Virgin Festival Review: The Rocky Ride

THIS YEAR’S INSTALLATION of the weekend-long Virgin Festival was a frosty whirlwind of ups and downs. You had the fan-upsetting move from rural Orillia to the downtown location at Molson Amphitheatre — hardly the apt destination for a festival. There was an abundance of baffled security who attempted to permit certain festival-goers to their designated seating zone — once again, hardly suitable venue choice. You have the wide spectrum of bands with the likes of electronic, eyeball-work out sensation Pet Shop Boys prepping the crowd for the raucous, stellar performance of Nine Inch Nails. And then you have a shitty turn-out. Blame the venue. Blame the damn economy. Blame a moderately decent line-up. There were seats wide open for both days — sometimes only at a third at capacity — until NIN took the stage for their last Canadian show, and neither the fans nor the band disappointed.

Toronto will take most of this out on the organizers, though, I contend, they are solely to blame for overpriced beer and maybe a lacklustre line-up in comparison to the past couple years. But we’ll get to that. 

To view a collection of great photos from Day 1 go here. For Day 2 of VFest go here

Day 1

Before arriving, I had my day planned out for who I was going to see. And as I kept to this schedule, I was both let down and surprised, over and over. As I arrived, I was able to catch Juno-winning princess, Lights playing her electronic fantasy rock to a tiny crowd of Lights T-shirt wearing admirers. A decent performance, although the petite singer looked awkward in respect to the massive Amphitheater stage. After redeeming my first of many a free beverage (oh, the glory of being titled media, which is great, because tall-boys went for a ridiculous $10), I got ready for the much-hyped Grizzly Bear. Sadly, the New York band is enjoying a great deal of over-hype. With solid songs like “Two Weeks” and “Cheerleader” going for them, the band seemed uninspired throughout the set, which dampened my spirits early on. But as I left the mainstage and ventured to the crowd-soaked small stage, many were taken aback by the prowess of MC Isis from Thunderheist. Easily one of the better acts of the day with Isis letting the natural talent, bad jokes and crowdsurfing fly during “LBG”. Thunderheist, who enlisted Carps drummer Jahmal Tonge for an interesting live drummer vibe, tended well with the moderate, yet enthusiastic crowd.

Making my way back to the mainstage after wading through major security setbacks — lines to go between stages were tragic because of mandatory pat downs — Franz Ferdinand put on the best performance of the day, hands down. Pumping out single after single and actually calling on the fans to get involved, the Scottish rockers had fists pumping. With well-known songs like “Take Me Out” and “Burn This City” Ferdinand was tight with their sound. It was with their recent single, “Ulysses” that the whole band jumped onto the drums to rock out, before blasting out a spot-on rendition of their epic, keyboard-infused “Lucid Dreams.” A wonderful upper for the day.

I was then able to quickly check out Iglu & Hartly who played on a farcical non-stage at the Boardwalk Stage to a small group of followers, all probably due to their summer beat, “In This City” — the reason, I admit, why I was there. I had to jump ship early, however, because the night’s big performer (at least why I was still there) the Pixies were going on. The aging rockers (who were also showing some pounds, especially frontman Frank Black), played a long list of their classics to the crowds’ content. Highlights of the 28-song set was a cover of Neil Young’s “Winterlong” and everyone’s favourites “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and the Fight Club closer, “Where is My Mind”. A solid performance with a nice breeze of nostalgia blown around, but not enough to keep me to watch Ben Harper‘s act. Nothing impressive, according to this reviewer, as I took off after the second song. The sound seemed to be off and the vibe had long left after the Pixies left the stage. And I wanted to go to a friend’s party, anyway.

Day 2

With nothing in the first part of Day 2 of VFest catching my attention — or apparently very many of the festival-goers as there were sparse crowds once again — I didn’t attend until the hipster-approved rockers, Cold War Kids took the mainstage. And like an instant replay of the day before, the much-lauded rockers failed to impress like Grizzly Bear on Saturday. Their tunes fell flat and only worked as mild ambiance to the soft drizzle coming from the sky. But the random fitting follow-up act, N.E.R.D. was a nice reminder of why I showed up for the day. The hip-hop-cum-rock-group starring everyone’s favourite Pharrell Williams generated much fanfare and jumping around on and off the stage. With hits like “Rockstar” the threesome plus entourage invited a solid collection of the audience onstage to enjoy in the incessant jumping around. When the songs slowed down (just a smidgen, though and shifted to female territory) a whack of dancing ladies were invited onstage. All in all, a good warm-up with an unlikely call out to all the NIN fans from Williams himself.

With many saying their heyday is behind them, I was anticipating Our Lady Peace. The aging Canadian rockers, with tunes that we all know, especially from their seminal Clumsy album, didn’t fail to impress. Raine Maida, who referenced the skimpy crowd saying that he knows its hard for fans to attend festivals these days (assumingly because of the bloodied economy), did his best to get everyone involved. At one point, in the middle of “Somewhere Out There,” he even took to running through the crowd to the 300 level to continue the song, much to the audience’s delight.

And then things got weird. The eclectic U.K. electro dance duo, Pet Shop Boys hit the stage next — with a large fortress of boxes. The somewhat psychedelic performance was fun and entertaining, but after the multi-coloured eye-explosion on the large screen wore off, things got a little tiring. Although interesting to watch, one song drifted into another with the vocals never really shifting. But they’re big in the U.K., I guess. They also had the crowd, however, when they put  their own touch on Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” midway through. Hearing much about the Detroit grunge rockers, Von Bondies as of late, I was interested in seeing what the hype had brought to the Boardwalk Stage. The affable frontman in typical grunge rock apparel and two female guitar players to his side brought a nice retreat to the early ’90s with unstable rock ‘n’ roll.

And then was time for what, say, 75 per cent of the audience was there for: NIN. As much of the crowd was clad in black NIN shirts, the tension gently rose throughout the evening. Noted as their last performance in Canada, Trent Reznor announced beforehand that the band was going on indefinite hiatus after 20 years of industrial rock. Even though I’m not a die hard NIN fan whatsoever, I think we can all appreciate the talent behind Reznor and Co. And not knowing quite what to expect, my expectations were quickly exceeded. NIN was an explosive, enduring performance that was pitch perfect in many ways. A much-aroused Reznor apologized that his voice was off due to battling a cold, but you couldn’t tell. As the festival had a scant showing throughout its two days, the Amphitheater finally filled with NIN. With an engaging light show behind them and a litany of rocking tunes, NIN gave the audience breathers with soft ballads in between the loud tunes. Easily the best performance of the night, not to mention festival. But don’t ask me, ask the audience. Well, the moderately sized crowd — most of which were there for NIN, anyway.

by Ryan Bolton, Editor-in Chief

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: