Virgin Festival Toronto 2009, Sunday – Review and Photos

September 5, 2009

Virgin Festival 2009 Toronto, Ontario at the Molson Amphitheatre
Festival review and photos – words by Liz Keith, photos by editor Brian Banks – September 5, 2009

Gig/Concert: Sunday at V-Fest Ontario, Toronto, 2009
Venue: Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto, Canada
Date: August 30, 2009
Headliners:  Nine Inch Nails
In one word: Farewell

SUNDAY, AUGUST 30 (for Saturday V Fest review and photos click here)

Missing out on local (Montreal) talent Coeur de Pirate, we start our day instead by catching Scandinavian sensation Datarock – if yesterday’s early lineup had been a bit sleepy to start, Datarock are not content to keep the status quo. They are electric, hyperactive, damn funny and incredibly catchy – and coordinated, in their vaguely cult-like obsession with wearing matching red jumpsuits. They amply demonstrate how you start a music fest – punk/funk electro-rock calisthenics, topped off with lyrics that run the gamut from cheeky to geeky. To wit: Computer Camp Love, followed by Nightflight to Uranus – the former is a nerdy harlequin update of that goddamn song from Grease that seems to tunnel into my brain whenever I hear it (and yet I adore Datarock’s version) while the latter is fairly self explanatory – really, it’s all about space. They do not sit still, they do not tolerate the crowd sitting still, and they more than claim their space on the stage. Go check these guys out – not a party to be missed.

Datarock at Virgin Festival Toronto, 2009 - photo by Brian Banks, Music Vice

I stick around to check out Danish band Mew, admittedly on the strength of the fact that they opened a few shows for tonight’s headliner, Nine Inch Nails; and two more different artists you could not find. My first impression of this band is skewed by the fact that there seems to be something wrong with the sound system – at one point the piano being played by the lead singer seems to sound like it was bleeding over from another stage. True, they incorporate off-kilter beats and can have a very dreamy sound… but here something just sounds off. I give the show a pass, in hopes of getting a better impression later on…

… Ever been cuddled by a tree? I highly recommend it.

Fritz Helder & the Phantoms at Virgin Festival Toronto '09 - photo by Brian Banks - Music ViceBefore you check out Fritz Helder and the Phantoms, do yourself a favour and seek out their predecessor, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Go ahead. Ja? Good. We continue now.

The similarities are palpable, but not at all in a derivative way – FH are strictly on the rock and techno side of the spectrum, rarely slowing down as they dish out the high camp and rock star strut. Their theatric antics almost seems out of place in the harsh light of the sun – they’d definitely be more at home in a club setting – but they do nothing halfway and put on a damn fun show. Think early nineties club music mixed with a little Hedwig, with songs like Sex Robot and Lagerfeld Lady setting the tone for some slinky sexy booty-shaking.

Catching the last few songs of Mutemath’s set, I have clearly missed something here – the drummer’s got something taped onto his head, the lead singer is going apeshit doing headstands on the keys, and *again* with the dogpile drum finale – Franz Ferdinand started this, but where will it end? – stuff is being thrown around, then used for percussion; the whole close to the set is chaotic, confused and loud. Must’ve been fun…

Nothing really immediately grabs me with Cold War Kids’ performance – I can’t explain it, but the ass numbing seats aren’t helping with my attention span any. I don’t give up on them, however, and by the time they run through Relief, with its slinky grind and groove juxtaposed with high pitched croons and calls, they’ve grown on me. I promise to give them a bit more effort.

Starting late, N.E.R.D. catch up quick and waste no time revving the crowd up – as Pharrell says – “Our job is to warm it up for Trent,” – cue crowd going nuts. Seriously – every other band on the main stage has acknowledged the mad love for NIN (that’s clearly overshadowing the weekend, especially today. Still, they won’t stand to have the usual hipster shuffle during their set and start pulling people up on stage during Rockstar, and keep the craziness going through Lapdance. High on the audience interaction, the band throws down a mean hip hop – rock hybrid that works a hell of a lot better than some earlier variations I can remember from the early 90s. They even manage to work in a White Stripes riff into their finale – making Seven Nation Army sound like it was made for this. I first caught them at last year’s Osheaga Festival in Montreal, and was pretty stoked to see them again.

N.E.R.D. at Virgin Festival Toronto '09 - photo by Brian Banks - Music Vice

I won’t lie. I had no interest in Our Lady Peace when I was in junior high, and I have none now. I am in the minority here, though, as the crowd attendance has swelled considerably. I stick around to finish my beer and then head off to catch another act, apparently missing Raine Maida parting the crowds and mingling with people, so I hear later on. I’m sure it was fun.

