Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Virgin Festival 2008 Day 1

Photo by Frank Yang

Third time’s the charm? That’d have been a tough order for this year’s edition of V Fest Toronto, particularly after last year’s (IMO) outstanding experience, and considering the mild battering the lineup took in the weeks leading up to this year’s event.

But stuff like that becomes irrelevant when the event actually arrives – never mind who’s not there, it’s about who is there. Mind you, there weren’t a whole lot of artists in that latter catergory that I’d call myself a terrific fan of, but whatever. There was enough that I acknowledge as being quite popular and that I was at least curious enough to check out to see what all the hubbub’s about.

The day kicked off with a fellow billed on the schedule as Mark Robertson, who introduced himself simply as Robertson and who on several occasions exhorted the meager audience of early birds to visit him online at robertsonmark.com. But whatever you addressed him as, most I consulted were in agreement as that he wasn’t especially good. Put politely, his sort of easy-listening, jazz-soul get-sexy tunes were just out of place at this sort of festival, especially that early in the day.

Photos: Robertson @ Virgin Mobile Stage – September 6, 2008
Video: Robertson – “Favourite People”
MySpace: Robertson

Much better received were the next band up on the mainstage, Los Angelenos Airborne Toxic Event. Dapperly dressed in black and boasting a decent-sized bag of rock-star moves, they offered up slick, resolutely radio-friendly alt.rock for a world where radio-friendly alt.rock isn’t a bad thing (in other words, not this world). Heavy enough for the rockers, hooky enough for the pop fiends and distinctive enough to stand out from the pack (the violinist is enough to mark them as different), they had a genuine and friendly demeanor and brought some welcome energy and wake-up to the day.

Photos: The Airborne Toxic Event @ Virgin Mobile Stage – September 6, 2008
MP3: The Airborne Toxic Event – “Sometime Around Midnight”
MP3: The Airborne Toxic Event – “Wishing Well”
Video: The Airborne Toxic Event – “Sometime Around Midnight”
MySpace: Airborne Toxic Event

Over at the second stage was probably the oddest addition to the lineup – recently reunited DC glam-punkers Shudder To Think. Odd because their audience, those who’d probably have loved to have the veterans return to Toronto, weren’t the ones who were likely to shell out to come to the festival. But here they were with a small but enthusiastic audience and they delivered a set that could really only have come from a band that had been at this as long as they have. With singer Craig Wedren declaring, “we bring the sun!” – and yes, the day’s persistent cloud cover did finally break as they got started – they definitely hearkened back to they college rock heyday of the ’90s when they were tagged as one of the next big things, but still sounded absolutely vital. Definitely an addition to my list of bands to check out in more detail, even if they haven’t released an album in over a decade.

Photos: Shudder To Think @ TD Canada Trust Music Stage – September 6, 2008
Video: Shudder To Think – “Red House”
Video: Shudder To Think – “Nine Fingers”
MySpace: Shudder To Think

Festival sets frequently run late and rarely do they start early – so when I was walking back to the main stage and heard the sound of distant thunder without there being a storm cloud in sight, I knew that Constantines had taken the stage. And I ran. I had my first live Cons experience at a tiny little club back in May and while I was told by long-time fans that that show was good but not nearly their best, I was still wholly impressed by their sheer intensity. This time around, I discovered that they were capable of delivering infinitely scaleable rock – the bigger the stage, the bigger their delivery. While fests like this tend to focus more on the import acts, the Cons served as a reminder that sometimes the homegrown acts can bring the goods just as well. Respect.

Photos: Constantines @ Virgin Mobile Stage – September 6, 2008
MP3: Constantines – “Hard Feelings”
Video: Constantines – “Our Age”
Video: Constantines – “Hard Feelings”
MySpace: Constantines

After taking in some of the Constantines set, it was another mad dash across the island to the second stage for Spiritualized’s set. It turned out that dashing wasn’t necessary – hell, a crawl would have gotten me there in time. Anyone who chose 4:15 in their pool for when the schedule was come off the rails was a winner. It took some time to get Jason Pierce and company set up so by the time they started, they were some 20 minutes behind. But for myself, it was a welcome opportunity to catch my breath and soak in some glorious space-rock. In contrast to the Acoustic Mainline show I saw last November, the Spaceman was once again plugged in and fully loud, but some of the lessons in nuance learned on that tour and in making Songs In A & E were not lost. While there was still plenty of stretching out, songs old and new were delivered in more focused form and it may be that the current Spiritualized aesthetic is their best one yet.

Photos: Spiritualized @ TD Canada Trust Music Stage – September 6, 2008
Video: Spiritualized – “Soul On Fire”
Video: Spiritualized – “You Lie You Cheat”
MySpace: Spiritualized

One thing about the V lineup across the whole weekend was that it was a seriously testosterone-skewed roster. Yes, some of the bands had a female presence but by and large, it was a real dude-fest. One exception that I slipped away from Spiritualized to see was a local girl who performs as Lights and who moved from writing songs in her bedroom to performing at fests like this thanks to one of her songs appearing in an Old Navy commercial. Beyond her more obvious appeal – there’ll never cease being a market for cute girls with keytars – she delivered some genuinely sweet and PG-wholesome synth pop, the sort that there’ll also never cease being a market for. After a few minutes and with my blood sugar levels suitably elevated, it was back to Spiritualized and the drone.

