My Semi-Alphabetical, Entirely Subjective and Wholly Arbitrary Account of the 2nd Annual Virgin Festival
Or, how I saw, like, six bands out of the two dozen-plus who showed up to play. Team V-Fest '07: Hillz, Crooks, Klimek. A is for Amy Winehouse. Not counting the right-earful of the Frattellis we got on our way in, she was the first performer we saw at the festival on Saturday. She sounded great even if she looked like hell -- as D. Hillz pointed out, most of her meager body weight appears to be concentrated in her beehive hairdo. Her 45-minute set felt like it was about an hour-and-a-half long, but it wasn't her fault she had to play at 2 p.m. on a witheringly hot day. Even under the best of conditions, material like hers would be a tough sell at a dusty horse track. She made the best of it and acquitted herself respectably, especially considering how the tabloid schadenfreude industry seemed to be expecting her to vomit up Courtney Love's paperclip collection or something.
B is for the Beastie Boys. And I wish it wasn't, because you don't generate much suspense by declaring the second act you mention the highlight of the festival. Even though I started college the year Ill Communication came out (day one of V-Fest was my 31st birthday, if you must know), I was never a fan in their heyday. These guys actually won me over the one prior time I'd seen them perform, at the Tibet Freedom Concert at RFK Stadium in 1998. Then as now, they showed up on a bill with lots of other bands that interested me more, and proceeded to walk all over their competition. I think it was Ad Rock who kept mentioning that "the Po-lease" were up next.
We did dutifully check out the other dual-B act in the lineup, local heroes Bad Brains, on Sunday. We saw H.R. throw that loaf of bread into the audience, stuck around for about three songs, and then split when he started doing that steam-of-consciousness space-voyage thing that I'd read so much about. ("It's Sunday!" he declared cheerfully.) Besides, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were about to get going on the North Stage.
C is for Miss Crooks, first among equals in the V-Fest squad. A loose cannon who plays by her own rules, she single-handedly increases our badass factor by orders of magnitude. It's always good to have a crazy person on your team who can make potential foes back away in fear.
C is also for Cheap Trick. I didn't get up early enough on Saturday to see them play.
D is for D. Hillz, who bore the weekend's sustained heat and dust with good humor and grace. Everyone whould have the experience of attending a rock festival with him. What a guy.
D is also for Panic at the Disco, who, in the photo below, you can clearly see hanging out stage right watching Regina Spektor's set early on Sunday afternoon.
E is for Explosions in the Sky. We were watching Spoon on the North Stage while they were playing the South Stage.
F is for both Fountains of Wayne and Fiction Plane. They both played Saturday before we got to Pimlico. We've already told you how another "F" band, Scotland's The Fratellis, were playing as we made our way into the horse track. If you plan to play Virgin Fest, make sure the name of your band doesn't begin with "F," I guess.
G is for Gnomes. Look out, y'alls! They're everywhere!
H is for Ben Harper. Sounded okay from the beer line. Speaking of which: $9 for a 24 oz. Hefeweizen! Not a deal, obviously, but not extortionist as concert provisions go.
I is for Interpol. Their North Stage set made a fine soundtrack to our hat-shopping, and we could hear them perfectly. All their songs sound the same to me, but I do like that one song they keep playing, so hats off! Their bassist, especially, is awesome.
I is also for Incubus. D. Hillz says his brother credit Incubus with saving his life. This, apparently, did not sufficiently stir Mr. Hillz's curiosity enough for him to demand that we watch Incubus's set. I can only conclude that D. Hillz doesn't love his brother.
J and K are two letters you won't find anywhere near LCD Soundsystem, who sounded great as we were walking by. Alas, it was only a walk-by, because we were getting sustenance and using the toilets in preparation for the Beastie Boys/Po-lease double-bill that would soon be kicking off on the North Stage. And honestly, despite all the critical hosannahs Sound of Silver got earlier this year, it was hard for me to imagine, listening to that record, that it would go over live.
I can be wrong. I frequently am. I probably was in this case. Wish I'd seen their whole set.
M is for Matisyahu! He seemed to draw more people to the South Stage than Regina Spektor had for her Sunday North Stage set immediately prior. That crazy Hasidic rhymer! Also, Modest Mouse. They played the South Stage opposite the Po-lease on Saturday night, so, you know. I bought their allegedly spectacular new record, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, a few months ago. It didn't grab me enough to demand the probably fifth or sixth listen it would need to plant its seed in my brain.
N is for Paolo Nutini. Booked opposide Winehouse Saturday, so . . .
Oh my God, was it ever hot on Saturday . . .
P is, of course, for the Police. I gather I'm in the minority on this, but they were the biggest letdown of the festival for me. It wasn't the setlist, which opened strong with peppy takes of "Message in a Bottle," "Synchronicity II," and "Walking on the Moon." It was the performances. They were frequently slowed waaaaay down and larded with the kind of noodling Sting didn't used to let Andy get away with back in the day. Andy's a great guitar player, and I don't blame him for wanting some of the spotlight now that he's in his sixties and another Police tour seems . . . well, still more likely than this one seemed a couple of years ago, I guess.
