Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Virgin Festival: Day 2

Regina Spektor dominated the North Stage.

Sunday contained a healthy mix of crazy DJs, unsurprisingly irresistible indie rockers, and two women that are utterly devastating in their own unique way. Although there weren't any gigantic new discoveries, the day served as a bit of an affirmation that deserving artists are getting opportunities, and the masses are listening and appreciating. Onward!

Dan Deacon - Dance Tent, 12:00 - 12:30

Considering I knew of Dan Deacon merely as Girl Talk's tourmate prior to the festival, his rise to prominence in my musical consciousness in the last week has been nothing short of astronomical. We were running a little late, and as we approached the Dance Tent, a curious cry of “Horsey, Horsey” rang out in the muggy air. Fittingly, Dan's set was not so much a visual spectacle as a sonic one; while DJ equipment was on the stage, Dan was buried inside the crowd. You could correlate this egalitarian approach to his success, or you could simply point out the way he channels pure absurdity into sonic infectiousness.

After a few crowd-elevating songs, Dan convinced us to form a huge dance circle and gave the following stipulations: 1. Be sassy as f*ck. 2. The dancer going out picks the next dancer in. 3. No cowards. The resulting sequence definitely favored enthusiasm over technique, although there were a impressive displays of handstanding and full body flailing alike. After a break for a few more “Horsey, Horsey”s, and Dan’s set came to a frenetic, albeit keyboardless conclusion. While the energy of his performance was impressive, I wasn’t terribly taken with the live material, but I’ve enjoyed what I've heard of his album, the appropriately quirky Spiderman of the Rings. The epic, twelve minute “Wham City” shares a moniker with Dan’s Baltimore-based collective, and it's a concentrated dose of his fluorescent, sugar-fueled electronic cartoon.

MP3: Dan Deacon - Wham City
Official Site: Dan Deacon

Girl Talk - Dance Tent, 12:30 - 1:10

By comparison, the set from Gregg Gillis aka Girl Talk was only moderately insane. The mashup maestro came onstage in suit and tie, but by the end of the set the suit was askance and his tie had been converted into a headband. Aside from the hip-hop, which I merely tolerated, it was nice to hear the ubiquitous Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” the sedate "1-2-3-4" from Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Holland, 1945” and, to everyone’s delight, the whistling from “Young Folks.” The crowd was really into it from the start, and the mob of dancers onstage seemed almost superfluous. Although I’m more inclined towards the cerebral Booka Shade when it comes to this sort of stuff, it’s impressive that Girl Talk was able to keep the crowd moving through a set of other people’s music. Girl Talk and Dan Deacon play Webster Hall on September 15th.

MP3: Daft Punk - Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (Neptunes Remix)
MP3: Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945

Regina Spektor - North Stage, 1:10 - 2:00

We hurried over to the North Stage for the first time all festival, arriving just as Regina Spektor lead off a capella to a hushed audience. She then took a seat by her piano and, with a charming "Spasiba," began the bulk of her material, switching over to guitar for only a couple songs. This stripped down setup turned away at least one fellow festival-goer on my right, but those that stayed were treated to something quite extraordinary. It’d be a feat for any individual to play in front the crowd of thousands, but it’s especially impressive that Regina, with all her quirks and eccentricities (perhaps epitomized by the rubber snake dangling from her piano), delivered such a powerful performance. Not only did his convey the quality of her material and her skill as a musician, but she revealed the facets of her personality through each song. From the religious allusions of "Baby Jesus" and "Samson" to the more light-hearted and New York-centric fare of "Summer in the City" and "That Time," Regina was poignant, clever and moving.

Regina also did a great cover of the John Lennon song "Real Love" a recording of which is featured on the Instant Karma charity compilation for Darfur. She ended strongly, with “Us” and “Fidelity," two of the most gorgeous songs of the festival. Regina Spektor plays at the Hammerstein Ballroom on October 16th, and while the venue size is intimidating, I’m sure it will be a stellar show.