Photos: Lights @ Oh Henry! Stage – September 6, 2008

Apparently quite massive back in the UK but rather unknown to me, Scottish ragamuffins The Fratellis had gathered a pretty sizeable audience who, because they were punctual and the band were not, got a faceful of sonic Spiritualized squall rather than scrappy pop-rock. This pleased me. Moreso than the actual band, to be truthful. While their sound was certainly familiar it wasn’t especially distinctive and I was struck far more by their complete lack of pigment more than their tunes. Even for Scots, these boys were PALE. And for a band that trades in high-energy hookism, they were disappointingly sedate onstage. But that didn’t seem to put off their screaming fans, who ate up every mildly catchy but mostly unremarkable note.

Photos: The Fratellis @ TD Canada Trust Music Stage – September 6, 2008
Video: The Fratellis – “Look Out Sunshine”
MySpace: The Fratellis

There was no hurrying back to the mainstage for Against Me! and dinner because the footbridge which served as the main point of ingress/egress between stages as a solid wall of humanity. So from that distance, I was hearing the Floridian punkers’ for the first time and in comparison to the Brit-heavy lineup, they sort of stood out like a sore thumb – like their bus got lost en route to the Warped Tour and latched onto this one instead. I was able to get a better listen when I finally made it to the stage a couple songs into their set and enumerated their qualities. On the plus side, they were impeccably tight, had ferocious stage presence and used a Rickenbacker for a degree of rock that it was never intended for. On the negative side, their socially conscious lyrics were delivered with all the subtlety of a large concrete mallet at a whack-a-mole game. They may as well have been screaming, “STAY IN SCHOOL!”. But on the other hand, I’m not their audience. And another for the pro column – they had a pretty nifty tiger backdrop.

Photos: Against Me! @ Virgin Mobile Stage – September 6, 2008
Video: Against Me! – “Thrash Unreal”
Video: Against Me! – “New Wave”
MySpace: Against Me!

By this point I knew, as I’d expected, that I hadn’t been approved to shoot Foo Fighters so the main stage’s penultimate act – Bloc Party – were my de facto headliners for the day. And I was fine with that. Every time I’ve seen Bloc Party live has been a festival setting and it’s one they really excel at – Kele Okerke’s banter and gregariousness might come off overly cheesy in a smaller setting but when addressing thousands in a field interspersed with big cascading guitar lines and earnest rock anthems, it works. Somewhat surprisingly, though they’ve a new album to promote in Intimacy, they stuck to A Weekend In The City and Silent Alarm for at least the first portion of the set, or as long as I stuck around. And that’s fine – while parts of the new record are growing on me, I still find it to not measure up to either of the previous efforts for quality. Things were slowed a bit by some technical difficulties but when they did get to playing, numbers like “Hunting For Witches”, “So Here We Are” and “This Modern Love” had me giddy and realizing that I liked these guys more than I’d thought I did. Foo whatever, for me these guys were where it was at.

Photos: Bloc Party @ Virgin Mobile Stage – September 6, 2008
Video: Bloc Party – “Mercury”
Video: Bloc Party – “Flux”
MySpace: Bloc Party

So while I could have happily (and exhaustedly) ended my day there, the fact that the second stage had fallen exponentially further behind schedule with each set meant that I could still catch the closing set from another popular British act whose appeal eluded me, The Kooks. The absolutely packed house (as much as you can pack an outdoor stage with no physical boundaries) was getting antsy about the late start but seemed mostly at peace that they wouldn’t be seeing much of the Foo Fighters, if at all. Kooks fans absolutely love The Kooks, if the roar that arose when the band finally trotted onstage is any measure. And like The Fratellis, with whom they share a penchant for the definite article and curly haired frontmen, after spending some time giving them a listen, I don’t get the appeal. Certainly they weren’t bad, but I didn’t find anything remarkable in what they were doing. Maybe it’s an age thing. They did, however, know how to work a crowd – singer Luke Pritchard is no kind of introvert – and when you’ve got thousands of people jumping up and down, singing along, you just have to accept that at that moment at least, it’s not them it’s you. So I hopped the ferry and headed back to the mainland.

Photos: The Kooks @ TD Canada Trust Music Stage – September 6, 2008
MP3: The Kooks – “No Longer”
MP3: The Kooks – “Always Where I Need To Be” (live)
Video: The Kooks – “Always Where I Need To Be”
Video: The Kooks – “Sway”
MySpace: The Kooks

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Detroit News and The Skinny have conversations with Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce. eye has a review of day one. And photographically, I’ve also got crowd shots and whatnot up on my Flickr.

So that was the Saturday. Anything interesting happen on the Sunday? Nah.

By : Frank Yang at 8:26 am
Category: Uncategorized
RSS Feed for this post2 Responses.
  1. Bruce says:

    Sounds like an extended version of my day: Shudder to Think, Spiritualized, Fratellis, Bloc Party, Kooks, then home, with little bits of MGMT and Wintersleep in between. Highlights for me were Spiritualized and Bloc Party, disappointed that I had to miss most of Wintersleep’s set due to the side stage scheduling snafu. While it might be tempting to blame the hold-up on Jason Pierce’s perfectionism, I’d be inclined to say the side stage scheduling was unrealistically tight, or the sound guy (and crew) just wasn’t up to the task. On several occasions, he took forever to set up simple bands, in fact longer than some main stage bands took. Just grousing, otherwise it was an enjoyable day.

    I agree that for the future, something has to be done about the troll bridge across the creek. Last year’s makeshift Indiana Jones side-bridge helped a lot, but probably broke all kinds of safety regulations.

    I arrived at the Bloc Party set halfway through "So Here We Are" – did they do anything before that?

    If you haven’t before, check out Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine (movie and soundtrack), which is flawed but fun and has a couple of tracks from Shudder To Think, who do a great Bowie-esque pastiche. Throw in contributions from Thom Yorke, Thurston Moore, TFC and many others, and it’s highly recommended.

  2. Patrick says:

    Another interview with Jason Pierce at the A.V. Club