Wednesday, September 10th, 2008
Virgin Festival 2008 Day 2
Photo by Frank Yang
I’m kind of wondering if there’s any point in writing up a review of the second day of V Fest. After all, for the forseeable future the only thing anyone’s going to want to talk about is, well, this guy. And that’s a pity, and not just because Noel Gallagher got hurt or Toronto is quickly earning a lousy reputation for inciting onstage punch-ups, but because before that incident there was a day full of some pretty good music.
But hell, I was there and I took notes and pictures so even if no one cares, here we go.
For a while on Sunday morning, it looked as though Mother Nature was going to give the Summer one last groin kick of rain with a light but steady downpour making things rather miserable. This was one British import we could do without. Thankfully, it tapered off just as the ferry reached the Islands and by the time I’d settled in for my first act of the day, the sun had actually come out and the skies were a rather marvelous shade of blue. Rather than run back and forth between stages as I’d done on the Saturday, I planned to plant my ass at the main stage for most of the Sunday with just one visit to the satellite stage. You know, maybe actually listen to some of the bands for a change.
Leading things off was The Weakerthans, ably representing the great white north in a lineup heavy on the Brits. Introducing their first three songs as about Bigfoot, Antarctic exploration and bus drivers respectively, John K Samson and crew cranked out a set that reaffirmed the Winnipeggers as national treasures of a sort and one of the finest bands the country has to offer right now. It’s always entertaining to watch the band dynamic, with Samson playing the shy boy frontman while his bandmates rock out behind him and even though I found their last record Reunion Tour a bit overly precious, they’re always a joy to watch.
Photos: The Weakerthans @ Virgin Mobile Stage – September 7, 2008
MP3: The Weakerthans – “Sun In An Empty Room”
MP3: The Weakerthans – “Night Windows”
Video: The Weakerthans – “Civil Twilight”
MySpace: The Weakerthans
In contrast to The Weakerthans’ more genial brand of rock, Californians Silversun Pickups showed up intent on putting on a clinic in rock’n'roll hair whipping. Truly, the rhythm section of Nikki Monninger and Christopher Guanlao had some magnificent coiffure action happening which you had to respect no matter what you thought of their grunge worshipping sound. Though I don’t especially care for their recorded works, I found them suitably entertaining in a live setting not least of all because of the aforementioned follicle factors and because they simply know how to put on a good show. Unfortunately those positives are mitigated by the fact their most of their stuff sounds very much the same and Brian Aubert’s more Corgan than Corgan vocal stylings can be a bit much to take.
Photos: Silversun Pickups @ Virgin Mobile Stage – September 7, 2008
MP3: Silversun Pickups – “Kissing Families”
Video: Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye”
Video: Silversun Pickups – “Well Thought Out Twinkles”
MySpace: Silversun Pickups
And with the North American acts out of the way, it was time for the so-called British Invasion. Leading off were Welshmen Stereophonics, whose presence on the bill in the first place amazed me in that I didn’t even think they were still around, let alone popular enough to play a North American festival. I’d had a copy of their first album Word Gets Around way back when I was buying into anything remotely connected to Britpop and when that phase ended, it didn’t survive the first cull of my music collection. So to see them here – hale, hearty and apparently with still a devout fanbase – was quite a surprise. As it turns out, their new album Pull The Pin just got a North American release yesterday and they’ve got a best-of in Decade In The Sun set for a November 18 release, so there you go. Timing dictated that I could only stick around for a few songs but within them they played “A Thousand Trees”, which I still remembered from those salad days, so I didn’t think I would be missing much else of their earnest rasp-rock.
Scots Sons & Daughters – though it should have just been “daughter” in the singular as regular bassist Alidh Lennon was MIA – were just getting things going on the second stage when I got there. In comparison to the mainstage bands who were all varying degrees of slick – not a complaint, per se, just an observation – Sons & Daughters came across delightfully punkish and abrasive. Led by Adele Bethel, resplendent in garish neon pink stockings, they delivered material from the glorious This Gift and further back with the intensity of a sandblaster. They knew that the audience probably didn’t buy a ticket just to see them, but they were going to make them thankful they did.