Sting seems to be going out of his way to be mangnanimous to his two bandmates, changing that line in "So Lonely" to "Welcome to the Andy Summers [or Stewart Copeland] show and whatnot, but it just seems to prove that it was always best for all of them that he ran the band. "Driven to Tears" just went on and on, and between Andy's guitarorhhea and Stewart's need to play with his gong and all the other weird percussion elements he'd brought, "Wrapped Around Your Finger" was an unholy mess. But it wasn't until "de Do Do Do, de Da Da Da" that I felt certain that Andy and Sting were actually playing in two different keys.
I can't imagine that playing these songs in these arrangements still interests Sting on any level. Frankly, the Police classics that he played on his solo tours ("King of Pain," "Every Breath You Take," "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic") rocked harder when he played them with Dominc Miller and Vinnie Coliuta (sp?) on guitar and drums than did the versions we got from Andy and Stewart Saturday night. That second-encoure surprise of "Next to You" -- what was that, one-third time of the way they used to play it? It sounded like the Grateful Dead covering the Ramones. A disgrace! And I say this as somebody who bought the damn ticket, more than for any other reason, to see The Police.
Since I cared enough to write it down, here's the setlist: 1 Message in a Bottle 2 Synchronicity II 3 Waking on the Moon 4 Voices Inside My Head / When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around 5 Don't Stand So Close to Me 6 Driven to Tears 7 Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic 8 Wrapped Around Your Finger 9 de Do Do Do, de Da Da Da 10 Invisible Sun 11 Walking in Your Footsteps 12 Can't Stand Losing You ENCORE 13 Roxanne 14 King of Pain 15 So Lonely 16 Every Breath You Take ENCORE 17 Next to You
As for Peter Bjorn and John, we had sought shelter from the heat by 4 p.m. Saturday, when they went on, so I only heard a bit. They sounded good, though.
R is fo Regina Spektor. She performed without and band and neither that nor the hugeness of the venue intimidated her a bit. Her early set on Sunday was one of the best performances of the festival. She seemed thrilled to be playing to so many people, and genuinely flattered by their fond reception of her.
She sang in Russian a bit and seemed to greet the crowd mainly in Dolphin. Adorable.
S is for Spoon, another band, a la LCD Soundsytem and Modest Mouse, that critical consensus holds I should be "Ga Ga" for. Okay. I watched their entire set on the North Stage Sunday. It seemed like they were louder than any of the other acts I watched perform on the North Stage. Good but not great.
T is for The Smashing Pumpkins. In your world, maybe. I didn't stick around Sunday night to hear them. Didn't care then, don't care now. All I know is that calling your album Zeitgeist is much an asshole move as calling your album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I saw a guy during the Yeah Yeah Yeahs set wearing an Infintie Sadness tour t-shirt, and I had to fight the urge to give him a wedgie on general principle. When I heard Billy Corgan feeling the love at Live Earth by accusing the entire audience of stealing music from him via illegal downloading, it seemed to set a new peak of douche-bagitude even for Corgan. Astounding.
U2 weren't there, but I saw them play the Staples Center a couple of years ago.
V is for Velvet Revolver. Heh. We watched a couple of their songs as we were making our way towards the exit just out of curiosity. They sounded better than I expected, actually. It was great just to see Slash up there shredding, his hair-mask disguising the effects of aging and whatever else he's been into since GnR shut down sometime during the first Clinton Administration. Their cover of "It's So Easy" sounded good. And Scott Weiland's rebuke to someone for throwing their shoe onstage ("Did your mommy not hold you when you were two?") confirmed he could be just as big a jackass as W. Axl Rose.
W is for Wu-Tang Clan. Their hour-long set seemed mostly to be about self-promotion. ("When I say 'Wu-Tang,' you say 'Forever!'") Their A-listers pretty much hung back and let the minor leaguers do the heavy lifting. Best crowd-surfing I saw all weekend, though.
X weren't there, but I saw their rockabilly alter ego, The Knitters, play the Birchmere a few months ago.
Y is for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, whose set was the best we saw on Sunday, methinks.
Karen O was such a magentic presence that she kind of overshadowed the band. I just saw Marilyn Manson perform in the same clothes, and Karen O likes to end songs with that earsplitting mic-drop just like Manson does, but the contrast between them was still night and day, and not just because I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play during the daytime. Karen actually seemed to be reacting to the crowd reacting to her. It's a monumental difference.
The festival format really shows you who has it, because you can't hide behind your production. Another band is coming on right after you, which means you get to bring on your instruments and your clothes that's pretty much it. And everybody can see what you're doing in between songs. Anyway, that extended coda to "Maps" to close their set, for which Tim Burton lookalike -- well, they all kind of look like Tim Burton, really -- Nick Zinner switched from an electric to an acousitc mid-song, was one of the most memorable moments of the festival, with the crowd singing along as a light rain fell.
Z is for Led Zeppelin, who didn't play the Libbey Bowl in Ojai a couple of years ago.