Monday, September 11th, 2006
I Made It Through The Wilderness…
The slogan for the inaugural Virgin Festival in Canada was “From England With Love”, and early on it looked like love wasn’t the only thing being sent over from dear old blighty – Saturday morning kept up a steady rain that threatened to not wash out the festival, but make it a mudpit in the grand tradition of Glastonbury’s past. Luckily it eased up just before noon and even gave a peek of sun through the clouds, though that wasn’t to last – most of the day was defined by dreary overcast skies but at least it wasn’t raining. But while the weather wouldn’t dampen anyone’s day directly, it did end up having the last laugh in a sense.
Brantford’s Ohbijou got the honour of playing the first set of the day on the mainstage, and did so in lovely, understated style. An eight-piece chamber pop combo, their marvelously delicate, sweet sounds started things off with the woozy sensation of wiping the sleep from your eyes. While not really what you’d think of as festival sounds, I really enjoyed their set and will be seeking out a copy of their new record Swift Feet For Troubling Times. Wayne Coyne also hung out at the side of the stage for their whole set and gave them his seal of approval.
Next up on the mainstage was local shoegazey combo Mean Red Spiders, who were just recently resurrected after an extended hiatus. When I last saw them some seven years ago, they were all about volume – loud, loud, loud. On this day, however, they were all about the narcolepsy. Excessively mellow, they almost seemed to sleepwalk through their set. I understand that this might be part of their vibe and under other circumstances it might have appealed to me I left after a few songs, wholly unsatisfied.
After a brief break to explore what else the festival grounds had to offer, it was back to the mainstage to catch Phoenix, who I wrote up a bit last week. They proved to be the first band to inject some festival-y energy into things, engaging the audience and their small but dedicated (and vocal) fans with their breezy, gallic pop from their new album It’s Never Been Like That. I had hoped to be impressed by Phoenix coming into the day and that I was – not in a revelatory, ohmigod way, but I definitely enjoyed their set.
The Hidden Cameras continued the CanCon trend on the schedule, playing from their new album AWOO to the hometown crowd. Considering how much fun their show just across the lake two weeks ago was, I was quite surprised how subdued they were on this afternoon. There were moments of perkiness, like when tossing candy into the audience before “Lolipop”, but for the most part they chose pretty over rambunctious. They played terrifically – I’m really impressed how tight the band is – but at this point, the festival really could have used a kick in the pants from someone.
The Dears, thankfully, were up to the task. I don’t know why I didn’t like The Dears before – I gave them a shot back in ’01-ish and didn’t really dig it. But either they’ve changed or I have because they sounded fantastic. The material I’ve heard off their new album Gang Of Losers is absolutely solid and live, they were passionate, dramatic, confrontational and beautiful (and Valerie Jodoin-Keaton is smoking hot – had to be said). Plus, they brought the sun out even if just for a little bit.
It should be noted that the day got started late on account of being unable to set up the stage in the morning rain, so the mainstage was running fifteen minutes to half an hour behind schedule from the get-go. I didn’t think too much of it earlier on, assuming they’d adjust the set times to compensate, but as it got later and they didn’t make up the time, I began to get curious/concerned about what would happen as the 11PM curfew came to crunch. Fears that would be well justified. But back to our story.
I’m not a big fan of Muse at all, but will be the first to say that their over the top, histrionic stadium rock – and Matt Bellamy’s shiny red jumpsuit – was exactly what the day needed. First, they brought out their rabid fanbase and second, they brought the rock. Muse’s sound is tailor-made for big-ass British rock festivals and they brought a taste of that sort of showmanship to this exported version. So while I’m not rushing out to buy their new album Black Holes & Revelations (I actually think I already have a copy somewhere), I will say that they definitely brought the energy level of the day up a few notches and thank goodness for that.
DJ Kid Koala had originally be scheduled to play the first of two sets at this point while the bands set up behind him, but in the interests of making up lost time they canned the first one. A good idea, but it didn’t work. Gnarls Barkley didn’t get on stage until 9PM and at this point, I was predicting a lot of people were going to be going home very disappointed/angry…
No one believes me that I made it through the whole Summer without hearing “Crazy” – or Gnarls Barkley at all, for that matter – before Saturday night, but I swear it’s true. Believe me or don’t, not my problem. But that moratorium came to an end this weekend and my verdict? A resounding “meh”. Their sound is obviously really full and well-produced/arranged and the soul/gospel vibe is pretty cool and different, but as a whole I found it pretty boring. Same goes for “Crazy” – simply don’t see the appeal. But I will admit the costumes are pretty cool – they went karate on this night and called themselves “Kung Fu Hustle” – but that’s more a credit to their marketing department than the band. File under: whatever.
And so The Flaming Lips. I mentioned the hard curfew on the islands as being 11PM. By the time Gnarls Barkley cleared out and the Lips were set up and Wayne ready for his bubble walk, it was 10:30PM. You do the math. As they did at Lollapalooza, they started with Wayne’s space bubble foray into the audience and opened the set with “Race For The Prize”, complete with the giant balloons, confetti guns, mic-mounted fisheye cam of Wayne’s head projected onto a screen and the armies of dancing Martian girls and Santas. Pretty standard stuff. Actually even having just seen it all a month ago, it was still a giddy experience and the crowd, awash in streamers and confetti, were having a grand time and we even forgot about the mud beneath our feet and the cold, September night out on the lake – and then after barely half an hour, Captain America came out, whispered something in Wayne’s ear and they pulled the plug.
To say that the audience was upset is a bit of an understatement, and justifiably so. People paid a lot of money for their tickets and generally did so for the sole purpose of seeing some specific bands – the festival experience as a whole was less of a motivator. So to shell out that cash and only see a forty-minute set from the headliners when they’d originally been scheduled for an hour fifteen? Cause for disgruntlement to say the least. And the thing is, it could have been avoided. It was evident from the first act that they were running behind, and it really would have been a small thing to get back on track – just cutting everyone’s set times by 5 to 10 minutes might have made all the difference. The fact that they would NOT be allowed to go past 11PM should have been known by everyone.
While it’s small consolation after the fact, the organizers have acknowledged the suckiness situation and there are some vague promises at the moment to make it up to those in attendance at a later date (and Richard Branson echoed this on Sunday). Perhaps a third Toronto show in 2006? That’d be something, I guess, but it’s still unfortunate that the situation had to occur at all. I’m perplexed that the Toronto Sun review makes no mention of this at all, though then again – it is the Sun. The Toronto Star does make mention of it but sort of glosses over it. It should be understood that people were really upset about this. It will be Interesting to see how this shakes out and how much it’ll define the long-term public opinion of the fest. Though there was some great music and moments on the first day of the Virgin Festival, it certainly ended on a sour note and day two would have to be pretty much flawless to salvage the event’s reputation. Could they do it? Come back tomorrow to find out.
Photos from day one are up.