Sir Richard Branson Mark Robertson Lest GoTo War with the Mustangs Marching Band The Midway State
photos by Clint Gilders - staff photographer
by andrea gilders - clubkingsnake staff
Virginfest Toronto Day one
September 6, 2008. The Toronto Islands
The press gathered in the belly of the Westin Harbourcastle for the 11 a.m. Virginmobile media briefing with little enthusiasm. There were of course some snacks which kept us in the room and waiting to hear the rules and regulations from our Virgin mobile hosts. Really we were just going through the motions and wanted to get on the ferry and get the exciting day underway.
All was going very well in a sleepy kind of way until a voice rang out from the back of the room "Is this the way to the concert?" And there he was, larger and blonder than you'd think in real life, Sir Richard Branson himself.
In town for a charity benefit, the Toronto film festival and his own musical festival, the room woke up in a hurry as he stepped up and graced us with a few words.
It was a fabulous moment as we all sat there a little dumbstruck and not one member of the press managed to generate even one question for the media magnate.
After he took his leave, we quickly headed across the lake to Toronto's Centre and Olympic Islands, our home away from home for the next two days for Toronto's third annual Virgin festival.
As we moved rapidly across the festival grounds were were treated to a quick preview of the stage locations and a peek in the Bacardi B live music tent. Inside the Bacardi tent we caught a glimpse of local Techno act Lets go to War rehearsing with the Mustang Marching Band (From a local university who maybe didn't want to endorse an appearance sponsored by an alcohol company?).
It was absolutely invigorating to see the energy in a rehearsal and as we turned back toward the main stage the gates were opened and the concert goers literally ran past us on to the open field
Virginfest day one was on....
Of course then it was off to review our 'digs'. The Virgin media area was fabulous last year and this year was even better. A very very large tent with refreshments, free wifi, lots of seating and room to shmooze. Off to one side, a exclusive media only viewing area, actually a few feet closer than the raised VIP area.
The gorgeous white faux fur chairs were there from last year along with some really cute red chenille heart pillows emblazoned with the Virgin logo.
Within moments the first act had taken to the main stage, Mark Roberston.
I must admit I was more impressed with the fancy inflatable chairs marked "stolen from Virgin fest 2008" than I was with Mr. Robertson's falsetto.
To echo the sentiments of our photographer "Gee, that was a good song when John Mayer did it".
Moving on to the the TD Canada Trust stage we saw the Midway state from Collingwod (just north of Toronto). where I held out against a couple strange impressions until I let the music speak.
First, I was struck by the strange choices made in the handout review pressed into my hand by one of the teenagers wearing a shirt proclaiming the bands name.
It struck me as odd that a band's handout would feature a picture of only one member. And, when listing three flattering review quotes, they would choose to list the best comment from the highest profile reviewer (Toronto star) last. Marketing 101 folks, GRAB their attention then move on...Then, as I watched the last moments of the sound check I had my second negative 'first' impression. The drummer wore what I can simply describe as a 'badly conceived' fashion idea on his head. You know you've seen it its the headband. Ok, lets get it clear, head bands work on two maybe three people, Lights (Valerie - http://www.myspace.com/lightsnoise ) and Olivia Newton John can pull them off. Unless you're gorgeous and FEMALE and about 20, they're a really bad idea. That's pretty much it. Lets everyone else just agree to stop wearing them ok?
So I sighed and dug in, I must admit the hand out featured a quote from the Toronto Star suggesting that their music could stand up against U2's New Years Day or Coldplay. I was intrigued...
I'm glad I stayed.
I was treated to a really interesting performance. Their music is well put together pop with some interesting things going on. First the singer (the guy on the handout who also does the song writing) is a pretty darn good piano player and has one of the nicest smiles I've seen in a good long time. Actually the overall estethic of the band was far more pleasing than the headband mis step caused me to fear. There was some serious orthodonture in their childhoods I think. The Guitarist and bass player were very capable and as the crowd clearly enjoyed themselves there were flashes of really youthful exuberance and joy at just being on the stage for us. Never undersell enthusiasm. They were tight, they were glad to be there and it showed. The music was sweet and young without beng cloying and had a reasonable musical complexity and wall of sound feel that I genuinely wasn't expecting. Really I was pleased. Deeply surprising was their almost BEE GEE's type feel on the vocal stylings of the choruses but it wasn't a bad thing, just yet another surprise from the Midway State.
As they left the stage and I grabbed a seat in the damp grass waiting for Shudder to Think to take the stage I could hear Airborne Toxic Event wafting over from the mainstage. They sounded great but I simply couldn't be in two places at once and since the main stage was running on time so I stayed where I was.
Shudder to think, formed originally in 1986, disbanded in the late 1990s and reformed in 2007, were part of the DC post hardcore scene and I was staying where I was figuring it would be something I wouldn't get the chance to see again. I'm glad I stuck around. First, I loved their gear. From the checkerboard Marshall cabinet to the JCM800, to the pair of Les Pauls and the Thunderbird bass, with gear like that, I knew I was going to be good.