MP3: Regina Spektor - On The Radio
MP3: Regina Spektor - Samson
Official Site: Regina Spektor

Spoon - North Stage, 2:25 - 3:15

You generally know what you’re getting with Spoon, but that’s hardly a barrier to enjoying them. Britt Daniel was at his understated finest, finding that perfect balance between grit and melody, as the rest of the band brought it up a notch in volume, which was very gratifying. Although I like the new songs, it was older material that really reminded me of how darn good Spoon is, and that I should listen to Gimme Fiction more. “I Turn My Camera On” was a stomper, and despite the dust obscuring the band from time to time, I did just that. “I Summon You," with its abstract allusions, was both a resigned glance at our tumultuous present (“Strapped-up soldiers/They'll lock you in a cage”), but at the same time a cathartic love song. It’s a shame the group omitted “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine," but such is the nature of festivals.

Spoon also dived into its back catalogue by inviting a former member (and Baltimore native) onstage. I'm not really sure what the story is here, although AMG describes the early Spoon as one with more fluid membership. In any case, I wasn't really familiar with this earlier material, and while that lessened my appreciation, it was nice to hear voices in addition to Britt's, distinct as he is. All in all, a really enjoyable and stimulating set from one of the best rock bands out there right now. Spoon plays a much-deserved gig at Roseland on October 20th.

You can find oodles of live Spoon at etree, and here are two demos, which were released on a bonus disc bundled with Gimme Fiction.

MP3: Spoon - I Summon You (Demo Version)
MP3: Spoon - Sister Jack (Piano Demo)
Official Site: Spoon

As we collapsed on the dessicated grass following Spoon's set, and as I devoured a Chicken Souvlaki (insert Slowdive reference here), the unfortunate tones of the next band on the North Stage wafted through the air. Perhaps it was for the best, as this disturbance encouraged us back into the Dance Tent…

James Zabiela - Dance Tent, 3:10 - 4:25

By the end of the weekend, I kind of wished that I always had DJ tent in my vicinity during my daily life. As bizarre as it sounds, there's something really invigorating about surrounding yourself with complete strangers and simultaneously cauterizing your eardrums and moving the rest of your body as much as the confined space permits. Discomforts aside, James Zabiela delivered an energetic, effective set. There's a fatalistic sort of anticipation when you know the next uptempo surge of drums and bass is coming, and these peaks really dispel any notion that a DJ set is mere repetition. James also sampled "Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger," but kept things interesting with his superior turntable skills. At one point, he said "thank you" and sliced up the vocals until they became a part of the groove. From the huge grin James had throughout the set, it was clear that we weren't the only ones that enjoyed ourselves.

MP3: Röyksopp - Remind Me (James Zabiela Eighties Ingeborg Mix)
Official Site: James Zabiela

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - North Stage, 5:15 - 6:15

As the day waned, the excitement built. While I can't profess an excessive fondness for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I can't help but admire the energy of their live show. Karen O is a maniac. She dashed around the expansive North Stage, spouted beer and water alike in between songs, and at the appropriate climaxes, threw her microphone with an audible thump. Antics aside, she still managed to harness her vintage snarl for the aggressive tracks (which were many), but I felt the show lacked a little on the melodic side. Again, this is more of a personal preference, and the band is probably better off in its raucous form, especially with Brian Chase's explosive drumming and Nick Zinner's guitar squalls. Things ended really strongly, as "Gold Lion," "Y Control," and of course, "Maps" make their appearance. The latter became an "indulgence," as Karen O put it, as she sang an extended chorus and dedicated the "Yeah Yeah Yeahs love song" to a number of people, including Regina Spektor.

There's a bit of video of the last three sets, beginning with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, over on YouTube.

Interpol - North Stage, 6:45 - 8:00

As the impeccably tailored Interpol finally took the stage, the rains came, as if the group had somehow transported their downtown gloom with them. Aside from washing away a fraction of the day's sweat, I remember thinking of it (melodramatically, but perhaps accurately) as a sort of spiritual cleansing, a kind of rite of passage that accompanies one's first festival. Unfortunately, my camera died halfway through the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' set, but in many ways, I don't need photos to reminisce. Interpol was everything I expected and imagined it would be, and it was hands-down my favorite set of the festival, and one of the best I've ever attended.

