Virgin Festival, Day 1: Part 2

Separating the main Virgin Mobile stage from the other stages at the Toronto Virgin Festival was a small footbridge, just wide enough for perhaps four people to walk abreast. Starting at about five o’clock this bridge was absolutely packed, with people streaming towards the main stage on Olympic Island, undoubtedly staking out good spots for the remainder of the concert. Headlined by the Foo Fighters, and with big names such as Bloc Party and Against Me!, I don’t blame them. Of course, there was lots of good music to be heard on the other stages too, including Wintersleep and Lights.

I crossed the bridge for the umpteenth time, to catch the last few songs of Lights, on the Oh Henry! stage. It’s amazing to see young Indie artists grow — I first saw Lights in the end of 2007, when she was a moderately unknown Toronto artist. When I saw her next in March for Canadian Music Week, her song, “February Air”, had recently been picked up by Old Navy for use in a set of commercials, and she was gaining a solid fan base. Now, hot off the heels of a Germany tour, and with her song regularly playing on mainstream radio stations, her music career and popularity is growing quickly. When will I see her next? I predict big things for Lights.

Earlier in the day, I noticed Saint Alvah Cartel were all sporting passes that read Against Me!. I couldn’t make the connection (aside from the fact that they’re both punk rock bands) until later: Saint Alvah has been opening for Against Me! as the Gainsborough, Florida band tours Canada during September, playing all major cities across the country, including shows in Calgary and Edmonton this week. It’s rare to find non-Canadian bands that will tour across Canada like that, given how big (and sparsely populated) our country is. Much respect for that!

Punk rock is not normally my thing, but Against Me! came and hammered out an exciting set — regardless of genre, it’s always fun to watch bands get wrapped up in their music, and do their thing with energy and gusto. Fronting this relatively old band, in its 12th year, is Tom Gabel (vocals, guitar) who adds a gritty character to the performance, playing with solid rock energy that’s fun to watch. Also entertaining is drummer Warren Oakes, with “Youth Gone Wild” written with a sharpie on his shoulder, pounding away. Some of their newer singles, like “Stop”, are quite catchy and pleasing even to my non-punk rock ears.

After listening to about half of the Against Me! set, I rushed to the TD Music Stage to try to catch Wintersleep. I’d first heard Wintersleep in early 2006, while in their local town of Halifax, just on the up-tick of their careers. A year later, in 2007, they put out the album Weighty Ghost, which has garnered them some attention, including a Juno award for their troubles.

My rush to get to the stage was a bit unnecessary since they were running about forty minutes late, and the crowd was starting to get rather angsty, breaking out in to a somewhat sarcastic cheer when Loel, Paul, Mike, Tim, and Jon sorted out their tech issues and began their set. A bit slow and deliberate to start, I didn’t get to hang around for long before rushing back to the mainstage, missing hit singles “Weighty Ghost” and “Archaeologists”, both of which I had wanted to hear. But I heard they were performed well and well-received.

“The best place to be is sunset in Toronto,” mused Kele Okereke, of London Indie-rock band Bloc Party, as they opened their set, with the challenge of warming up the crowd before the Foo Fighters. Experiencing technical issues, I felt that they were just spending their entire set warming up. First was issues with skeleton-shirt-sporting Okereke’s guitar, then the drum tech was busy fixing things for Matt Tong. Other than playing two songs from their latest album, Intimacy, scheduled for release in October, there was nothing else remotely interesting in their set. I don’t remember hearing their mega-hit “I Still Remember”, which is, ironically, was only Bloc Party song I could remember.

I didn’t get to photograph the Foo Fighters, so I just sat back (or rather, stood up) and enjoyed their show. A few things stood out for me. First, the Foo Fighters have been together for 14 years, a fact that Dave Grohl (guitar, vocals) admonished the crowd for, especially those who hadn’t seen the band live yet (“It’s about f—ing time!”). That would include me: I remember the days in the mid-to-late-90’s when they were a popular new band formed after the implosion of Nirvana, but never really followed the band except for a few hit songs here or there.

The second thing that stood out for me was, well, Dave Grohl. Grohl is the front and center entertainer that gives the Foo Fighters that reputation for having a bankable, consistent, solidly good act each and every night. The set opened with a handful of songs, featuring Grohl’s wild head-banging, long hair flying left and right, playing with an energy that’s very entertaining to watch. Notable in the first few songs was “Learn to Fly”, which is a song many (including myself!) know all-too-well from popular video game Rockband. The non-music entertainment all came from Grohl: as he climbs around the stage and plays guitar from a small ledge, or his wild cursing at the crowd, or chugging a beer to please a chanting crowd. (He failed, blaming the beer for being too cold. “My mountains are blue.”)

The middle of the set had Grohl egging on his band-members to play some wild solos: Taylor Hawkins on drums, Jessy Greene on violin, and a wild and crazy “best triangle solo of the festival” from Drew Hester. Some songs I’d heard before (“Best of You” stands out), some songs I haven’t, but each was performed amazingly well, with the band building up the crowd in a frenzy towards a performance of fan-favourite Everlong with the house lights turned down so low it was almost, well, intimate.

After five or so “this is the last song” songs — nothing pleases the crowd more than another song, more great entertaining from Grohl — the Foos finally capped with a two-song encore, their set finishing within a few minutes of the 11 o’clock island noise curfew, a full two hours of incredible entertainment.

All in all, day one was quite a success, with great music, good crowds, and memorable times. My feet hurt excessively, but day 2 and Oasis beckoned. Day 1 set a high bar, would day 2 live up to expectations?

6 September 2008 | grc | Music | Comments

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