VIRGIN FESTIVAL at Toronto Island Park, September 9. Tickets: $57.50-$104.50. Attendance: 12,000. Rating: NN Rating: NN
There's a reason richard branson is a kajillionaire. The super-entrepreneur basically assembled the season's grandest music fest with the sole purpose of subjecting a captive audience to a two-day, live-action commercial. He's basically sussed out how to corral a demographic and make it his bitch.
Saturday's edition of the Virgin Festival dawned rainy and grey; mainstage sets couldn't start on time due to the sogginess. There was stuff to do in the meantime, of course - play with an Xbox, submit your contact info to the Levi's folks, show your Virgin Mobile phone at the Future Shop tent for deals and special bonuses.
But once things got underway, the transition between rising stars Ohbijou 's winsome orch-pop and T.O. veterans Mean Red Spiders ' shoegaze atmospherics made sense as a one-two mainstage punch, especially since attendance was low due to weather and the early-afternoon time slots.
But when IllScarlett tumbled onstage in a burst of banal, vaguely ska-inflected pop-punk and shoutouts to Streetsville, the jarring contrast felt weird. I fled to the secondary Future Shop stage, only to be lulled into a bored stupor by the second-string James Blunt-meets-David Grayisms of Brit tunesmith David Ford .
I could hear the smart, stylish echo of Phoenix way across the festival grounds, but the promise of Buck 65 's oddball narratives kept me grounded. He delivered with over-the-top tales of his near-drowning en route to the show mixed in with lurching primitive roots-hop anti-rhythmic rhymes.
If you could ignore the scrolling Jumbotron parade of text messages that ranged from homophobic to downright dumb (fans shelled out 50 cents a message in hopes of winning a brand new Xbox 360), it was easy to enjoy the energetic mainstage set by the Hidden Cameras , who sounded shockingly good despite not having soundchecked their truckload of instruments.
But it was the Dears who really kicked things into gear. Their multi-guitar, multi-synth broody drama-rock deserves the large-scale canvas of a festival stage, and the nominally more optimistic tunes from the Montrealers' new Gang Of Losers (MapleMusic) disc were well suited in tone to rousing the flagging spirits of kids who'd been slumped in a field all day.
The concert lost momentum post-Dears, due at least in part to poor planning. Muse wailed, Kid Koala got screwed out of one of his sets and Gnarls Barkley took too long to get Crazy, dragging out their set way too long.
By the time Wayne Coyne kicked off the Flaming Lips set in his customary transparent crowd-surfing bubble, the fest was so far behind that Coyne and co. only had time to bop through about three cartoonish tunes before curfew regulations cut things off. A clear problem, especially considering that most folks count on seeing festival headliners to justify shelling out major coin.
Sure, Island noise rules aren't Branson's fault, and the Virgin boss did hint at soothing ruffled feathers with a future follow-up show during his Sunday Q&A session. And the Virgin Fest was better organized than, say, Broken Social Scene's Olympic Island event.
Still, you'd think someone would've figured out a better plan for ensuring the main attraction got their full time in the spotlight. Guess they were too busy making sure the Mobile texting programs were running smoothly.