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Monday, September 10th, 2007

Virgin Festival Day 1

What a beautiful day for a festival. All week, the forecast had warned of showers on Saturday but instead, the first day of V Fest was taking place under sunny blue skies and temperatures that were more Summer than Fall. Sure, the showers were now forecast for Sunday but first things first.

I made it to the Islands for 3PM and was pretty cooked from the sun by the time I made it to the main stage for k-os’ set. Others in attendance were baked, but that’s another topic. I’d been warned by those that had seen him before that k-os live that he could be an… unpredictable performer. But thankfully it was a happy k-os in attendance on this day, backed by a full band for a set more rock than rap and pretty impressive for someone who’d never listened to him before (that’d be me). The dude can sing.

Photos: k-os @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – September 8, 2007
Video: k-os – “Sunday Morning” (YouTube)
Video: k-os – “Born To Run” (YouTube)
MySpace: k-os

After Bjork, M.I.A. came up most frequently whenever I asked people who they were looking forward to seeing the most. I’d only heard Kala once or twice and while it wasn’t really my thing – no surprise there, really – I suspected that it, and more specifically Maya Arulpragasam, would put on an entertaining show. Her setup was as stripped down as you could get – her, a backup singer and a DJ – but that just gave M.I.A. more room to work as she danced from one end of the stage to the other, inciting the crowd to shake much ass, including hauling about 100 or so fans on stage to dance with her, and generally created a terrific party vibe. AOL Music Canada hung out with M.I.A. in Paris earlier this Summer.

Photos: M.I.A. @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – September 8, 2007
Video: M.I.A. – “Jimmy” (YouTube)
Video: M.I.A. – “Boyz” (YouTube)
MySpace: M.I.A.

Next came the most-discussed time slot of the past few weeks, simply because up until Friday afternoon, no one knew who would be playing. The cards finally came up with Montreal mixmaster Kid Koala, who gets kudos for gamely stepping into a bit of a difficult spot – and the audience (at least those who stuck around) get a thumbs up for warmly receiving him as well, despite the fact that he wasn’t Amy Winehouse or any other huge name. Unfortunately, the sunny afternoon also welcomed him a bit too warmly and he had to cut his set short on account of his records beginning to melt.

Video: Kid Koala – “Floor Kids” (YouTube)
MySpace: Kid Koala

I have to say, I find the appeal of the Arctic Monkeys inexplicable. Not in the sense that I deny that they have appeal – the sea of people stoked to see them play was evidence of that – but in that I can’t quantify what that appeal is. Their songs aren’t overtly hooky, Alex Turner is decent lyricist but not an especially remarkable vocalist and they generally sound to me like a college pub band raised on alternative rock radio amped up to stadium levels. But maybe what I wrote off as generic comes off to others as universal – I certainly wasn’t going to take it up with the tens of thousands packing the mainstage area going Monkey-nuts through their hour-long set. What was more interesting was the mass exodus of people as soon as they finished up – at first I thought that it was a huge dis to Interpol but as it turned out, it was just everyone really needing to go the the washroom.

Photos: The Arctic Monkeys @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – September 8, 2007
MP3: Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”
Video: Arctic Monkeys – “Brainstorm” (YouTube)
MySpace: Arctic Monkeys

The throngs did indeed return at dusk as Interpol took the stage, dressed exactly as they are in their promo photos. I last saw Interpol live in 2002 at a thoroughly lacklustre show at the Kool Haus that soured me on the band (their last couple albums not doing much to help, either) and I’ve had that bad taste in my mouth for half a decade. Surely long enough to give them a chance to make it up, no? It’s a common observation that most of Interpol’s stuff sounds the same but when you hear it live, the singularity of their sound is even more evident. One song blended almost seamlessly into the next and someone less familiar with their oeuvre could be forgiven for thinking they were playing just one song over and over again. But what they do, they do well and they were far more energetic and engaged than that last time (yes, a very relative statement). And the Turn On The Bright Lights material still sounded the best.