The band began predictably with "Pioneer To The Falls," and while that track doesn't do that much for me, the solemn reverb of Daniel Kessler's guitarwork and Paul Banks' perfect baritone was something to behold. "Slow Hands" followed, bringing to the fore Sam Fogarino's relentless drumming and Banks' indirect (some might say obtuse, but I really like it) lyricism. As was the trend of the festival, I gravitated towards older material, and while I see a bunch of growers on Our Love To Admire, there will never be replacements for Antics and Turn On The Bright Lights - although "The Heinrich Maneuver's" jerky staccato comes pretty close. "PDA" was a mesmerizing finale, with its hypnotic bassline and, to my surprise, Kessler's vocalizing on the outro. A-ma-zing.

So what's the big deal about seeing Interpol live? I mean, there wasn't much crowd interaction, no more than a couple of thank-yous strewn amongst the songs, a pretty paltry amount compared to the charisma of, say, a Dan Deacon. A popular source of praise, that they sound exactly as they do on the album, could easily make one wonder why you wouldn't save the roadtrip and the sunburn and just fire up the iPod.

I'm not completely sure why the appeal is there, only that it exists, and that it drives a lot of what I do here. Some of it is undoubtedly selfish - "So what'd you do this summer?" "I saw Interpol in Baltimore; it was incredible" - but only because of what I perceive as a real valuation of memories. When I look back on my first live music experience, I'm a little embarrassed by the cringe-inducing photography, the shoddy word count and absence of audio content, but shortcomings aside, the integrity of the experience is still preserved. And in the future, I'm sure I'll take better photos (if my camera gets fixed...), write better, and listen to all sorts of exciting music I haven't discovered yet, and maybe view these posts with the same critically-tinged regret that now surround last year. But that's okay, because it doesn't change the fact that, hey, I saw Interpol in Baltimore! What I'm (convolutely) saying is that, despite the advantages of vicarious entertainment, nothing really compares to being there. This isn't just a music blog; it's a collection of experiences.

Check out Interpol's eerily similar Lollapalooza setlist over at Deaf Indie Elephants (via Largehearted Boy). Regina Spektor's, too. Oh, and Cat Power is opening their MSG show on September 14th.

MP3: Interpol - Obstacle 1 (Arthur Bakers Return To New York Mix)
MP3: Interpol - Slow Hands (Britt Daniel Remix)
Official Site: Interpol

The festival wasn't over yet, but we were pretty much done. We did make our way to the Dance Tent one last time, dodging rain droplets, but Deep Dish didn't sound like they were going to play anything recognizable. So we left a bit early, and I got home at the somewhat reasonable time of 1:30. Virgin Festival happens all over again (give or take a few bands) in Toronto on September 8th and 9th.

Thanks for reading, and keep your ears and eyes open.


Scottie said...

I love Interpol and they are my most played band on my ipod but live they really aren't amazing. Their songs are not really built for festivals although in my opinion "Pioneer to the falls" is an epic opener.

I saw them at Summer Sonic festival last weekend where they were mid-card on a smaller stage but they weren't in the same class as Kasabian, Maximo Park or Bloc Party.

A generalisation I know but American bands tend to try to play they're songs exactly as they sound on the album whereas UK bands play with their sound more live. Also, UK front men seem to be much more outgoing and energetic with the crowd (Alex Turner being the boring exception).

marcie said...

oh no! links expired before i could get to it :[

Roland said...

Scottie: Yeah, Bloc Party did some interesting stuff live when I saw 'em in the Spring. But I think there's something to be said about being able to duplicate the album almost perfectly. Nice Summer Sonic coverage on your blog!

Marcie: I uploaded everything on another host, so hopefully they'll work for at least a little longer. Sorry about the inconvenience.

mjrc said...

it's funny. back in the day, i'd be disappointed if a band didn't play their songs just like on the album, but nowadays, i want them to mess around and be creative. like you say, why else go see them?

glad you had such a great time. : )

Anonymous said...

Aw man, expired again, and I really want to loop "Maps" over and over.

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