Friday, September 07, 2007

Virgin Festival
Toronto Islands
Day 1

So after the debacle that was the Virgin Festival 2006 Richard Branson promised he would make it up to Toronto.

You remember 2006 don't you? Second day headliner Massive Attack was replaced by local bar-band Broken Social Scene. The first day headliner, The Flaming Lips, had their set cut to only 4 songs. This due to Gnarles Barkley's inflated sense of their importance and a curfew, so the rich Islanders could get their sleep.

This is his idea of making it up?

He's a lying bastard at best. Already cancelled, after being announced and attracting fans, Amy Winehouse & The Hives. And no offer of a ticket refund even though those were the primary reasons for paying for a two-day pass. Add to that about 4 more announced-then-cancelled acts and you start thinking he's just jerking your chain. Don't be satisfied with Bjork and the Pumpkins as headliners. They were included in the US version which also got Incubus, Modest Mouse, Cheap Trick, Chris Cornell, The Beastie Boys and The Police, in place of a long list of bands that you wouldn't recognize. Weird concept of "make up" that Branson has there. It could be worse...they could have been pleased with last years shortcomings.

Next year I'll enjoy spending the $200.00 on about 6 different nights...but not at any Virgin event.

So I'm down to one day I think I might be able to tolerate.

Except for the way they make the main stage so 'name-heavy' that it takes away any chance of seeing a multitude of bands. With 3 stages (as opposed to last years 2 because I don't count the disco-tent-dj-stage as real music) there is so much overlap that you either have to live with 20 minutes of 20 bands or just hunker down by the main stage for the 'big' acts.

I use that term loosely as k-OS is no substitute for Amy Winehouse and the Stars are no substitute for the Hives.

On the 'good news' front, my Church Audio mics and preamp came in and I've got an Edirol R-09, so I'm hoping to get my first high-quality, 24 bit capture. If I can figure out how everything works in time.

One bright spot, as I head towards the Ferry Docks, Amy's spot is still open and TBA is slotted to play. Now if Branson really cared about quality he will have reached down deep and convinced the White Stripes to start their fall tour a few days early.

As if.

My prediction is we'll get someone like The Salads, or whoever came in second in the local radio contest for a spot at VFest.

So Saturday was a lovely day. The sun was high and it was hot. Kudos to the Ferry staff who moved us across the water in record time. Security was almost non-existant.
As for the VFest crew...well, they leave a little to be desired. After exiting the ferry we're hearded into a fenced enclosure waiting for the gates to open. Shouldn't be too bad, it's 10 minutes to 1, and sure enough, right at 1, an officious looking dude rides up to the entrance on a golf-cart...but doesn't open it. About 10 after 1 some guy with a clipboard does the same thing. Did I mention it's hot? At 1:15 I'm doing an interview with a reporter who likely works for a local paper. Rather than spew my venom on Branson & Co. I tell her I'm happy with the situation and it's really going to be up to the bands to make it a great day. By 1:20 pm we can hear the opening bands onstage and the doors finally open.

Without time to check out the venue I decide to drop The Vincent Black Shadow from the schedule and head over to the small stage where The Jon Levine Band is putting on a pretty energetic set to the gathered multitude of...oh, about 12 of us. As I say 'hello', he says 'goodbye' and within minutes Dragonette is onstage.

Now if you've searched around the internet then let me tell you Dragonette's reputation exceeds them. I thought they were going to be much raunchier. Of course it's hard to convey oozing sexuality at 2 in the afternoon on a sun-drenched stage. Lead singer Martina Sorbara is dressed almost demurely in a white demi-t and a skin-tight body suit. But she moves real good. The music is infectious, relying on a mid-80's synth-pop center, it's substanially muscled up by the work of bassist Dan Kurtz and guitarist Will Stapleton. It's like a cross between Nelly Furtado and Chrissy Hynde.
They did a good job of engaging the audience with a short 7-song set. Not a lot of time to build to a crescendo, so they just knocked them off in quick succession and ended up with an honorable showing in a tough time slot. Martina attacks the mic with a fervour normally reserved for ... well, for the sake of decorum let's say a tasty ice cream cone. She has a saucy mouth to go along with her salacious tales. The music needs to become a little more hardcore to jive with their personas. Definitely worth another look.

