Tuesday, September 11th, 2007
Virgin Festival Day 2
Day two of V Fest took place under grey skies instead of the beautifully blue of the previous day, but thankfully the forecast rains got themselves over with earlier in the morning so by the time the day’s entertainment began, things had dried off for the most part. On my way down to the docks, I couldn’t help thinking about how differently this year’s fest had already gone compared to last – instead of trying to make up for the Flaming Lips debacle of the Saturday night, this year’s day two had to top a pretty terrific day of music and a stellar headlining set by Bjork. But considering that day two inarguably had the stronger lineup overall, I had high hopes.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by Wimbledonean Jamie T who was left to represent this year’s Mercury Prize finalists on his own after Amy Winehouse’s cancellation. His nominated record Panic Prevention blends rap, reggae, ska and rock influences with the “slice of contemporary English life” songwriting style that’s been all the rage of late but live he takes on much more of a Billy Bragg-ish folksinger feel, albeit backed by a rock band. The end result was a bouncy and eminently likable set. Chart had some words with T backstage at V.
The next stop was my first visit to the second stage, where I’d end up spending most of the day as it was hosting most of the really interesting artists of the day. I’d seen The Clientele once before opening for Spoon and hadn’t been especially impressed. But their latest God Save The Clientele is a real gem of classic, understated pop songwriting so I was more than willing to give them another chance. Good thing too, as they hardly seemed the same band as I saw a couple years ago. For starters, they’ve added a keyboardist/violinist in Mel Draisey who not only expands the band’s sound, but makes them a good deal prettier. The sounded terrific, providing the perfect soundtrack for the overcast skies that may well have followed them over from England. Some bad luck struck with a broken string that refused to be replaced, forcing the rest of the band to rejig a couple of their songs as elevator music-ish instrumentals before Alasdair MacLean gave it up and they turned out one final song, short an A-string.
Watching Blonde Redhead soundcheck gave me bad SxSW flashbacks (they soundchecked for half an hour and played for fifteen minutes) but once they started – on time – all was forgiven. Drawing mainly from 23, their swirling sonics were magical, and not that wishy-washy, touchy-feely Harry Potter-type magic. I’m talking dark, monkey’s paw leaves you in a bigger mess than you started, messing with forces you don’t understand magic. Kazu Makino was mesmerizing, particularly on “23”, and kept the sizable crowd completely riveted.
Photos: Blonde Redhead @ Future Shop Stage – September 9, 2007
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “23”
Video: Blonde Redhead – “23” (YouTube)
Video: Blonde Redhead – “My Impure Hair” (YouTube)
Video: Blonde Redhead – “The Dress” (YouTube)
MySpace: Blonde Redhead
It had been almost four years since I last saw Metric – at the Horseshoe no less – so finally seeing them again on such a huge stage was kind of different, to say the least. But they’re the sort of band that’s made for big stages so they seemed right at home even though this was one of their first gigs after a solo-project hiatus. Emily Haines seemed pretty pleased to be able to get back into disco-rock diva mode after playing the solo pianist for the past year, belting out old hits and new songs (from an album they tell Billboard is about 3/4 done) to the delight of the mainstage crowd. I’d kind of lost interest in Metric since being really into Old World Underground some four years ago but still found their set entertaining.
I was a bit surprised when I heard Explosions In The Sky were added to the festival, as I’d never thought of them as an outdoor stage sort of band but after seeing their set, I can’t imagine seeing them anywhere else. They were, if you’ll indulge me, utterly explosive under the dusky afternoon sky, their cascades and crescendos of notes rising up and out over the field and lake. This performance totally made up for the utterly frustrating show back in March, even though that disappointment was no fault of the band whatsoever.
The whole Editors vs Interpol debate is kind of a dead horse now but having seen both acts within 24 hours of each other, I can’t help but take one more kick at the corpse. If live performance is to be used as a criteria, then there’s no comparison – Editors simply destroy Interpol. Even if their lighting tech didn’t appear to be under explicit instructions to pretend there are no other members of the band, all eyes would have been on frontman Tom Smith anyways. He delivered an impassioned performance of songs from An End Has A Start with a physicality and charisma that Paul Banks can only dream of. Their rousing and anthemic performance brought me that much closer to being an unabashed fan of the band, something I never thought I’d be saying even a few months ago. Chart talked to bassist Russell Leetch who is apparently allowed to be heard, just not seen.
Photos: Editors @ Future Shop Stage – September 9, 2007
MP3: Editors – “Munich”
Video: Editors – “An End Has A Start” (YouTube)
Video: Editors – “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors” (YouTube)
I could have happily ended the festival on that note, but no, there was one more act that I had to see. I figured there were two types of people who were keen to see The Smashing Pumpkins close out the festival. The folks in my generation who grew up through the alt-rock ’90s and were stoked to relive the soundtrack of their dimming youth – we’ll call them the classic rockers who don’t know they’re classic rockers – and those who were fascinated to see what kind of train wreck Billy Corgan’s hubris and dementia had wrought – we’ll call them the rubberneckers. And by them, I mean me.
I should first say that I was a huge Pumpkins fan circa Siamese Dream. Huge. But they lost me with Mellon Collie when Corgan decided he wanted to be a rock god and the past fourteen years or so have been pretty happily Pumpkins-free but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be thrilled to hear “Cherub Rock” live, even if it was played by James and D’Arcy stand-ins. But while I was watching the proceedings with no small amount of cynicism, the mainstage area was teeming with Pumpkins fans who appeared to have kept the flame alive over the past seven years and were now being rewarded for their loyalty… with songs from Zeitgeist. As I expected, they opened with new material – really long, drawn out new material – but I’ll admit that hearing Corgan’s distinctive guitar tone and solos (and nasal vocals) did stir some long-dormant nostalgia. Whether they deserved to be called “The Smashing Pumpkins” is for people far more invested than I to debate – alls I know is that they were loud, tight and very festival rocking. And when they played “Hummer”, I remembered just how good a record Siamese Dream was and felt a little sad that I no longer had a copy of it. But after hearing only a couple of familiar tunes in an hour, nostalgia was overcome by tiredness and I headed home. They never played “Cherub Rock” anyways.
Final thoughts and wrap up after the jump.
At the end of last year’s V Fest, I made a list of suggestions to the organizers on how to make this year’s event a bigger success. Tellingly, they listened to none of them and this year’s edition turned out fantastically – which is why I do what I do and they do what they do. All the problems encountered in this year’s edition – namely the addition and cancellation of The Hives, The Coral, Amy Winehouse and Peter Bjorn & John – occurred before the actual fest and could largely be considered acts of god, unfortunate and unavoidable. But once things got underway, they went terrifically.
Obviously the organizers learned a thing or two from last year’s inaugural edition of V Fest but I honestly didn’t expect things to be so much better on just the second go-around. All the sets ran on time, the weather was beautiful one day and acceptable the next (not that I’m giving credit for that to anyone in particular), the facilities were plentiful and well-tended and the media tent was opulant. Yeah, that last point isn’t really relevant to most but hell – it sure made my experience a lot better. But most importantly, the music was great. It’s easy to get caught up in dissecting the lineup – lord knows I did it enough – but when the bands are actually playing and sounding great, who cares who’s not there?
No, things weren’t perfect – there was still the problem of some sparsely-attended side stages but that wasn’t a reflection of the quality of the acts. Many still complain about the saturation corporate sponsorship but I didn’t find it especially difficult to ignore it. And let’s face it, without those corporate dollars, events like this simply couldn’t happen. I’ll happily walk right past a Pontiac display or two if that’s what it takes. I remain a fan of the Island setting though the ferry was and will always be equally charming and annoying, moreso the latter when it’s time to go home. Overall though, I found the experience to be fantastic and an unqualified triumph, especially considering how much negative press last year’s event got. I’m sure that some will refuse to let go of their Lips-fueled resentment and continue to boycott future V Fests, but that’s their loss – lessons have obviously been learned and learned well and I, for one, can’t wait for next year’s edition.
MuchMusic has extensive coverage of the festival including videos of the performances, Dose has on-site video interviews with performers and JAM! was back at it, liveblogging day two of the festival. The Toronto Star has a review of the weekend, eye has their two–part wrapup and Chart was also in attendance.