Festival review and photos by Music Vice editor Brian Banks
Gig/Concert: Virgin Festival Toronto 2008 by Virgin Mobile
Venue: Toronto Island Park, Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: 8 September 2008
Headliners: Foo Fighters, Bloc Party, Against Me!
In one word: Intoxicating
For the second time this summer I was taking a ferry to Toronto Island Park for a music festival. Wakestock, back a few months ago, had been fun, but Virgin Festival was a much bigger occasion. V Fest had a strong British influence this year, especially with Britpop stars Oasis, and uh, Stereophonics, on Sunday’s bill. It felt a bit like the organisers had tried to create a mini version of the Isle Of Wight Festival. Frankly the British invasion of headliners for Sunday looked dated and worn. I was much more excited by Saturday’s line-up…
I arrived on the island in style… well slow and frustrating style… as I jumped aboard the little VIP/media ferry. A journey that should have taken 7 minutes, from Toronto’s quayside to the island, actually took over 40 minutes. Perhaps the captain was relishing in his annual moment of glory. I could picture him addressing his crew; “This is what we’ve been training for lads. This is our time to shine”. Captain Birdseye must’ve had one too many bottles of rum, as the ferry went around in circles for what seemed like an eternity before finally docking. I wouldn’t have normally cared, except I was supposed to interview Against Me! at 2.00pm and that time had passed. Thankfully, when we finally docked, there was a helpful Virgin media rep waiting at the shore with an eight-seater golf buggy. I hitched a ride over with her to behind the main stage and got my AM! interview.
“It’s a simple but very cunning ploy which captures your imagination, holding it hostage and slapping it around until it gets your attention too.“
I was soon back around the other side of the big stage to see my first band of the weekend – The Airborne Toxic Event. The A.T.E., as I will now refer to them, are a once top-secret US military project hell-bent on infiltrating the minds of the world’s population. Standard rock instruments are taken, combined with the odd violin and keyboard, and blended to create a formula that sparks a chemical reaction in your head. It’s a simple but very cunning ploy which captures your imagination, holding it hostage and slapping it around until it gets your attention too.
A perfect example of The A.T.E.’s ability to pull off these mind-influencing hi-jinks is with Sometime Around Midnight. Sometime Around Midnight is the most epic track from the band’s self-titled debut album, and it’s also a song that reminds me a lot of U2. Now, I spoke with The A.T.E. about this, and the thing is I am not exactly a fan of Bono, The Edge, and The Other One. And yet somehow I find myself enjoying an instant appreciation and interest for The A.T.E.
I stood there at V Fest and, together with a few thousand other people, heard a lot of this music for the first time. Let’s not forget that this is all new for The A.T.E., who are only beginning to get used to playing to large audiences. The band seemed humbled to even be in this position but they did not falter. Front man Mikel Jollett sings about messed-up relationships with a pleasing openness and vulnerability, while the rest of The A.T.E. build up audio soundscapes around him, providing an upbeat and comforting backing. At their strongest, like with the brilliant Sometime Around Midnight, and also the ascending dance-y Innocence, they deliver music that is worthy of finding its way into the collective consciousnesses of people everywhere. Time will tell if they have the goods to build on such a promising debut.
“Every festival should have a band like Flash Lightnin’.“
I left the main stage and headed to the other side of the island to check out the other stages. Shudder To Think were playing the TD Stage and their quirky rock held my attention for 20 minutes or so before I moved over to the Oh Henry indie stage. Here I sat down on the grass to enjoy Flash Lightnin’, a blues trio from Toronto. The music is nothing new; it’s like watching a live history lesson about the roots of rock and roll, and that’s not a bad thing. The vibe for this band was just really cool and chilled-out. Every festival should have a band like Flash Lightnin’.
I was back over to the main stage to catch MGMT. Now these boys are making a name for themselves over here, or should I say an acronym, and you’d think that with a reported 18,000 people attending each day at Virgin Festival that there’d be an immensely awesome atmosphere. Well this was not the case; not for this band anyway. Watching MGMT wasn’t anything to write home about. I retreated back over to the TD stage where to see The Fratellis, where I found more of an atmosphere.
Bands from Glasgow usually know a thing or two about getting their crowd up for it, and watching the Fratellis play was almost like being back home in Scotland. This was not so much because of the band, but the crowd. I wasn’t blown away by what I saw and heard from The Fratellis, which I’d only rate as being a decent set. Nothing sensational. It was all sounding repetitive by the middle. The crowd, however, were great and seemed to be hanging on every samey note and riff, and gladly made a lot of noise for the band’s biggest tunes like “Chelsea Dagger”. The crowd was clearly largely made up of fans of the band, but at least they reacted like a crowd should. After all, this was meant to be a rock festival, not a corporate VIP-overrun picnic.
It was early evening, about 6pm, by the time I made my way back over to the main stage, where I’d now spend the rest of the evening. Against Me! were on stage and they raised the bar in terms of everything that had happened here so far. This punk rock outfit from Florida played a mix of older and newer material, and it was all good. I really wonder how many of the critics and old fans who abandoned AM! after they signed for a major label have actually seen them live – probably not many. AM! played with aggression and fervour, with everything sounding tight. They managed to raise a few pulses amongst a largely conservative and lethargic main stage crowd.
“ And now for the second time I’ve seen Bloc Party live, I still don’t see it, or hear it. They’re a decent band but not the sensational act that they still get hyped as…“
Dusk was setting in and soon the legend himself, Lord Grohl of Dave, would be taking to the stage with his posse of Foo Fighters. Before that though, the penultimate act of the night… Bloc Party. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to join a half-mile long queue for a slice of pizza. I was hungry and the 5 cans of free Pepsi I had drank in the media tent weren’t doing much. I got my slice of pepperoni and wandered back to the photo pit at the main stage just as Bloc Party were finishing their third song. I was hoping I’d see or hear something that might make me reconsider this band, a band who I consider to be one of the most overrated artists to ever come out of Britain. I listened to Silent Alarm back in 2005 and never really saw what the fuss was all about. And now for the second time I’ve seen Bloc Party live, I still don’t see it, or hear it. They’re a decent band but not the sensational act that they still get hyped as being from some quarters.
On to the Foo Fighters. Well, as to be expected they were great. One observation I’ve got to make though is that Dave Grohl seems to be becoming more and more like Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World. Grohl’s gags and antics between songs were funny, but at times it was a little bit too much pantomime. Granted, the drum solo by Taylor Hawkins was nothing but immense, but the triangle solo from the percussionist Drew less so. There was a violin solo, too. Don’t get me wrong, the Foo Fighters still sounded awesome, but all the interruptions with the solo stunts sapped energy from their show. The audience still lapped it up, including a smiling Sir Richard Branson who watched from the stage side.
When I first saw the Foo Fighters back in 2005 it was one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen – Dave Grohl sang through laryngitis and spearheaded a totally immense show which lept from one Foo’s hit to the next. That was legendary. I was just hoping to see another Foo’s tour de force like that.
© Brian Banks