And then it began. A sonic assault like nothing I've heard before. I can't describe what I heard but I liked it. Absolutely the most professional act I saw all weekend bar none, they moved through the music without hesitation or apology. It was complex, it was loud, it was raw and it was fucking awesome. I can understand where they could be iconic, critically acclaimed and never ever get a lick of radio play. There wasn't a musical 'hook' or repeating chorus to be found but for a band this good, I simply didn't care.
But the schedule that drove us all weekend beckoned and off we went to catch the Lets Go to War/ Mustang Marching Band performance at the Bacardi B-live stage.
Lets go to War wasn't your average house band and the choice of a University marching band to accompany them set them apart once again. "Burning down the Disco" with a complete marching band was pounding and in your face and just so much FUN! Most unique fun I had at Vfest. Check these guys out and pay for the privilige. They seem to be a unique blend of hip hop dance hall with some really great ska/ Jamaican sensibility with an appeal that transcends their genre.
I'd love to hear them release a version of this performance and capture the positively amazing drum sound elicited from the marching band, it just made the music throb.
This lead me into a three way time conflict... MGMT, LIGHTS and the Fratellis.
I decided based upon two peices of geography to start with MGMT (1. their stage was closer to me at that moment than the stage where Lights was playing and 2. Lights is from Toronto and I had a better chance of catching her again some other day if I fell in love with MGMT). Well as it turns out Lights had nothing to fear in this regard.
The Fratellis Lights Shudder To Think
photos by Clint Gilders - staff photographer
MGMT took to the main stage on time and we held our breath to see if there was substance to the hype. The crowd filled in dramatically as they said their "hellos.
The first song "The Youth" was hooky for sure but my inital thought was other than a sorta nifty 'shoop shoop' feel in the chorus and a few hooky licks, there was little going on. There was a little bit of delay before they moved into their second song. And this is where they lost me. The vocals were shrill and unappealing and it really turned me off, giving me and excuse to beat it to the Oh Henry Emerging Talent stage to see Lights. . (I've since given MGMT a bit more of a listen on myspace and I'm wondering if the production values might cause me to like their recorded music but just think they're a bit lame live. I'm not writing them off entirely but I certainly didn't 'feel the love' with this band at Vfest)
Ah, Lights, what can be said?
1. If you've never heard her, do not walk, RUN to MYSPACE and give her a listen. http://www.myspace.com/lightsnoise
2. When you're done that, go buy her EP.
I mean really Who can resist a girl who describes her music as "When I write songs I think about how it makes people feel, and I hope that when it goes into your ears you feel happy too. Not sexy happy but apple pie happy."
Her EP is awesome. And I'm not just saying that because we ended up with three promo copies of it in our house due to a mailing list glitch at Underground Operations. And I'm not saying it because all three of my kids love it. Or because my husband thinks she's amazing (anyone with a pulse thinks this) I'm saying its a great EP because it just is.
Well you know what? Live she's all that and a bag of chips (and a remarkable almost translucent white dress and a sensational bra).A voice that doesn't quit, charisma like you wouldn't believe and somehow all the while in an incredibly appealing non raunchy way. She's like the anti commercial girl act because she's not glitzy or Disney or anything but if my seven year old wanted to see Lights live, I'd seriously take her. That said she's not so over the top pop as to be cloying or annoying. She's just sweet and happy and I bet a really nice girl.
Also, how can you not love anyone who actually takes the time in her act to thank the expanding crowd by saying "thanks for missing MGMT to come see me, it really means a lot!"
And off to the third part of the scheduling nightmare triad. The Fratellis. Thank heavens one of the stages actually ran a bit late.
The Glasgow based band with a name that made me think they were Italian American, The Fratellis were damn good. Well rehearsed, solid musicianship emotive vocals, great guitar and drum sounds. Up tempo well composed sorta groovy pop. If you're looking for some music to keep you happy on a car ride but not make you work too hard, this is a good band to give a listen. No deep hidden meanings just some fun with a great beat.
Finally a little break in the action allowed me to catch some refreshments, some dinner and a little break before the Foo Fighters were to take to the main stage at 9:10.
I heard a couple of other bands (Against Me! and Bloc Party) while I was in non viewing areas. They were pretty good but really, I was trying to conserve what I had left to get to the Foo Fighters...
Red Bull became my friend as the day, the mojitos and the sunshine slowly took their toll. It had been a heckuva day.
The Foo Fighters were awesome. For me, Dave Grohl behind a guitar still looks a little weird but I'm getting better about it.
I enjoyed the set, was wowed by the energy and blown away by the day overall.
I'm sure other fans will post huge detailed reviews of the Foos as for many they were the high point of the day if not the whole weekend. They were solid, they were what you would expect. It was the smaller acts that really lit up my senses on Saturday, making me want to hear more of them and learn more about them. And hey, isn't that type of exposure some of what festivals and emerging talent stages are supposed to be all about?