd in an uproar as they shouted, “more songs!” Calder just laughed, looked at his bandmates, and plugged his guitar back into the amp.
What happened next was a unique opportunity. Calder asked Conor Donaldson, their drummer, to get up and tell a few jokes while Calder thought about what to do next. Donaldson had already taken the mic after the third song to sing “Happy Birthday” to someone in French. Once he realized that she had left, he said “F it” and sat back down at the drums. I didn’t take him for much of a comedian then, but he told a few jokes about Subway sandwiches and bumper stickers—in true Jerry Seinfeld fashion—that had the whole crowd genuinely laughing. Once that was over, Calder played another song to the crowd’s satisfaction and the set was over. It was a really enjoyable set but pretty comical once I thought about how short and untraditional it was for a headlining band.
I had a chance to speak with Calder after the show, and we had an insightful conversation—we talked about the woes of being on a record label, and which one of his records he suggested I buy. He said Mold Boy was his favorite at the moment, but that it wasn’t available online like his other two albums. If you’re like me, you’re probably hoping I bought the record, thanked the man and walked away content without asking anything really dumb. Well, I did buy the record, but despite my hesitation, I caved and eventually asked Calder about Mac DeMarco. I’m sure glad I did though. Calder mentioned that his band will be touring with DeMarco this fall, and that they might just come through Salt Lake City. I’m not going to get my hopes up, too much, but I walked away genuinely stoked that evening. Stoked, not only for the future, but that I met Alex Calder and heard him play his strange and catchy rock n’ roll.