Photos: Interpol @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – September 8, 2007
Video: Interpol – “Mammoth” (YouTube)
Video: Interpol – “The Heinrich Maneuver” (YouTube)
MySpace: Interpol

Bjork. I think it’s fair to say that the presence of her name on the lineup was enough to dispel any resentment lingering from last year’s V Fest follies and get people excited about the event again. I’d never seen her live before but her last appearance on Olympic Island in 2003 is still spoken of reverentially, so a mind-blowing finale was almost guaranteed and sure enough, she didn’t disappoint. Backed by a keyboardist, DJ/programmer and a combination chorus/horn section, Bjork turned the festival stage into a wonderfully otherworldly playground of confetti and lasers that went from mystical to apocalyptic from song to song. And that’s the amazing thing about her music – it’s so mutable, sounding perfect whether executed orchestrally or electronically. All it really needs is her voice, her unbelievably strong and strange voice. Despite really wanting to catch the ferry back to the mainland before the throngs did the same, I couldn’t tear myself away and only got out of there after her main set was over and listened to the encore en route to the dock. Amazing. There’s a reason the woman is an adjective.

Photos: Bjork @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – September 8, 2007
Video: Bjork – “Earth Intruders” (YouTube)
Video: Bjork – “All Is Full Of Love” (YouTube)
Video: Bjork – “Hyper-Ballad” (YouTube)
MySpace: Bjork

JAM! sorta-liveblogged the first day of the festival and came back with a more complete review as well. The Globe & Mail enjoyed a couple perfomances but was nonplussed about the event as a whole. More (much more) tomorrow with coverage of day two – where I saw more than five bands – and a capper on the whole of V Fest 2007.

By : Frank Yang at 8:32 am
Category: Uncategorized
RSS Feed for this post8 Responses.
  1. claire says:

    it’s like we are the same person! (um, with respect to two alternative rock bands.) to me, that is the most accurate description of the arctic monkeys i have seen. zealous friends have given me their cds, and i have no quarrel with what they do, but the energy aside, nothing really stands out to me at all. but like you said, one person’s "generic" can be another person’s "approachable." maybe i am just getting old and/or missing the point.

    ditto interpol. i agree that they are good at what they do (in particular, i’m always suprised at how happy i am to hear their first album when it comes on at the coffee shop or whereever), but there’s a palpable sense of detachment coming from them that prevents me from getting into them as passionately as some of my friends do. certainly, artists who are overly "earnest" (read: whiny, desperate, gimmicky) can be cringe-inducing, and i know a lot of this is a function of the aesthetic interpol has chosen, but still. all of that said, live i have appreciated their songs, and the obvious craftsmanship put into them, a lot more. they’ve even hinted at having a sense of humor!

    rereading this, it sounds supernegative. i guess i’ve just had the good fortune to go to some really engaging concerts lately (ida, art brut/andrew bird), so my standards are artificially high. and more to the point, i just thought you described both bands thoughtfully and succinctly.

  2. S. Arnold says:

    Funny – Bjork was ALMOST enough to make me forget last year’s complete cock-up… but not quite. I couldn’t convince myself the ticket price was worth it when they had so COMPLETELY screwed me over last year cutting my first (and so far only) Flaming Lips experience to 30 minutes.

    Also funny that Interpol, possibly even OVER Bjork, would have been the draw (and had they been on the same day as the couple bands I wanted to see on Sunday WOULD have been)…

    Alas – glad the fest was good for you… and glad to hear Bjork brought enough "oomph" with her to make leaving before the crowds undesirable…

  3. Jack says:

    The Monkeys usually put on a top-notch show, and unfortunately they came out flat on Saturday. One suspects they’re not used to being on the bill at 6 p.m. anymore. Having said that, I have to disagree with Frank as I think their songs are jam-packed with hooks (particularly on the first album). And I like Alex Turner’s voice, he’s a mixture of languid and rough, like a razorblade milkshake. Top lad.

    This was the first time I saw Interpol. Wasn’t sure what to make of them at first, as I don’t really like the new record, but they won me over. I will definitely see them again.

    Saturday’s line-up was definitely weak, although M.I.A. was pretty good. Sunday was almost too good, and it was difficult to catch everything that I wanted to see.

  4. Jack says:

    Oh, I have a semi-technical question for Frank: I couldn’t make out what type of Fender the Monkeys’ singer was playing. I thought it was a Fender Mustang, but in your excellent photos I can’t quite make out what it says below the machine heads. Can you make it out?

    If so, thank you!

  5. Frank says:

    It’s a Fender Bronco. I don’t think i’ve ever seen one used on stage before, though.

    http://www.fenderbronco.com

  6. Josh says:

    How was Explosions in the Sky?

  7. Jack says:

    Thanks, Frank. I think they took the Bronco off the market back in the eighties. Hair metal bands are probably responsible…

  8. Greg says:

    Interpol sucked IMO… but probably not as much as Metric on Sunday, right?