Tuesday, September 12, 2006


concert review: Virgin Festival(Day 1) @ Toronto Islands, September 9, 2006

The Flaming Lips @ Virgin Festival[September 9, 2006]: photo by Mike Ligon

Over the weekend the inaugural Canadian edition of the Virgin Festival went off at Toronto Islands, although not without a few hitches. My brother and I made a later start out on Saturday and ended up missing some of the earlier acts. On the bright side, having made it to the ferry mid-afternoon, the lineup to the ferry, the ferry ride over and the lineup to get into the festival grounds were also surprisingly stress free. As the ferry docked, my brother and I could already hear Phoenix's set off in the distance and as we made our way further into the grounds, we heard Buck 65 spitting out the lingo off in the opposite direction at the Future Shop Stage. We decided to walk around and check out the Merchants Village before heading to either of the stages, and within the span of time we walked around I heard at least a few more songs from Phoenix off in the distance. Even from a distance I could still sense a level of crowd energy as the crowd onhand for Phoenix roared with approval when Phoenix frontman Thomas exclaimed they'd come a long way.

The first full set of the day for us was Toronto's own The Hidden Cameras. The lineup seemed to be the same one that was featured at their Harbourfront show this past August, so in tow were Laura Barrett on xylophone and one or two members of Spiral Beach. I spotted Reg(of Gentleman Reg) watching from the audience and I wondered why he wasn't up onstage although I think I saw The 'Cameras Maggie Macdonald smile down on him. The sound from this stage was quite an improvement from the acoustics of Harbourfront and I thought they performed a really tight set. It wasn't as exhuberant as I'd hope but still there were glimmers of playfulness such as when the group threw out lollipops into the audience before 'Lollipop'. I'm also so glad that they performed 'I Believe In The Good Of Life'. I think the greyness of the sky, the dampness of the ground, and the threat of rain, was on the back of everyone's minds and seemed to prompt frontman Joel Gibb to prompt the audience on several occasions for a little more energy.

The Dears fared much better, and with a little help from the sun finally coming out, I think the audience started to feel a lot better about the day. As with The Hidden Cameras, The Dears also had recently performed at Harboufront, but the sound at this Virgin Festival felt so much larger. The Dears epic rock sound seems well-suited to the festival environment and I can only imagine that this was what it was like to see The Dears at an outdoor UK festival. The songs off the new album "Gang of Losers" sounded terrific, and the band included a few songs off of "No Cities Left" although I don't recall any songs performed from "End of A Hollywood Bedtime Story".

As dusk was setting, it was UK act Muse's turn on the main stage. Not quite what I'd expected at all. I think I'd heard a few of their songs previously and my impression of them was that they sounded like Radiohead. Muse vocalist Matthew Bellamy has a similar vocal sound to Radiohead's Thom Yorke(at least IMO), but Muse rocked harder. Mr. Bellamy is quite the axeman also, with an arsenal of riffs and solos that bordered quite literally to sounding like heavy metal. Their metal-lic sound was only one side of them however, and they did sound a little more arty, Radiohead-ish and even pop at times. I could have sworn that one of their songs had a bass line right out of Metric's 'Dead Disco'. While I'm not particularly enthused with their overall sound I did enjoy their set and they infused the crowd with some needed energy.

Since my brother's a fan of Queens of The Stone Age, I thought he might get a kick out of Eagles of Death Metal who were playing the Future Shop stage. I informed my brother that Queens' frontman Josh Homme plays with EODM but little did I know that he wasn't actually performing with them that night, although the blonde drummer looked awfully a lot like Josh from a distance. We stuck around for several songs including a balls-to-the-walls renditions of the Rolling Stones' 'Brown Sugar'. There dirty boogie, raunchy, rock n' roll was a blast and it's a shame that they weren't on the mainstage to bring the rock to the masses.

Leaving partway through EODM's set, we set back to the main stage where Gnarls Barkley had just begun their set. It's not necessarily my favourite song of the summer, but 'Crazy' will definitely go down as THE song of summer 2006. The song was all over the radio. We had everyone from The Raconteurs to The Twilight Singers covering the song in concert. Gnarls Barkley frontman Cee-Loo a casual charisma as he complimented the Canadian women and inquired the audience whether anyone had some good weed. He definitely knew how to play up to the audience, however crude it was. But it is rock n' roll, after all. With the musical compliment onstage numbering 10 or more people, including a n all female string section, and with everyone wearing white robes, there was a gospel-feel to the whole experience, also reflected within some of the r n'b grooves in the music. I also was reminded of Kanye West, musically as well with the aesthetics of the live show itself. N.E.R.D. were also another musical contemporary I was reminded of as Gnarls Barkley displayed a similar organic melding of rock, hip-hop, and r'n'b musical influences. Their cover of the Violent Femmes' 'Gone Daddy Gone' was great fun, and when Gnarls Barkley began 'Crazy' with a string section intro, it was divine. Overall, they were a thoroughly convincing live act. As an aside, I'd like to mention that the video screen was featuring real time text messaging and a couple of the funniest ones were "I was promised CHARLES Barkley" and "This guy looks like the Dad from Family Matters". :-)

Preceding The Flaming Lips, was Kid Koala, who once he had all his gear setup on stage, only managed to perform for about 15 minutes since it was already cutting in to The Flaming Lips' scheduled set. I'd seen Kid Koala perform some of the tracks before(at Harbourfront last year), including the track which featured a sampling of The Cure's 'Close To Me', but the piece de resistance was his sublime cut-up/scratch version of 'Moon River' which he dedicated to his girlfriend who he said she had said 'Yes' to his marriage proposal. The crowd fell to a hush and with the stars overhead and 'Moon River' washing over us it was a close-to-perfect moment.

And finally ending off the evening were The Flaming Lips. Unfortunately, with the whole day running off schedule, The Flaming Lips ended up only performing for about 40 minutes, rather than their scheduled 1 hour and 15 minutes. I've been fortunate to have seen The Flaming Lips' experience twice in the past(Coachella 2004 and Sasquatch 2006) and my brother saw them with me at Sasquatch so we weren't as disappointed to have seen a shortened set as I assume others were, especially those for who this show may have been their first Flaming Lips show. Of course Wayne did the whole Plastic Bubble walk, and this time, he'd practically rolled up beside me and my brother. This was the first 'Lips show I've been fairly close to the front for and OMG, at one point, when the confetti, streamers, balloons, and beach balls were all above the crowd, it was HEAVENLY. That moment was all I needed to leave satisfied that night.

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