My attention is waning, and I have not much to say about hip hop artist Sean Kingston. I made it through a few songs. I left. I hugged another tree.

I take my place as far down the aisle as my lowly reporter’s pass will get me in order to have a good spot for NIN, and behold the technicolour cubist orgy that is the Pet Shop Boys. While not overly familiar with their output over the years, I can still dig their sound and eccentricity – they’re one of the pioneers in the club scene, and deserve respect as such. And tonight, they bring the weirdness that I’ve come to expect – opening with Heart, dancers move robotically in solid-colour spandex outfits made up of random geometric shapes with cubes for heads emerge from the giant Lego blocks that get moved around and played off of. Chris Lowe is dressed up as a mirror ball, with a giant screen is playing – kinda cheesy – Nintendo-esque graphics that illustrate the songs in a fairly literal manner; at the very least, you should be entertained. The fratboy NIN fans around me are having a hard time with this, but, hey, fuck’em – the show is a stellar spectacle, and the music has definitely held up over the years. They cover the Village People’s Go West and Coldplay’s Viva la Vida, and that’s just about all I can recognize. Lowe and singer Neil Tennant’s costumes shift from kingly to priestly to befeathered, as for the finale of West End Girls, that, despite my utterly paralyzing fear of being onstage, I can admit it – I want to be one of the dancers. For once I want to run around with a block over my head and not get carted away.

Pet Shop Boys at Virgin Festival Toronto '09 - photo by Brian Banks - Music Vice

The clock is ticking slowly past the minute when Nine Inch Nails are set to take the stage, and there are still stage techs running around. I turn around for a split second to witness the crushing influx of people that bought tickets for the whole day and only showed up for the headliners, when the crowd roar and the drummed opening of Somewhat Damaged whips my head back around to the stage. I hear later that the band casually walked onstage and just started playing while there were still people setting up for them, but again… turned around. My timing is legendary.

The only two other shows I’ve seen were on the previous tour, in Calgary and Montreal,

and while the setlists then included some lesser-played songs, they did sometimes feel a bit singles-heavy (not that I complained). Tonight NIN are trim, tight and sample a diverse range of songs; the set is favorable to those who saw The Fragile for the overlooked genius it is, with La Mer, The Frail and The Wretched playing in a row, and The Day the Whole World Went Away showing up later on.

The D'ubervilles at Virgin Festival Toronto '09 - photo by Brian Banks - Music Vice

To my utter ecstatic joy I get to hear Burn and Dead Souls played live before the band’s upcoming hiatus; another surprise is the way March of the Pigs closes with the remixed version of the single – All the Pigs, All Lined Up. Suck and Gave Up, from Broken, also get a play.

As per usual, there’s not much interaction with the crowd, except when Trent Reznor apologizes for the quality of his voice, attributing it to an illness that would eventually postpone three of their final L.A. shows. I wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t mentioned it, and by the time Head Like a Hole closes the show I wouldn’t have cared.

This is the NIN show I have always wanted to see. It will most likely be the last one I ever see (….or not? Please?). It was a fuck of a ride, and an amazing sendoff.

Thank you for the music. Thank you for everything.

© Liz Keith

Brian’s view: I’ve never really got into Nine Inch Nails, so to be able to see one of their last ever shows felt like a bit of a guilty priviledge. I felt like a loose screw in a big box of nails, if you can allow that bit of imagery. I didn’t have the same kind of die-hard knowledge and passion for NIN as all the ecstatically happy people surrounding me, but witnessing the mix of happy/sad/euphoric passion pouring out the pores of the thousands of NIN fans for this historic gig left me with a desire to explore the band’s back catalogue a little deeper.

NIN aside, the personal highlight for me on Sunday was catching The D’Urbervilles at the Boardwalk stage. There was a bi-polarity to their performance, with a high-level intensity exuding from the band that captured an attentive crowd, which was a rather stark contrast to the low and slower pulse rate of the music… although sometimes, like a shot to the arm, everything would spike to a frenetic pace. The D’Urbs sound a lot like Joy Division, at least with the vocals and keys, and have similarities to other 80’s post-punk and pop like Echo And The Bunnymen and a bit of The Jesus And Marychain. This set was a welcome jolt of energy after an afternoon that had become rather lacklustre. – Brian, Editor.

Photos from Sunday of Virgin Festival Toronto 2009

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