Local hip-hop god, K-OS, was a late addition to the lineup. Probably replacing The Coral. I'll say this: It's far from the worst decision made by the organizers. That'll come later. Though he seemed to be receiving a decent amount of respect from the large crowd K-OS admonished them on a couple occassions to move a little. That's the biggest downside to these types of festivals, besides the short set times...there's no guarantee your people are going to be present in force, so you may not always feel the love. His set closes with Danke Shein leading into a lively Sunday Morning and though it's a little late in the day I've finally heard the first song I recognize.

A quick stage change and UK songstress M.I.A. takes flight. Tight little cutie, dressed in pink and black leather. Short shorts too. She wins the "most captivating lead" category for the day. Her energy seemed boundless as she bounced from side to side, reaching out to the audience by setting up on the risers that extend from the main stage. Before 'Bird Flu' she invites some people up to dance and, against the obvious wishes of venue security, at least 50 people make it up there to provide a chorus line of sorts. Her set closes with a brief stint of body surfing. Very trusting lady.

Time now to track down a quick burger and drink as Amy Winehouse's replacement gets set to take the stage. No, it's not the White Stripes.

It's Kid Koala.



He was on the 2006 bill. Made my list of "artists not to see". To add injury to insult his set lasts only 15 minutes. You see, he's a DJ, and try as he might, he could do nothing to stop the hot sun from melting his records.

That leaves an excruciating one hour wait before the Arctic Monkeys set. Not enough time to catch another act but just enough time to suck the life out of an audience sitting in the ... did I tell you it was hot?

Who the f*ck are the Arctic Monkeys? Well, maybe a one-album band. In fairness, the new songs are exactly along the mold of the first album. Saucy power pop. They just haven't garnered the same amount of acceptance among the fanbase.

It was painfully evident that the greatest reaction was held for the holdovers from Whatever People Say I Am, yada, yada, yada. Most of the songs from Favourite Worst Nightmare were met with increased chattering in the crowd, save the opening numbers, This House Is A Circus and Brianstorm, which packed a punch and got the set off to a roaring start. It was in the middle portion, following a couple hits and before the closing hit-laden final segment, that the show lagged a little. Again, it's likely a by-product of the event but it was still a tad disappointing. What little stage chatter we got seemed to be further evidence that this is not something particular to the Toronto crowd as the onstage jokes were about how the audience really liked, and responded to, the old songs. I would suggest that rather than poke fun at them ("see i told you they would like this one", in response to the cheers that greeted Fake Tales), the band should appreciate their fans enthusiasm and get to writing songs that will be accepted with the same fervour. The relative silence that greeted 5 out of 6 of the following songs, all the new ones, should be testament to that.

These guys are a lot of fun live and I think they have talents not yet seen so I'll be back when they come to a venue that will let them display those characteristics.

Last band of the night, Interpol. (I'm skipping the bird-lady, Bjork. She's from Iceland you know, though they just call it "Land" there. Soon that's what we'll all be calling it.)After I got over the shock that David Spade was the lead singer I settled back to really enjoy a set that sounded like a marketable Joy Division. It was the best set of the day. I can't tell you much about it because I'm not at all familiar with their repetoire. I kept passing on them because I thought they were a German techno-metal band like Kraftwerk or something. It's that whole Euro-name. I do know David Spade isn't their singer, though.

On a side note, vegans may want to stay away from the Interpol site link.

Great work by the bands.

Terrible job by the VFest organizers who've had my money for almost 6 months. Promised a lot more than they delivered.
Didn't make up for last year.
Owe us still for this year.
I haven't even mentioned the sickening commercial crap all around these festivals. It'll be a long time before Branson gets me back to one of these things. But that's ok, I'm guessing I'll be seeing concerts long after this guy is done promoting them.