This year's V Fest had many of last year's problems, mainly lineups everywhere - for food, for beer, for the can. To the organizers' credit, the johns were at least located in and around the beer-drinking area. Damn those Ontario liquor laws, though - there was no drinking in front of the stage. But the music made up for the pain.
Sat, Sep 8
M.I.A. at V Fest, Toronto Islands, Rating: NNNN
When M.I.A. invited about a 100 people onto the stage to dance, security didn't appreciate it as much as the crowd did, so the guests were quickly booted off. By that point, however, she'd clearly won over the growing crowd, so no one seemed to mind.
Hers was easily one of the strongest performances of the day -- it's just unfortunate that her set wasn't moved forward an hour so more people could have caught her. Instead, Kid Koala was booked to replace the absent-due-to-rehab Amy Winehouse, which didn't work out so well. Nobody thought about the effect of direct sunlight on vinyl records, which started warping while he attempted to DJ. Poor guy had to cut his set short and apologize to thousands of people.
ARCTIC MONKEYS Rating: NNN
The sound for the Arctic Monkeys seemed oddly muffled, though that may have been because we were trapped in the beer cage beside the stage, just one of the many annoying things about how this festival was run. A fun game is to compare the amount of time spent lining up for everything versus the amount of time spent seeing bands.
It was very close. The crowd reaction suggested that not many were familiar with Arctic Monkeys' second album, but anything off the first got a good response and a fair amount of singalong action. The band seemed a bit distracted and looked like they'd be more comfortable in a medium-sized club instead of a huge festival.
INTERPOL Rating: NN
Even some of their fans freely admitted that Interpol's set seemed like one long song. This is sleepy, plodding rock music that probably sounds a lot better at home. Good time to stand in some more lines.
BJORK Rating: NNNN
Yes, her set was really mellow as headlining slots go. No, that wasn't a problem, except for those who were hoping for the dance-floor-pop version of Björk; most of them left a few songs in.
This magical, ethereal performance made up for all the festival's annoying aspects. It was a gorgeous show on a visual level, but even just lying on your back and listening was powerful. A truly unique pop performer in a class of her own.
Sun, Sep 9
CLIENTELE Rating: NN
The boat docked just in time to catch London's Clientele on the side stage as they smoothly navigated a set of dreamy shoegaze pop. Too bad when frontman Alasdair MacLean broke a string, it took him almost the entire time to restring it, forcing the others to embarrassingly attempt a half-ass jam session. MacLean should consider having a backup guitar.
BLONDE REDHEAD Rating: NNNN
On the same stage, Blonde Redhead worked through their initial sound kinks before laying down a smouldering set of lush, Sonic Youth-inspired art rock guided by the transfixing Kazu Makino and twins Simone and Amedeo Pace . Makino's stage moves are as hypnotic as the angelic vocals she floats over Amedeo's sharp guitar notes and Simone's surging percussion. A definite V Fest highlight.
METRIC Rating: NNNN
A lacklustre performance by Stars quickly faded from memory once Metric took over the mainstage. Currently writing their new record, Emily Haines and the boys gave a taste of what's to come. The new material sounded strong, especially a sparse rocker in which Haines ponders the eternal question, Would you rather be in the Beatles or the Stones? Haines said she votes to be in Metric.
When techno duo M.A.N.D.Y. ( Patrick Bodmer and Phillip Jung ) spin at twilight, it's usually at a Berlin after-party. Nevertheless, the Germans were all smiles, pumping a seamless set of house and techno in the dome-shaped Bacardi B-Live tent while the dance floor throbbed.
SMASHING PUMPKINS Rating: NN
For their first Toronto appearance in seven years, Billy Corgan 's revamped Smashing Pumpkins opened with a screeching guitar-led track called United States from their tepidly received new album, Zeitgeist.
Channelling Hendrix at Woodstock, Corgan slipped an O Canada solo into the song's breakdown. The elongated guitar wank that ensued was something you'd expect 45 minutes in. But then again, it's Corgan's group, and nobody -- especially in this shell of a band -- is telling him otherwise.
Fri, Sep 7
YEAH YEAH YEAHS at the Church at Berkeley Rating: NNNN
Word spread pretty quickly about the "secret" Yeah Yeah Yeahs performance at the Vice Magazine bash, so at 8 pm the lineup already exceeded the venue's capacity several times over. Once you got inside, it seemed as if half the people who actually got in were there as much for the free drinks as for the band.
Free-flowing booze meant that even those who didn't give a damn were pretty hyped up by the time Karen O and company took the stage. Hell, even if it had been a dry event, she's definitely the kind of performer who demands attention, prowling the stage and throwing herself around with a confidence few singers can match.
Despite the obvious absence of Maps from the set list, everyone who made it inside looked pretty darn satisfied by the end.
WORLD RAP CHAMPIONSHIPS at a Queen West location Rating: NNN
The "rap is the new wrestling" analogy was beaten to death when 50 Cent discharged The Game from G-Unit, but the idea has been triumphantly resurrected at the World Rap Championships.
Held in secrecy to fight the mob (deep) mentality, the gruelling 12-hour battle rap tournament unfolded in a roller-coaster ride of energetic episodes, over two dozen two-on-two a cappella three-round showdowns.There was no beat, no mic and no crowd (except for a few assistants and three judges) in the cavernous backroom of a downtown community centre. Only the harshest punchlines would be needed to help Knamelis, Montreal's Prolific, unretired champion Bishop Brigante, Organik, Stretch Diesel,Jack Shitt or another contender achieve victory. The winner represents T.O. in the Las Vegas finals for 50 grand.
British founder Harold Anthony and associate Bruno faithfully videotaped the entire event, hosted by an overbearing Scott Boogie, as the battle rapworld quietly manifested another historic day.
Next year, pray it goes public.
Mon, Sep 10
HONEYDRIPPER ALL-STARS at the Phoenix Rating: NNNN
John Sayles 's new film, the Alabama blues fable Honeydripper , is a delightful reverie, but it was a different experience being at the Phoenix flanked by the head-nodding Sayles and sharply attired actor Charles S. Dutton while the Honeydripper All-Stars got busy on some Chicago-style blues.
Led by veteran tenorman Eddie Shaw and featuring young Texan blues guitar hotshot Gary Clark Jr. , Bluesmaster harmonica boss Arthur Lee Williams and rockin' piano pounder Henderson Higgins (who hits the keys for Danny Glover's character, Tyrone "Pinetop" Purvis, in the film), the surprisingly tight unit, reunited to help promote the film on the festival circuit, lived up to their lofty billing.
The high point was the appearance of 76-year-old soul scorcher Mabel John -- well cast as blues crooner Bertha Mae Spivey -- who returned from a lengthy stage absence to get down and testify.
Thirty-one years after her Stax label classic Your Good Thing (Is About To End) first appeared, John's cautionary sermon about infidelity has lost none of it's truth-telling bite.