Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Virgin Festival 2008, Day 1

The festival is still a pretty irresistible concept. Granted, it's less spectacular after a summer of endless shows, but so many artists performing in such rapid succession remains pretty excellent. Another year of concert-going has made me realize that I'm not as eager to cram myself into a large crowd, so it wasn't quite as "intimate" an experience as last year. But I still amazed at how many people can have such a good time in an area that's big, but manageable. A gigantic thanks to Maria for making the weekend possible.

Cat Power

The fest began without fanfare, as Chan Marshall and her backing band assembled and started with one of many slow burners. Her smokey vocals are remarkable, but would have been more appropriate at dusk, rather than noon. That's not to say the music was entirely mellow, as a few surprisingly heavy songs broke open the atmosphere. Chan's music is a bit too mournful for me to adore it, but it's performed with a precision that makes it easy to respect.

MP3: Cat Power - Metal Heart
Set: Cat Power and the Memphis Rhythm Band - Live at Berkeley Performance Center (06.07.07)
MySpace: Cat Power
Official Site: Cat Power

JDH + Dave P

New York's own JDH and Dave P run the weekly event Fixed, and they brought the party, fully intact, to Pimlico's Dance Tent. Although they were slated to go on earlier, as usual the set started a little late, but picked up immediately with a remix of the awesome "Hearts on Fire" by Cut Copy. The Faint's "The Geeks Were Right," off their new one Fasciinatiion came later - not quite as effective, but indicative of the duo's easy use into electropop - there were some more vocals from songs that I couldn't recognize. It's a shame that Fixed is 21+ most of the time, as they do a heck of a job.

MP3: Cut Copy - Hearts on Fire (Knightlife Remix)
MP3: The Faint - The Geeks Were Right (Shadow Dancer Vocal Mix)
MySpace: Fixed

Erol Alkan

Erol has a bit of a reputation, what with all those t-shirts floating around, but didn't quite match it. The London DJ was decent but not remarkable, blending an expected mix of ear-shattering bass and cute-and-paste vocal samples. It was a far cry from the sample-happy set I posted a while back, with the only recognizable bit being the ubiquitous MGMT's "Kids." Unfortunately, in the context of two days in the Dance Tent, this was one of the less memorable sets.

MP3: MGMT - Kids (Soulwax Nite Version)
MySpace: Erol Alkan
Official Site: Erol Alkan

The Swell Season
As you might have figured, I'm not particularly into movies. Thus, I hadn't heard of Once until being tipped off by Joe - it's an Oscar-winning flick about an Irish singer played by Glen Hansard, along with pianist Marketa Irglova. I suppose a possible implications of having an Academy Award winner means you've got mass appeal, and indeed, there was plenty of crowd enthusiasm here. There's obvious appeal in the way Hansard furiously strums his guitar, and his impassioned high falsetto undoubtedly pulls many a heartstring. But I wasn't digging it. I felt the performance was too over the top, and a bit tiresome in its unending romanticism.

MySpace: The Swell Season
Official Site: The Swell Season

Bloc Party

To this day, Bloc Party occupies my most-listened slot on Last.fm. Silent Alarm remains a fantastic album, and while A Weekend in the City had its upsides, I can't say I like the direction this band is going in. I find the new single "Mercury" to be dreadful, with its grating repetition and jerky instruments. I've given new album Intimacy a spin, and there just wasn't anything that stood out. Nonetheless, their live set definitely has many highlights, and while there weren't any surprises, the band was still tight and dynamic, evident from far away. Bloc Party is playing a free show at Roseland Ballroom next Thursday, and if the line isn't ginormous (which it probably will be), I'm going to attempt to make it over there. Call it the nostalgia factor.

MySpace: Bloc Party
Official Site: Bloc Party

A glance at the schedule presented a dilemma, as Soulwax was scheduled in the same slot as Bloc Party, but the white tuxedo-clad group was late, so all was well. I got a preview of the good times from a screening of their new documentary, Part of the Weekend Never Dies, before Cat Power's set. It didn't disappoint. Although the group is technically producers, they brought a full band, including live drums and guitars. The set highlighted both their remix work - the deep-throated "Get Innocuous" and a mutated "Robot Rock" - as well as their originals, including the awesome "E Talking." Despite that I've been more interested in more minimal and melodic stuff of late, sometimes exhilarating, overpowering beats are what you need. Definitely the highlight of Day 1.

And then, I took a nap.

I feel extremely fortunate for being introduced to live music by Wilco two summers ago. The atmosphere wasn't too different - a big smooshed crowd and a bunch of songs I didn't recognize. I knew that some of them were off of Sky Blue Sky, and despite general impressions that it was their "alt country" album, there was definitely some guitar soloing. While they didn't play my two favorites - "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "Jesus, etc," the epic, distorted "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" and confessional "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" were great. This band is really tight!

MP3: Wilco - What Light
MySpace: Wilco
Official Site: Wilco

Whoa. When I think of Underworld, I think enigmatic, dignified and a little creepy. Karl Hyde managed most of those adjectives, but did so while flailing about. Instead of a shadowed stage and calm, repeated beats and vocals, the set was awash in a rainbow of colors and the singing was manic. So that was jarring, but in retrospect, a lot more engaging than watching some guys with laptops (although they were there, too). Underworld have a knack for stretching out a simple idea to epic proportions, and seem a bit more ambitious than your average knob twiddler. It makes sense that they've created soundtracks, and it wasn't just their longevity, but their whole aesthetic that made them fitting headliners. And so, we survived day one.

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