Virgin Festival, Day 1: Part 1

Two days, four stages, and fifty-six performances. Center Island rocked on September 6th and September 7th as the Virgin Festival came to Toronto. Headlined by the Foo Fighters and Oasis, and backed by fifty-four other bands ranging from punk-rock ska to house dj sets, the festival offered music for a wide range of aural palettes. In between sets, festival-goers entertained themselves at a multitude of different tents: guitar hero, human scrabble, and an autograph tent, to name a few.

In this part one of four Virgin Festival reviews, I cover We Are The Take, The Airborne Toxic Event, Saint Alvia Cartel, The Constantines , and MGMT.

My plan was to head over to the Oh Henry! stage to check out We Are The Take. The Oh Henry! stage, featuring up-and-coming Indie music bands, was set off to the side and a little bit smaller than the others, but had a nice, small-venue appeal. Having impressed me with their NXNE show, I was wondering if this four-piece Toronto band was up to it again?

The area around the Oh Henry! stage was surprisingly full for the opening set of the day — lots of fans, braving the rain, came to watch We Are The Take hammer out a high-energy set of their catchy indie pop-rock. The crowd enjoyed it; I enjoyed it, and my favourite song, “Tenterhooks”, became violently engraved in my head — what a way to start the day!

From the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Los Feliz came to the main stage The Airborne Toxic Event, a rather new band whose name, at 21 letters, comes in a close second for Longest Named Band to Play at Virgin Festival Toronto. Interesting name aside, the band was formed rather organically around guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Mikel Jollett. The story goes: Jollett, writing a novel, having a bad time at it with serious illnesses and a breakup, and turns to writing songs instead.

Jollett’s songs sing like poetry, with a real story-telling flair, set to some awfully catchy rock. A smart flow of bleeding-raw emotion floats over the music in “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?”. In “Sometime Around Midnight”, haunting viola (Anna Bulbrook) provide the backdrop for rich and painful despair. Some of their other songs, such as “Papillon” are more fun and make you feel groovy, but underneath it all there is deep and beautiful meaning to Jollett’s tales — worth sitting down with their self-named debut album and taking a real hard listen. Definitely the surprise of the afternoon for me.

At the exact same time, back on the Oh Henry! stage, was Saint Alvia Cartel. By the time I made back across the island, they were almost done, but I managed to catch a few songs of punk rocking. Lively and upbeat, the six-piece band made the stage look rather small, but managed to keep the crowd dancing, with a political message or two in between songs in their set.

I really don’t get the Constantines. Can someone please clue me in? I’ve heard lots of good things about them — in May they played to a packed Phoenix in Toronto, and immediately playing Virgin Fest they disembark on a monthly long European tour. They’ve also got a hit single, “Islands in The Stream”, with Canadian Indie-graduate Feist, which is a good listen, but not (at least to my ears) an instant classic. On stage, front-man Bryan Webb’s periodic foot-stomping was interesting, but not enough to keep me interested: I wandered off in search of food and beer. Although, I’ve heard their intensity and energy build up through their set, so perhaps I missed the best part. But the beer was good.

MGMT, formerly known as The Management, brought their mix of psychedelic pop to the main stage. Andrew VanWyngarden, who recently denied rumours that he was dating Kirsten Dunst, made a fashion statement in his purple track pants, perhaps a throw-back to the University days during which he formed the band with keyboardist Ben Goldwasser. An eclectic mix of guitar and synth-y goodness, with VanWyngardens peculiarly nasal voice and stirred with a sample or two, you’ve got a pretty interesting and funky sound.

The main stage area started to get really packed, filled with a thousand fans dancing along to tunes off their latest album Oracular Spectacular such as “Time To Pretend”, recently featured on TV shows like Gossip Girls and the new 90210, as well as the song Kids, featuring a rather lengthy guitar solo. Live, MGMT is a little less synth-y and more mainstream than I remember them to be, with the standard guitar/bass/drums dominating their sound a bit more. But in the end, a fantastically entertaining set; cheering fans in festival mode; more and more people flooding in — a sign of good things to come for the evening.

6 September 2008 | grc | Music | Comments

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