Photos: Sons & Daughters @ TD Canada Trust Stage – September 7, 2008
MP3: Sons & Daughters – “Gilt Complex” (acoustic, live on Vic Galloway)
MP3: Sons & Daughters – “Chains” (acoustic, live on Vic Galloway)
Video: Sons & Daughters – “Gilt Complex”
Video: Sons & Daughters – “Darling”
MySpace: Sons & Daughters
And back to the main stage. I’d be lying if I said my education in the works of Paul Weller extended past The Jam, so you’re damn right I was excited that the Modfather played not one but two of those classics in his set – “Town Called Malice” and “Eton Rifles”. But despite not knowing the rest of the material, it sounded instantly familiar and comfortable – after all, this is the man who laid the blueprint for so much of the music I listen to today. Backed by a crack band who delivered the only drum solo of the festival (at least as far as I’d heard), Weller put on a show that’d have put to shame acts have his age, which would have been most of them on the bill. And even drenched in sweat, as he was by show’s end, he still looked effortlessly dapper – in a henley shirt. Respect.
Photos: Paul Weller @ Virgin Mobile Stage – September 7, 2008
Video: The Jam – “Town Called Malice”
MySpace: Paul Weller
Finally, Oasis. Let’s ignore, for now, the most unfortunate attack on Los Bros Gallagher and pay even less mind to those who are taking a sick schadenfreude in it all. I was one of those who’d never really been interested in the band in their heyday and was put off by the media circuses surrounding the pair, but in recent years have learned to appreciate their stuff. In fact, I’ll hold up their best songs – and over the course of their career they’ve had a lot, albeit frontloaded onto the first two records – as genuine classics that’ll stand the test of time. In fact, they already have and still sound timeless some 15 years on. Not for nothing were there 20,000-plus hollering fans, standing in the mud, waiting for possibly the most appropriate band to close out such an Anglophilic festival.
Oasis live have a peculiar charisma – even though they don’t actually do anything besides stand there and play, it’s hard to take your eyes off them, maybe just because you don’t want to miss if perchance they DO move. I noticed it the first time I saw them open for Neil Young in 1996 and more than a decade later, they’ve still got it. Their set was stacked with hits – it was like someone put my copy of best-of comp Stop The Clocks on shuffle – and even the new stuff from the forthcoming Dig Out Your Soul sounded great. So despite being disappointed that I (again) wasn’t accredited to shoot the headliners – print outlets only – I was having a great time and was extra-pleased when they started playing one of my favourite numbers, “Morning Glory”. I think I was watching the video screen or the crowd when all of a sudden there was a “thunk” over the PA and the music stopped… and you all know what happened then.
Like many, I fully expected the gig to be over right then and there – certainly the Gallaghers of ten years ago wouldn’t have come back to finish the set, albeit an abbreviated one. That they did so and despite the obvious loss of momentum, still sound good, is a real testament to the band. It’s definitely a shame that the Weller guest spot on “Champagne Supernova” didn’t happen but understandable. There’s way too much media coverage of all this to try and round up. Instead, if you want exhaustive updates, check out live4ever.us who specialises in exactly that.
So though the gig was salvaged and certainly a memorable one, it was an unfortunate way to finish off what had been another pretty good V Fest. As with past years, the nature of any complaints remain about the same – the sharp drop-off in name acts after the top two or three billings and the logistical issues with just the one small footbridge offering convenient access from one stage to the other – but seemed particularly amplified this time around. But I’ve pretty much accepted that this is just how it’s going to be given the scale and ambitions of the event. I seem to recall being told once that the initial contract for V Fest in Toronto was for three years, so another go-around for next year may not be a sure thing – did anyone notice that Osheaga was “presented by Virgin Mobile” this year? – I certainly hope to be back on the Islands next September, with the exact same complaints but still having a great time. And maybe I’ll get to shoot the headliners. Maybe.